Andrew Denton, CEO of the Outdoor Industries Association (OIA), discusses how the big outdoor trade shows have progressed and evolved throughout the years, and looks at whether there’s still a place for them today
With Brexit the subject of my last two articles, and with the country in parliamentary deadlock, I thought I would pick a new, no less controversial subject to discuss this month – trade shows. In the last month many of us have been to the final OutDoor at Friedrichshafen, the launch of the new OutDoor by ISPO, the new Outdoor Trade Show (OTS) in Manchester and finally Kendal Outdoor Retail Show (KORS). 25 years ago, believe it or not, I went to the first OutDoor, having been somewhat involved in the decisions to move the show – now after a quarter of a century we are moving back to Munich, what’s changed? And do we even need trade shows anymore?
My first ISPO was sometime in the late 1980s – think of the current winter ISPO, pump it up some, then some more… The huge halls in the old ISPO venue were full to the brim, bursting with sports brands. The big guys would take a hall each – literally there would be an entire hall for Nike, one for Puma and one for Adidas. Phil Knight would walk the halls with a group of executives more like the ‘wolves of Wall Street’ than the professional, health conscious sports companies we know today. People smoked in the halls, you moved through a fug of cigar smoking, suit wearing bankers trying to find the climbers hall somewhere tucked in the back…!
The thing that was most different back then though, is when you finally tracked down an outdoor stand, buyers would be sat down going through a range, putting samples on the floor next to reps sat with triplicate order pads, writing down 2,4,4,2 in the red… we then tore the front copy off the order form, gave it to the buyer and at the end of the show we collected all the back parts together and added them up, put on 20 percent free stock and handed the seasons order forecast over to production… well not quite, but it really was almost that simple.
No brand showrooms, no roadshows, no previews, no retail showrooms – the trade show was the beating heart of the forward order process. So why on earth do we need a trade show now, three decades later when all that has changed? When sport has got out of trade shows entirely, and things have moved on? Is OutDoor by ISPO doomed? Are the OIA wasting their time trying to unite the UK behind the new OTS? As you would expect, I don’t believe so, I think there is still very much a space for something like this – call it a trade show, a meeting place, a cauldron of innovation and development opportunity for an industry – there is something vital about getting together, sharing, selling, buying and learning.
As the European Outdoor Group’s (EOG) 2020 survey showed, nearly 80 percent of the industry think something like this is vital and as an €11 billion European industry, we are not so far now from when those sports brands were growing so fast back then in the ‘80s. Last year I met the CEO of a big brand at a trade show, who had decided not to exhibit. We struggled to find a time to suit us both and when we finally did, he revealed a three-day diary packed with appointments – what was the trade show giving him that was of value, yet not worth showing his brand? We can’t always rely on ‘the other guys’ paying for our industry, growing a sector takes everyone, working together, common goals, shared objectives – ‘making the pizza bigger’ means your own slice gets correspondingly larger without affecting your neighbour.
The outdoor industry grew by nearly eight percent this year in Europe – the best results since 2010 – and those sales are the specialist members of the EOG. I think if you add in the sales of the supermarkets etc, then its way into double digit growth. So, the pizza is on the move again, the metrics are looking great, government funding in Europe and in the UK is moving more to preventative health initiatives, outdoors is cool, the outdoor look is appropriate at work and at weekends, climbing is in the Olympics, outdoor sports are accepted, even applauded. How are you able to take advantage? What can you learn from a show, a gathering, a meeting with your colleagues, what overview will a show give you, what competitive advantage over Aldi or Lidl stealing ‘your’ market?
I was given a task this month by an OIA member, who noticed we have SportPursuit and Alpinetrek as retail members, alongside Hooked on Granite, George Fisher, Trekitt… I hasten to add. I found they had never been to a conference, a directors forum, an OTS show and didn’t read the newsletter or engage in anyway, they were too busy to look outside their store.
Of course, I understand that retail is impossibly tough right now, but then I also know there are people making huge strides, winning new customers, working with new brands, exploring new ways of combining services with product, experiencing double digit growth and beyond. If you are to keep your head above water, or if you want to flourish in a volatile, uncertain and complex digital world, then surely the last thing you can do is retreat into yesterday? No one is ordering on triplicate paper forms at the trade show any more – look outside, engage, learn, explore, take new opportunities, work together to explore all the ways you can maintain or even grow the pizza.
The market is growing, trade shows are a part of that growth still – let’s lead the charge to the future of a new and relevant style of show that works for a new paced industry, capture the energy that the sports industry had back then and channel it into winning the opportunity for new consumers. I sit as a UK representative on the ISPO council and the OIA part-own the OTS show – tell us what you need from a modern show, let’s make them work for everyone. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org