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.

Heading To SHOT? Use That Camera In Your Pocket!

The year was 2001 and it happened to be the last night I was in New Orleans for the SHOT Show.   What’s a guy to do?   Of course, you go down to Bourbon Street and have a bit of fun before it all ends.   After all, there’s no place on earth quite like Bourbon Street, am I right?

Well, little did I realize how the excitement didn’t end when I hopped in a cab to go back to my hotel.   Indeed, what I walked into in my room was nothing short of a nightmare.   What my disbelieving eyes were seeing is water everywhere.   Water was dripping from the ceiling and I stood in a complete and destructive mess.   Everything I had collected at SHOT, all my clothes, yes everything I took with me on the trip was now drenched with water.   Worse yet, I didn’t even know what kind of water, if you get my drift!!

Water dripping everywhere from the ceiling is not the sight you care to see in your hotel room while at SHOT.

Water dripping everywhere from the ceiling is not the sight you care to see in your hotel room while at SHOT.

What a mess. And when the large hotel chain didn't want to compensate me until I showed them these pictures it was a bad deal on many different levels.

What a mess. And when the large hotel chain didn’t want to compensate me until I showed them these pictures it was a bad deal on many different levels.

Imagine the fun of having to pack up all your wet belongings and leave for the airport in just a few short hours.   So much for a good night’s rest before heading to the airport.

Yeah, horror stories like this happen in life…and even during SHOT.   What saved me during this incident is grabbing my digital camera (didn’t have a cell phone in those days) and snapping multiple photos.   You see, the large hotel chain did not want to compensate me for any of the damages nor for any of my frustrations/troubles after the fact.   That tune changed completely when images (evidence) was brought to their attention.   I went from no compensation to four nights of comped rooms plus replacement of all damaged property.

When you’re traveling, no matter at SHOT or anywhere, there simply is no excuse for not taking multiple images even if they appear mundane and not necessary.

A great example of a nice picture to grab is inside a Las Vegas taxi cab.   Back 11 years ago I was in Vegas with my then fiancé (now wife) and we were headed to the courthouse to get a marriage license.   It was about 9pm at night and it just seemed like a fun time to do it.   We hopped in a taxi, told him where we wanted to go…and the rest is yet the beginning of another nightmare.

The cabbie spoke broken English and did not have a clue.   He took us to a building he claimed was the courthouse and dropped us off.   It wasn’t.   It was 6 Vegas blocks from the courthouse and a high-crime part of town away from the touristy Freemont Street area.   We were pissed.   Not only did he scam us…he also put our personal safety in jeopardy as we encountered many street people that night hiking back to a safe area.

I got my satisfaction later, however.   You see, what the cabbie didn’t realize is that whenever I get into a cab I discreetly snap a picture of the cabbie’s license.   Armed with that information, I proceeded to call the Las Vegas Taxi Cab Authority and describe my predicament.   The nice guy on the phone informed me how this cabbie will have his license immediately suspended within the hour and that likely it will lead to a termination of his employment.   The only reason this could happen was because I was armed with the evidence to identify.

Pictures are important.   They help us remember details.   They can serve as evidence.   They can document the sort of things that might ordinarily get lost or easily forgotten.   What if you left a briefcase or a purse inside a taxi cab?  How would you describe the driver who took off with it?  He was driving a yellow cab?

For instance, I generally snap a photo of all my receipts when traveling.   That way in case they get misplaced, I still have a way of tracking expenses.   I also snap images of important business cards, hospitality room invitations, just about anything I am likely to forget.

Sometimes even snapping a picture of a good restaurant helps jog your memory for future years.

Sometimes even snapping a picture of a good restaurant helps jog your memory for future years.

Indeed, fun pictures of the SHOT experience are always the priority.   Yet, I still think people need to use the camera on their phone for the handy tool it can become.   Images not needed can be easily deleted.   Images not taken can hold a lifetime of regrets.   Develop the habit of using your phone’s camera often and for everything.

One final thought.   Three days ago a friend of mine arrived in Las Vegas for a different trade show happening currently this week.   She had a miserable day with plane delays and a taxi ride where her cab driver was pulled over by police and ticketed on the way to her hotel.   Just to finally unwind she sat down and ordered room service.   Her misery was not about to end…at least not quite yet.

Her shrimp Cobb salad and water delivered to her room ended up costing her $49.78.   To make matters even worse, they forgot the bottle of water and the salad came inside a styrofoam container the size you would get a burger in at some fast food joint.   Hardly worth that kind of money, would you say?   And to top it all off…THE SALAD DID NOT CONTAIN ANY SHRIMP!!!

Would you be taking PICTURES and complaining?   I sure bet you would.

Caught Up In SHOT Show Excitement, Focus Sometimes Becomes Lost

The SHOT Show can be mesmerizing.   My guess is there are few other industry trade shows quite like it.

With SHOT Show there’s a certain innate pleasure where the lines delineating work vs. play often become very obscure.   In fact, while it may indeed be a job to sell guns for a living out of a small retail shop, if one’s passion is truly into shooting how can that even be considered work.  There’s simply no hiding the fact SHOT Show is mostly about selling fun.  Fun products.  Fun experiences.  Fun people.

The chaos of SHOT often causes some people and groups to lose sight of their true goals and objectives.

The chaos of SHOT often causes some people and groups to lose sight of their true goals and business objectives.

So, when folks travel to SHOT it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the fun.   I can assure you how nearly every aisle has a distraction temporarily causing a person to forget about the true reason they are there.   I call it the Disney Effect.   When a young kid first experiences a Disney theme park they walk around in a daze.   Sort of a fantasy land where objects of dreams actually come to life before unbelieving eyes.   The excitement can be overwhelming and quite intoxicating.

Yup, I do believe SHOT Show produces much the same challenges for many people and organizations.   Problem is, you can excuse a child who lacks the discipline to know better.   There’s no excuse, however, for professional adults to lose that same focus especially when they should know better.

Here’s an example.   Yesterday Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever posted a press release on what they will be doing at SHOT Show next week.   Now, you might expect these wildlife groups to be on hand with a booth pushing the conservation message to preserve and manage upland habitat.   Or, they might have staff on hand at SHOT to forge key partnerships with manufacturers to fund specific conservation initiatives.   Then again, maybe these conservation groups are in attendance to simply hype their important cause and try to rejuvenate interest in a sport that unfortunately appears on the steady decline for many of us.

Nope.   Neither PF or QF appear to have a booth at SHOT as far as I can determine.   And I’m okay with that.   Many other important conservation groups who used to attend, such as Ducks Unlimited, have opted to save the large sums of money otherwise spent on exhibitor space.   I suspect it’s mostly a ROI thing.

That being said…I’m not okay with what the press release (excerpted below) says PF and QF will be doing at SHOT 2015.

Saint Paul, Minn. – For the first time, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever plan to review products targeting the upland bird hunter live from the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT) floor in Las Vegas on January 19th through 23rd. Together, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever represent the largest collection of upland hunters in the world, accounting for 146,000 members and 182,500 social media followers.


“If you plan to introduce a new product to help upland bird hunters put more feathers in the bag during 2015, then we want to know about it,” explained Bob St.Pierre, the organization’s vice president of marketing. “We’re looking for new shotguns, dog products, blaze orange apparel, wildlife habitat products, or any other pieces of upland gear.”


During this year’s SHOT Show, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever representatives will take photos, shoot videos and write reviews of these new products. All of this content will be available to the organization’s followers through their social media platforms throughout the week-long show.

Seriously?   Is this the kind of return on your membership dollar you seek?   Look, I’ll make no bones about it I have not been a big fan of Pheasants Forever now for several years.   Far too often I see select headquarters staff playing on what appears to me to be the member’s dollar.   At least that’s my perception.   And while it’s okay to have fun at what you do, it’s equally important not to lose sight of your organizational mission.

Yesterday I blogged about how everyone who attends SHOT these days has the power to communicate the excitement of the trade show.   I have no problems with that.   But would someone please explain to me why a conservation organization needs to send staff to Las Vegas to perform a function typically accomplished by the 2,500 media in attendance (most of whom pay their own way—out of their own pockets).   Again, the perception here is of conservation efforts gone terribly awry.

Oh, there are many other fine examples of well-intended focus becoming lost due to the SHOT Show Disney Effect.   Perhaps one of the best examples occurs the day before the SHOT Show even opens its doors.   SHOT Show Media Day at the Range.   Did you know this pre-show event got its genesis for the primary purpose to recognize youth and their individual achievements in the 4–H Shooting Sports?   The future of our industry depends on encouraging positive youth involvement today.

Media Day at the Range has evolved from being more about people to becoming more about products and profits.

Media Day at the Range has evolved from being more about people to becoming more about products and profits.

Guess what?   If you’re one of the chosen few media types who gets to be involved with this 2015 pre-SHOT Show event you’ll be hard pressed to find anything at “Media Day” promoting youth shooting sports anymore.   It has evolved into a commercial enterprise with objectives far different than what the original organizers had in mind to encourage and honor the nation’s top shooting sports ambassadors from each state.

Yes, it’s high time everyone within the shooting sports industry refocuses on what expectations are important to promote a positive growth within the industry.   Personally, I’m not too keen on conservation organizations coming off more as marketing organizations to promote certain products.   Nor do I like it when well-intentioned events get overshadowed and eventually replaced because big money speaks louder than good deeds.

Yup, the SHOT Show can certainly have a dizzying influence on common sense and what’s proper conduct, at least in my humble opinion.