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.”

Random Thoughts Following The 2014 SHOT Show

The 2014 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade(SHOT) Show wrapped up last Friday and by all accounts the industry appears very upbeat and poised for another good sales year.   In fact, if statistics prove anything, the 2014 show was a record breaker with over 5,000 more attendees than last year—totalling over 67,000 people representing over 100 different countries.

The hallways filing into and out of the SHOT Show were often quite busy with people.

All numbers aside, for me the show didn’t offer up anything revolutionary when it comes to new outdoors or shooting products.   Oh, sure, just about every product manufacturer has something new as part of their marketing hype.   They have to.   This is where the new sales season begins.   But more so than other years where folks would clamor to a handful of booths to touch and feel some fantastic new product offerings, it seemed the marketing hysteria was pretty evenly spread throughout the show in 2014.

And that’s a good thing.   Everyone was receiving attention.   Well, almost everyone.   I still shake my head at seeing one exhibitor who came to the show sporting a new line of wrist rockets.   Yup, that’s right…nothing more than a souped up slingshot capable of taking out a neighbor’s window from 200 yards away.   As I walked by the booth I couldn’t help but shake my head wondering how many beers were consumed prior to the decision of “let’s take this concept to the SHOT Show.”

Can’t seem to find .22LR in the stores, but at SHOT there was plenty on hand to excite the buyers.

Oh, there was the other booth that sold, among other things, a camouflaged pen.   Yes, who walking out of the show wouldn’t want a ballpoint pen decked out in some digital camo pattern?   Better add a camo notebook to that order.   As I picked the pen up to observe its manufacture quality I asked the fella behind the booth…”A camo pen?”   He looked at me with no response, but apparently untrusting that I might take the pen.   I set it back down and walked away.   Again, shaking my head wondering deeper about the marketing potential of this item and product line.

Yet, SHOT 2014 was certainly not all about the oddball.   You’re bound to get that when you have 1,600+ vendors showcasing their products.   Instead, this year’s SHOT felt more like a celebration of what we all enjoy.   In particular, it is encouraging to see how new shooters and women are being welcomed into the mix with new product offerings.   And why not, this growing segment of outdoors enthusiasts represents one of the fastest growing demographics within our shooting and hunting ranks.   My guess is they are also some of the highest spenders as they are the ones needing new equipment.

Almost everywhere a person looks you can find guns at SHOT, but over the years this industry buyer show has evolved into something much more than just guns.

I’ve said it before if you want the hard hitting SHOT product coverage this is not the blog to follow.   I suggest you follow my friends over at for that sort of hoopla.   In fact, while you’re at it sign-up for their Daily Digest to keep you up on all the news of the industry almost as quickly as it happens.   They do awesome work and my buddy, Fredy Riehl, who edits it is a great guy to boot!

In conclusion, I came home from SHOT having only made one product purchase.   The product that intrigued me?   None other than a game camera made by Cuddeback.   It wasn’t so much how the camera has outstanding new capabilities or any unique feature.   I bought it because I got to put the order on my buddy’s credit card.   That’s right…it’s always more fun to spend someone else’s money when buying new products for yourself.

©2014 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

What Are Your Goals For The 2014 SHOT Show?

Goals, you say?   Does a person who goes to the SHOT Show to experience all there is to see in the outdoors really need goals?   I suppose not, if you are attending merely for fun.   But quite honestly if you don’t attend with a specific purpose in mind you are probably the sort of Attendee whom the show is trying to weed out of its ranks.

Let me say this.   There was a time back a couple decades ago when the show would be held at venues, such as the New Orleans Convention Center, where space was a luxury.   You could look from one end of the show floor and truthfully not see the wall on the other end.   Back in those days the sky was the limit when it came to exhibitor space and possibilities.

A person who walks the SHOT Show floor with purpose and confidence is someone who has taken the time to set a few personal goals for the event.

Not the case anymore.

These days the show is much more strict on who it lets in because the show has grown and space is more condensed.   Not only does SHOT limit how many exhibitor personnel get passes based on display size, but even attendees and media are much more closely scrutinized in an effort to add greater legitimacy to the business environment.   That all being said, the days of getting to attend the SHOT Show as a reward or prize of some sort is over.   Bottom line, if you don’t have a bona fide business goal chances are you are in the crosshairs of show management for future events.

So, if you are attending SHOT you have goals or outcomes you want to accomplish.   Of course, it’s really hard to draw up a master plan because an outdoors writer will have objectives much different than a buyer for a small gun shop.   Still, I contend if you walk into the show it is just too damn easy to become overwhelmed by the entirety of the event, that a few goals will give you greater focus to maximize the outcome you desire.

The enormity and fast-pace of the SHOT Show will utterly confuse and consume a person who doesn’t enter the show floor with a well thought out plan.

During the past few days I have focused on networking as a necessary strategy to achieve desired outcomes.   I won’t continue to beat that drum, but realize that should be part of everyone’s plan no matter what your other goals may be.

Here’s a short list of my goals (as a communicator) for the 2014 SHOT Show:

  • Carefully observe the way companies are marketing via apps and social media.   My hunch is we are at a pivotal point where companies have discovered how smart phones and tablets are here to stay and hunters and shooters are definitely using them.
  • Find the handful or so of new products that will be creating the most post-SHOT Show buzz.   This may sound easy, but each year it seems more challenging to determine what product truly has “legs” and will take off in the marketplace.
  • Measure the industry pulse.   Much like a physician who observes and listens, I think it’s important as a communicator to monitor the overall health of the industry by being at the epicenter of its activity…and then report on it.
  • Key in on products that enable increased enjoyment for older sportsmen.   Seriously, I think older hunters and shooters are often forgotten and that’s why they eventually drop from the ranks sooner than necessary.   Now that I am pushing past 50 I seem to better appreciate advancing age and what limitations it does to the body.
  • Discover products that are oddball or strangely unusual.   It’s always worthwhile to poke fun at what some folks think will sell in the marketplace.
  • Look for industry trends and subsequently report on them.

There you go.   That’s my goals short list for SHOT.   Let’s here some of the goals you have for next week in Vegas!

©2014 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.