By Jeff Moag
When Emerald Expositions announced that it would move its Outdoor Retailer Summer Market tradeshow from August to June, everyone knew it would trigger a paddlesports exodus. The only question was where the industry would go.
Today, a powerful new contender emerged. Outdoor industry veterans Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush announced they will launch a new trade show, Paddlesports Retailer, debuting September 12-14, 2017 in Madison, Wis.
The show will be organized "for paddlers, by paddlers," says Bacon, Chairman of Nantahala Outdoor Center. The partners say the new show will be centrally located, less costly for exhibitors, and scheduled around the needs of paddling retailers and manufacturers.
"After hearing that OR was moving to June, it became clear this meant the end of paddlesports in Salt Lake City. There's just no way vendors or retailers can leave their factories and shops in peak season," says Bush, owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports and organizer of the world's leading consumer paddling show, Canoecopia.
Paddlesports Retailer will be built on Canoecopia's proven chassis. "The process is pretty dialed," says Bush, who has been leading Canoecopia since 1994. "Most paddlesports vendors are already familiar with the hall. Add to that its central location in North America and we have an event that for the first time can attract buyers from both coasts." The Alliant Energy Center in Madison has more than 130,000 square feet of exhibition space. Bush and Bacon have booked it through 2020.
Another strong selling point is cost. Bush estimates the cost to exhibit at Paddlesports Retailer will be less than half the cost of Outdoor Retailer. Money talks, and it also provides a fairly good compass for where the industry is likely walk. The initial response from industry leaders has been positive.
“We are excited about this opportunity to pull our entire industry together into a focused show that could become the destination for all things paddlesports,” said Sue Rechner, president and CEO of multi-brand paddling powerhouse Confluence Outdoor. “We look forward to learning more as the show develops.”
The partners asked key paddlesports retailers and vendors what they want in a trade show, and tailored their plan accordingly. "We intend to deliver a working show with a lower overall cost of attendance, while providing a cultural experience that's authentic to our tribe," Bacon says.
Madison is an urbane college town with a strong paddling culture, an international airport and ample hotel space. It's built on five lakes, meaning that the Sept. 11 Demo Day will be minutes from the exposition hall—something the arid Salt Lake City climate could not provide for Outdoor Retailer.
Emerald opened the door to rivals when it changed the dates of Outdoor Retailer (OR), which has been the paddling industry's go-to North American tradeshow for more than 20 years. The OR show, traditionally held in the first week of August, will move one week earlier to July 26-29 in 2017. The big move comes in 2018, when the show dates shift nearly two months earlier, to June 11-14–smack dab in the middle of busy selling season for paddlesports retailers and manufacturers.
The scheduling change responds to apparel manufacturer's need for more lead-time between product orders and delivery—a key concession to an industry that does the bulk of it's manufacturing overseas. Most kayaks and canoes sold here are still made in North America, and paddlesports companies face a different calculus: If they debut new models too early in the season, they risk upstaging the models already in inventory. The bottom line is that a June tradeshow is a non-starter for the paddling industry.
"Paddlesports is officially being kicked out of summer OR," Andrew Stern of Bending Branches told C&K when the OR date change was announced last week. "The soft goods exhibitors have bigger booths, deeper pocketbooks, and more pull with the decision makers at Emerald Expositions and convinced them to move the show up."
Stern predicts that 2017 will be the last summer any paddlesports vendor will exhibit at Outdoor Retailer. With the announcement of Paddlesports Retailer, the exodus could come even sooner. Just don't expect OR organizer Emerald Expositions to go away without a fight. The company has been working hard since August to lure the paddling industry to its Surf Expo show in Orlando, promising a paddle-specific zone in a tradeshow that has traditionally served the surf and wakeboard industry.
Until now, the smart money has been on Surf Expo, in part because there was nowhere else for the paddling industry to go. Scheduled for Sept 7-9, 2017, Surf Expo's timing is right for paddlesports. A larger question is whether the culture is right.
Paddlesports Retailer will be a paddling show, period. What it gives up in scale it takes back in specificity. "We're going to curate this show like crazy," Bush told C&K in a phone interview this afternoon. "I'd rather have an empty booth than somebody selling beef jerky.
"The criteria will be if you are paddlesports or you serve paddlesports, you're in."
Adds Bacon: "The concept of a paddle-centric show is something Darren and I talked about years ago. Now, the timing is right."
For more information, please visit www.paddlesportsretailer.com