Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Shot Show

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Shot Show
Ahh another year of dragging myself through SHOT show.  Everyone who is not in the industry always thinks that it would be a blast to attend, however if you are a dealer, distributor, manufacturer, or media it becomes a brutal job.  You start the day at 8AM trek through hundreds of booths and finish at 6PM all while being mentally on the top of your game for meeting, after meeting, after meeting. Then you rinse and repeat for four days. At night you collapse nursing your now throbbing feet that have been subjected to miles of aisles, eat whatever at that burger place downstairs because last year it was really good, close and fast just so you can have a drink and a cigar before hitting the bed early to do it all again.  It is not the party everything thinks and if you treat it like one, the next four days will be brutal.
The uninitiated think that you just get to wander through and talk to everyone you want, but instead most of the time you just missed the "right" person, they are already booked, or end up waiting for the four people in front of you to finish yakking about nothing relevant to the vendor or product.  Blah blah blah.  When you do finally have the chance to talk to the "right" person you are generally interrupted about five times.  That goes on for four days until you want to stab someone in the face with a spoon.
The OEM manufacturers are all trying to sell to the manufacturers, the manufacturers are trying to sell to the dealers all while appeasing the all important needs of the media and sponsored shooters who drive the product demand. In the mix are one off product sales on the floor and all the advertising guys running around selling banner ads, publication ad space, radio, and TV spots. In short it is one heck of a goat rodeo. I would hate to be a manufacturer attempting to actually sell something.
Oooh Glock Pencils
You have the brands that have been in the business since you granddad first started shooting, the brands that are proving themselves as long term manufacturers, and then you have the startups who could either be the next big thing or someone's broken dream of a business. You also have the vast array of overseas manufacturers that stole last years hot design and now offer them for 80% less at 10% the quality of the original.
The "big tent"/main 2nd floor is typically reserved for those that either have been exhibiting forever or are market giants. Getting space on the main floor is kinda like getting Packers tickets were someone has to die for you to get a space. One of the long-term exhibitors a floor down will get a chance to move up if someone drops out of the premium space... its always shifting around.  The saddlebag side halls hung off the main floors are generally the manufacturers that are either not particularly interested in a huge booth or are attempting to move into the big leagues. Floor layout planning for the show must be a freaking nightmare.
And the there is the booth numbering issue. The map will say this is the booth number, however they are not necessarily set up in order, or the vendor was moved at the last minute, or the vendor just didn't show up, or the map is wrong.  Oh yeah that is a blast to figure out that the booth was moved to the other end of the convention center and one floor up when you have meetings stacked up and you are already late because of the last booth that you couldn't find.

As a real life senior level marketing expert for a large fortune 100 company, I can definitively say that the sporting industry has about as much marketing sophistication as your average barber shop. Typically there are no pre-release PR events for the media to stage up new product releases under nondisclosure agreements like you find in any other industry, no customer loyalty programs, email marketing is generally considered cutting edge, and if I bring up “data analytics based marketing and product forecasting” it can actually induce an aneurysm in almost all heads of marketing. 

Ask what their plans are for Social Commerce and service based media and you will have them staring at you like you are speaking Klingon.  Inquire  what their average RFM of their customer base is and they start giving you the finger. Its an immature marketing market generally run on a last man standing in the company approach or by a PR company who used to be a marketing person for the sporting industry at some point. At least the PR folks can piece together decent media buy strategies with pretty ads.
Two years ago someone in the media made a big stink that the tiny little bloggers should be tossed out to make room and time for the bigger media outlets.  I will admit that I have had the same thought as the metaphorical  Timmy Tactical was elbowing me out of the way to do a full length deep product review as thirty other people are attempting to look at the newly introduced product. I believe we should give the little guy a chance after all, only a couple years ago I was that guy. Some print publications would argue even I don't belong there even though has a 200K monthly readrship, and of course the TV guys would say the print guys don't belong and are obsolete.  It may be annoying the guy shooting video with an iphone wants to hold up everyone, but hey they may become the next Outdoor Channel. Variety is the spice of life.
I enjoy a nicely sculpted body as much as the next person, however I don’t think it belongs at a trade show. If you want that go pay for it like everyone else does and let me get on with my business.  To me vendors with a Tits and Ass display says “hey I wanted to get your attention because our products are total crap and there is no other way we can get you in the booth without these Booth Babes… and I know zip about marketing.” Ok, OK if it is your marketing figurehead signing posters... well that's a grey area in my book. What is worse are the total neanderthals literally running people over to get to the next “even hotter” booth babe, grunting, ogling, and yes even handling the scantily clad female masquerading as a feeble attempt at gorilla marketing. You want my attention? Stop using them like perfume girls whose experience with guns ends with the brochures she is handing out.
You have ritechus kick ass female shooters like Julie Golob and Jessie Duff who should be be admired for one thing… their ability to kick all our asses in a gunfight.  I will bet they were really impressed with you portraying females as nothing more than icing on guns. Noting that there were more females attending this year than ever who are buyers, PR, and manufacturers, what do you think their impression of your booth and products are? The gun market will be grown and saved by the huge growing female shooter segment, however the market has a long way to mature before it feels truly welcome to the female shooter and the old swat on the ass “woman get me a beer” mentality is NOT where we need to be. The general rule is that if you would not want your mamma seeing marketing methods, then maybe you should choose a different tactic.
For those that are new to trade shows, I beg of you please do not be a Swag Hunter.  I never really understood this mentality of traveling across country, abusing your body for a week to walk 15 miles of trade show booths just to accumulate 50lb of free virtually worthless trade show swag.  My most loathed creature of Shot is the Swag Hunter. Generally this beast is dressed all in camo or tactical gear usually in a size which makes you ask “good lord I didn’t even know they made fatigues that large… was that special order from a tent company?” This may be a generalization, however the worst of them are almost always eating, attempting to get a date with the booth babes, and riding around bumping into everyone’s ankles with a HuvaRound and interrupting business conversations with “got any free stuff” or “what-cha-givn-away?”  Really a $1000 for a weeks worth of travel and you wet your self in ecstasy because you get a $2 USB drive with a logo on it? Don’t be that guy/gal.
Shot Show “ride-alongs” are a term most use for attendees that have no real purpose for being there. Generally they “ride-along” by knowing a vendor who can register them under their business. It is easy to spot these people as they are not exhausted, unbelievably happen to be at the show, and usually smell like they have been drinking most of the day. Just a note that everyone who actually works the show wishes we could be a Ride-Along attendee.
Source -Julie Golob - I was there when she did this.
There is also the weird stuff that occurs only at Shot Show. The Best Beards of Shot Show, walking by seeing the world famous Julie Golob mounted on a custom motorcycle threatening to take it for a ride, running into James Yaeger, the ATF booth doing Shot show promo videos, the sticker on the vandalized ATF booth that says “come and get them”, a tricked out slammed Swat van, watching most of the media at media day muzzle sweep spectators at least once with a hot gun, the super awesome new overseas manufacturer that you literally get every gun they hand you to jam at media day, and trade show hot dogs… which are not bad, extremely satisfying, but I am really unsure what they are made of.
This year thankfully did not have the big depressing feeling that everyone is coming for our guns, but some from states who had enacted moronic laws were visibly kicking their feet in disgust. There was the typical pronouncements by literally every company that they are twice as tactical, cool, and featured as they were last year to signify they are somehow leapfrogged their competition again. There had to be well over 100 manufacturers of Rmington 700 action billet receivers all claiming to be somehow better than the other 99 I just walked by. There were things I did not get like all the optics guys now offering 34MM tubes on their top tier optics and a 14lb titanium receiver’ed and graphite barreled AR15… both left me asking “why?”  There were also a huge number of manufacturers with virtually nothing new this year simply because they are still behind from last year.
Barring any horrible events that cause people to think emotionally irrational about guns and ammo, I actually think that we will see a glut of ammo and guns this year. There were a HUGE number of new AR15 and other firearm manufacturers that hit the market in the last 24 months and most are just starting to hit their production stride. I would not be surprised if by mid-year we saw the prices fall below the buying frenzy levels due to a huge glut of AR15s being pushed into the market. I also saw a lot of new faces in ammo manufacturing as well which will also drive ammo prices down.  Personally I think this is a custom and custom accessory year for shooters. I believe 2014 will be the year that everyone decide to spice up and customize all the guns they bought in the last two years. Optics, rails, and furniture will be huge, but people will also be be spending all the other parts of their kits like packs, shoes, shirts, and holsters. is locked and loaded for another year of articles and videos, “Green Green”, lets hit the range and see what all this new stuff can do. See you all again next year at SHOT.

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