SHOT Show Guidance and Odds & Ends

Jan 14, 2022

This is our final edition prior to the opening of the much discussed, highly debated, unquestionably controversial, hyperbolically overwrought SHOT Show.

As we’ve watched, listened and prepped news for next week, one thing has become obvious: this show really will be different from any of the twenty or so others we’ve covered.

Last year’s virtual event was radically removed from an extravaganza with fourteen miles of aisles.

SHOT 2022 will occupy even more space.

And the amount of controversy and debate it has already caused is immeasurable.

Some in (or around) the industry seem determined to turn the decision to attend or stay home into some sort of litmus test on where one stands on almost all other hot button issues.

It decidedly is not.

SHOT Show is what it has always been -a trade show.

Yes, it’s being held in some very trying times and unusual circumstances. But absent all the overheated rhetoric, the question every business owner has to answer about SHOT has not changed one iota: do I need to go to SHOT?

This year’s risk/reward equation has some (hopefully) abnormal variables, but the industry is also coming off some unprecedentedly positive results.

While the pandemic has scrambled the global supply chain and cratered most of the remaining trust in the competence of our government, it has reconnected a terrific number of otherwise disenfranchised Americans with the great outdoors.

And that’s been good for the outdoor industry.

As was pointed out to me last week at the ATA Show, 2021 was by most standards a terrific year for outdoor retailers.

The only downside? Knowing that if product had been available, 2021 would have been even better.

Some companies won’t be attending next week. Many others will. And despite what you might have heard, I’ve been told -repeatedly- by many company executives, the decisions were business-based.

Sorry, but no political statements.

For some, the reward simply didn’t outweigh the potential risk.

If your company were running at full capacity; selling all the existing products it could make, would going to a trade show to announce new products you lack the capacity to produce look like a good idea?

I remember when the industry seemed to be fueled by the product equivalent of computer industry “vaporware” - products would be rolled out with a ballyhoo, then consumers would wait - usually for months- until the product finally hit retail shelves.

The industry’s ditched that idea. And that kind of strategy is guaranteed to be a lose/lose proposition.

Ergo, some companies don’t “need” to be at SHOT Show. Companies can’t instantly expand manufacturing capacities, and experience says at some point there will be a contraction of demand. Again, the risk outweighs the reward.

But…if your business isn’t running full-tilt, this SHOT represents a unique opportunity to connect with buyers who are looking for new products to keep their customers enthused.

From my chair here in the peanut gallery SHOT 2022 represents an opportunity to at least get more buyers to consider your products.

The opportunity to connect to a single distributor or major retailer just might be exactly what it takes for some manufacturers to invigorate their businesses.

Having covered trade shows in a variety of industries over four decades, I know “trend-spotting” can make a big positive difference for everyone: manufacturers, distributors, retailers and media-types. Everyone wants to say they found the “next hot trend.”

With fewer “major” exhibitors in attendance, the chance to do more searching for those more unique products is not only more attractive, it’s more possible.

In today’s news section of The Outdoor Wire, you’ll see a headline regarding research into the new faces coming into hunting. That research indicated hunting saw a twenty-five percent increase in 2020. That’s far beyond anything ever considered a remote possibility by outreach or retention efforts. These new hunters were compelled outside by the pandemic.

If sales of guns, ammunition and accessories are any indication, there were similar increases in enthusiasm for shooting sports, and a growing acceptance of gun ownership. The acceptance cuts across demographic lines few expected would ever be crossed.

There are now more of “us” than there have been in decades.That’s both a unique opportunity and a challenge for retailers.

There are many more of “us” but we don’t all look -or think- alike.

Smart retailers are looking at the new customers and working on how to reach them more effectively. They’re not fettered by conventional thinking or group-think that is pervasive in any affinity group.

Consequently, they’re more willing to look at new products or consider new ways of doing things. That means the retailers have to re-examine what -and how- they sell.

This year’s SHOT Show may give them the opportunity to do the “trend-spotting” that helps them better tap into those newbies. These new hunters include locavores and organic eaters - they’re going to be open to all manner of new “stuff” to help them be better at harvesting, preparing and preserving their animals.

Many of the new shooters aren’t new to technology. They readily accept “new” methods of training, new technology to safely store and transport their new “shooting tools” and will show up with expectations that retailers will “get” that about them.

Yes, SHOT 2022 will be different. We will all miss not seeing friends and familiar faces.

But there are lots of “things” to be discovered while we’re making our way around those “miles of aisles.”

And as always, we’ll keep you posted.

— Jim Shepherd