The SHOT Show; Remembering My First Time

I have this friend who likes to poke fun at people who do stupid things.   Take, for instance, the time one of our buddies backed his boat trailer into the water and then got talking with some people who momentarily distracted him.   Yup, you probably guessed it…he forgot to put the drain plug back into the boat before it hit water.

Well, to make a long story short…by the time he figured out his predicament the boat had taken on lots of water to the point gear was floating on the bottom.   It’s about this time my other buddy is famous for saying, “I remember my first beer, too.”   The connotation being that someone just learning how to drink alcohol is generally not too aware of the stupidity that can result.

In many ways the concept of “remembering my first beer” sort of relates to my first experience at SHOT Show, too.   I was a rookie.   I did lots of stupid things.   I was intoxicated, so to speak, of the sheer scope of the event.   In other words, the first time I walked into the Las Vegas Convention Center back in 1988 to attend the SHOT Show a sensation of nervous excitement raced throughout my body.

Now, keep in mind back in 1988 the number of show attendees was just shy of 20,000 people.   Last year, in comparison, there was about 64,000 people at the Sands Convention Center which I’m guessing has a footprint smaller than what the larger L.V. Convention Center once offered.

I attended this 1988 show because my boss (at the time) told me to go with the intent of making some new contacts to sell them calendars.   Truth be told, I failed miserably.   I came home with a pocket full of business cards and none of them were leads for future business.   In fact, I quickly discovered how people don’t go to SHOT with the hopes of peddling products or services TO THE exhibitors (albeit, to some extent it does happen)…nope, folks go to SHOT to BUY FROM the exhibitors who spend big bucks on fancy tradeshow displays.

And you see, at that first show I discovered how companies had a sneaky little trick to distract you.   While you might be wanting to tout the benefits of the products and services you can offer, they have new products on display that makes your head spin with excitement and intrigue.   I quickly learned the proper protocol for SHOT or any tradeshow, for that matter.   In fact, today even more so than three decades ago, SHOT management strongly discourages any selling by roving “carpetbagging” as this practice undermines the tradeshow concept.

So, if you’re walking the show aisles and not selling, you must be buying products, correct?   Well, yes and no.   At this first tradeshow I discovered how the exhibitors wanted to “write orders” and have the product shipped to your store.   That didn’t mean they would necessarily have products for you to “grab and go” with to fill a shopping cart.   Nope, found that out when trying to leave the show.   Bags were often inspected and a “bill of sale” best be available as proof of purchase.   And samples, oh boy…a person better have a good story.

Today, however, mostly with the size of the tradeshow show tripling from those earlier years…show floor selling doesn’t appear to be as big of a deal.   While all bags are still subject to inspection upon departure, it seems to now rarely occur.

The new smartphone app is a welcome tool to both navigate and learn about what is happening at SHOT.

Okay, so what’s it like to walk your very first SHOT Show?   I guess if I had to sum it up in one word I would say “disorienting.”   Honestly, the SHOT Show is so big and vast that without a good plan of attack you just will not see it all.   A person needs paper maps, smartphone apps, and the confidence to ask someone who can help show you the way.

Aside from that the show will wear you down.   Yes, it will even make your feet bleed.   Just ask my buddy, Jeff, who chose not to take my advice and wear comfortable shoes while at the show.   His white dress socks having spent the day inside a pair of leather dress shoes made for blisters and bleeding.   Oh yeah, once the “dogs start barking” the discomfort will not stop biting likely for the remainder of the show.   Be warned and stay aware.

Another thing most people forget about is staying hydrated.   After all, the SHOT Show is in the desert and your body can wear down quickly when fluid intake is lacking.   Oh, and perhaps this is a good point in time to talk about the proper fluid, too.   Yes, the show is in Vegas and yes, the alcohol has a tendency to flow(especially in the evenings).   Alcohol does not do well to hydrate a body, in fact, in most cases it is rather counter productive.

So, by now you might be wondering why the hell would anyone want to go to SHOT.   First off, not just anybody can get in…you must be a bona fide member of the outdoors industry with credentials that seem to get more strict each year.   Oh yeah, and it costs lost of money in travel and lodging; Vegas is not the cheap destination your parents once knew.   On top of that, the tradeshow can be overwhelming in so many of the ways I just explained.

Honestly, I go for the friendships.   Over all my years I have met many outstanding people in this industry with whom I have developed very cherished friendships.   To me that is what SHOT is truly all about.   Renewing acquaintances and discovering new fascinating people to connect with in the future.

This first-time SHOT attendee was so overwhelmed by the experience I could hardly get him out of the Tenzing booth.

Of course, this is only an estimate, but I figure conservatively I have walked at least 750,000 steps while attending SHOT over the many years.   This works out to be over 300 miles of tired, sore feet walking on carpeted cement in various cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans.   No wonder I’m tired.

Yet, in 1994 a book author named John Roskelley handed me a signed copy of his new mountain-climbing book, Stories Off The Wall.   In the book he signed and wrote, “To Jim, all adventures begin with the first step…”   Advice I have not only taken to heart in my life, but subsequently offered to many others who were contemplating a new life journey.

Indeed, I would say how the first time a person takes steps inside of the SHOT Show it becomes a transformational experience; an experience that will change how you appreciate the shooting and outdoors industry from that day forward.

To all those folks who will be taking their very first steps at SHOT this year, I’m excited for what you are about to witness.   …And oh yes, “I remember my first time.”

Caught Up In The Hype Some Call Ammunition Hoarding

About two weeks ago I did something that might draw the ire of certain disgruntled folks.

That’s right…I placed myself in a position to hoard ammunition, by some folks’ account.   And not just any ammunition, mind you…nope, this ammo has been in the news lately as possibly eventually being banned by the ATF.  Editor’s note: Breaking news just moments ago shows that ATF has currently withdrawn it’s proposed plan to ban certain types of modern sporting rifle ammunition (AR’s)

So, I got this sales flyer from Cabela’s and it looked intriguing.   I needed to get away from the office and a quick trip to Cabela’s seemed like a logical good choice.   So, I decided to go for it.   Be there when the store opens at 9:00am.   See if the deals promised in the sales flyer would be available.   After all, it had been several years since I had last purchased any rifle ammunition.   Maybe I would get lucky.

Well, I showed up at the parking lot about 20 minutes before the doors opened.   First car in the customer parking lot.   Then another came…and another.   By the time store opening was closing in there were several cars carrying hopeful shoppers.   Perhaps 5 minutes before door opening we all gathered at the door.   Oh, there were maybe 20 of us.   Few people seemed to know each other.   It was obvious each person was there for a purpose and had a goal in mind.   Was it the same goal?   Who knows.ammobox

Suddenly the doors to Cabela’s swung open.   There was no stampede.   There was a purposeful entrance by everyone.   Much to my surprise, however, people seemed to scatter in various directions.   I paused and grabbed a cart.   Not in any particular hurry.   Besides, my shopping on this day wasn’t fueled by frenzy.

So, I walked back to the gun department and seen most of the people gathering in that general area.   There seemed to be some disarray as folks did not seem to focus on one particular sales end cap or display.   I took a sharp right turn past the dog department because I had a hunch.   I had a hunch that sometimes the folks at Cabela’s use this area to spread out their customer activity.

I guessed right.

I approached a bin that much to my surprise contained THE PRIZE!   Indeed, the ammunition on sale that I was after was in this bin.   Nobody else was within 30 yards of it when I walked up.   I hesitated briefly just to make certain my eyes were not deceiving me.   YES!   YES, this was the ammo that attracted me to come to the store on this day.   I loaded one box into my cart, I loaded another box into my cart.   I then paused to see if there was some limit on how much could be purchased.   Didn’t appear so.   About that same time the first person showed up and reached for their intended ammo purchase.   I reached back in again.

The feeding frenzy was on.   I was suddenly at the epicenter.   IN LESS THAN A MINUTE from the time I placed the first ammo box within my shopping cart the supply was all gone.   There I stood with a cart full of ammo and suddenly throngs of angry customers who where also there for the same purpose, but could not imagine the supply would be gone literally minutes after the doors opened.

I quickly left the area before more chaos ensued.   On one hand I was ashamed I got so lucky, but on the other hand I didn’t do anything that others in my situation wouldn’t also have done.   I got lucky.   I guessed correctly.   I could just as easily have walked out of that store empty handed had I made a wrong turn or dilly dallied.

Now, if you’re planning to blast me in the comments section for my actions go right ahead.   It would be different if I was habitually a person always seeking to buy ammo like this.   That’s not me!   Remember, I told you I have not purchased rifle ammunition for several years.   Yet, I wanted to experience just what the current situation really is.

I heard the store employees afterwards saying how what happened on this particular morning was worse than Black Friday after Thanksgiving.   Certainly could be.   Granted, they did not have an abundance of ammo on hand…but it disappeared incredibly fast.   In fact, it was almost unbelievable how it quickly went from a full supply to nothing.

The scenario I just related has been going on now for some time.   In some areas and with some types of ammunition the demand has eased.   In other areas of the country the scene just keeps repeating itself over and over.

I wish I could take out my crystal ball and predict when all this ammunition craziness will end.   Yeah, I suppose for many years we were spoiled when ammunition was readily available and fairly cheap, all considering.   Those days seem to be behind us, at least for the short term.   Yet, I am optimistic how someday we will once again be able to hit the shooting range without concern about how we will replenish the supply of ammo being used up from a fun day just out shooting.

I refuse to feel guilty about purchasing ammunition no matter what the caliber or quantity.   Especially when one gets lucky and scores on something in very high demand like I did on this day.

Looking Back 25 Years At The SHOT Show

Last Thursday when I walked out of the SHOT Show Press Room and hoofed it back to my hotel room it ended an era for me.   I had now attended 25 SHOT Shows during the past 27 years and I determined it was time to move on.

Oh, sure,  don’t count me out that maybe in another 5 years or so I might stop back for a glimpse to see how the industry is evolving, but for the time being I’m moving on to some other opportunities in life that are not SHOT Show focused—at least on an annual basis.

Indeed, next year while many of my outdoors cohorts will reassemble in Vegas to keep alive the vibrant SHOT traditions, I will be spending my time in Orlando at an entirely different trade show—the PGA Golf Merchandise Show.   Oh, I’ve been to this show a couple times before, too, but it’s time to break out of my usual routine.

While the guns have always been a big attraction for me at SHOT, the people I've met have been even more important.

While the guns have always been a big attraction for me at SHOT, the people I’ve met have been even more important.

Yet, as I reflect back on SHOT over the years I have so many fond recollections.   Memories of products I first viewed at SHOT before they hit the market and became big sellers.   Memories of outdoor icons walking the aisles just like normal folks.   Memories of endless aisles and exhibitor booths that would honestly take a full four days of walking in an attempt to see it all.   Those are but a few of the constants to be experienced at SHOT.

But change happens.

I remember the days of SHOT when the entire hunting community was under one, single roof.   This was before the archery community found it necessary to fracture off and create their own, independent trade show now known as the ATA Show.   I don’t blame them.   As I recall their booths were rather scattered around on the SHOT Show floor.   If you came with the sole interest in archery you had to walk by a lot of guns and accessories to get from archery booth to the next archery booth.   I believe it was at this time SHOT recognized how grouping like items such as guns, clothing, outdoor products, etc. was a worthwhile undertaking for the floor layout.

Lots of firearms industry business occurs at SHOT during its four day run.

Lots of firearms industry business occurs at SHOT during its annual four day run.

So, yes, unless you are a bit long in the tooth you may not remember SHOT for also being heavily archery.   Yet, it most certainly was back in its day 15+ years ago.

I remember a day when the so-called black guns and related products were banned from the show.   Not sure if this was an official SHOT stance or not, but the word was made pretty clear how these were not a welcome sight.   I believe what essentially happened was after the archery factions departure from SHOT it created a vacuum for a new category of goods which has now fully evolved into the Law Enforcement Section.

Try to imagine a SHOT Show today with no Modern Sporting Rifles on display.   Indeed, 20+ years ago they did not enjoy the same widespread acceptance within the hunting community as they do today.   People’s attitudes change.   Obviously, SHOT has grown much more tolerant of changing buyer attitudes, as well.

Yes, I even remember a year when the folks at SHOT decided to wet their line, so to speak, in the fishing market.   Imagine that.   Buyers could drool for days over guns, but then before traveling home they could also purchase their sporting store’s fishing essentials.   The fishing show didn’t succeed.   I believe it was only attempted one year, but kudos to the NSSF for trying new things.

Even though SHOT is about business, it's the fun times AFTER HOURS where friendships are celebrated and cherished.

Even though SHOT is about business, it’s the fun times AFTER HOURS where friendships are celebrated and cherished often lasting a lifetime.

Another big change I have noticed is how product manufacturers interact with outdoors writers.   There was a time when you could walk down the aisles of the show with media credentials and the booth staff would try to lure you in for a product pitch and perhaps a sample or two.   Wow…has that changed.   Case in point.   This year I walked up to the Havalon Knife booth asking if they had any product samples for sale.   My intent was to purchase one of their new innovative knives with a replaceable blade for a potential product review and to establish a contact person direct with the company.   Instead, the booth attendant looked at my media badge and sternly informed me how they are here [at SHOT] only to sell to “stocking dealers.”   Really?   Not only did they lose a potential customer, but they lost out on an opportunity for me to write anything positive about their company.

Over time these sort of changes are inevitable.   During the course of 25 years you see lots of good and occasionally some bad.   It happens.   Part of the growing process.   And over this time SHOT has never stopped growing.   Oh, sure, some of SHOT’s new rules don’t particularly thrill me when they change the way I have enjoyed SHOT for so many years, but I understand why they are necessary.   Nothing stays the same even as much as you would like it to.

More than anything SHOT has been a wonderful reason to make personal connections.   New friends, old friends…you can never be quite sure how attending SHOT will ultimately enhance your life until you experience it.   While many folks may focus on the new and innovative products to be seen, for me the networking and the people who attend SHOT has always been of great importance.

For sure, over the past 25 years I might forget some new product I first experienced back in 1998, but I won’t forget the character I briefly met on the elevator heading towards SHOT who taught me one of the most fundamental marketing principles I still use to this day.   You just have to be there to experience it.   I will miss those people next year.   Thus, I will also miss SHOT…but it’s time to move on.