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.”

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.