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Paddlesports Retailer, Madison Wisconsin, What a tradeshow should feel like?

I’ve just finished day one at the Paddlesports Retailer Tradeshow going on now in Madison Wisconsin. It is fantastic. I’m seeing old friends, many I’ve not seen for twenty years. I’m seeing boats that are beautiful and handcrafted that have disappeared from other tradeshows. I’m looking at accessories I did not know existed.

Over the past fifteen years the Paddlesports Industry has felt abandoned by the Outdoor Retailer Summer Tradeshow. During that period, the number of retailers attending Summer OR have continually dropped. This past show, there were probably about a dozen, but I did not count.

There are over 100 exhibitors here. People and products that I had forgotten about. An industry, paddlesports, with a big beating heart that loves water and helping people enjoy the water.

It is a feeling that I’ve not felt at tradeshows for a while, since Outdoor Retailer before it left Reno, NV. When people were excited to attend a tradeshow and looked forward to it. Maybe I’m being nostalgic or dreaming of days long gone and memories are always better than reality. But it just seems….

It is a little laid back, no one rushing down the aisles but that is possibly because you can get around easily, it is small. Larger than OR the first year it was at the Nugget in Reno, but still small. But everyone has a smile on their face. Everyone is happy to be here, and its a tradeshow.

I’ve seen orders being written. I’ve seen people showing lines after the beer came out. I’ve seen people working and product being bought.  I can’t remember the last time I saw an order being written at a tradeshow other than in the Bison Designs booth at OR.

Walking from my hotel in Madison this morning I found myself walking with a retailer. OR came up and he said he had never attended OR. I asked why. He said timing, I would lose thousands to take time off when OR is held and I can’t afford it.  Unsolicited by me. He was also a small Wisconsin retailer.

At the same time, I’ve not seen buyers form the big retailers like REI, etc., It’s a shame. If you believe that paddlesports is what shows up at OR, you are missing out on 90 exhibitors and their products you have not seen. Sure there is overlap, exhibitors, big ones, who attended OR and are here. However I think that is an indication of their support of the idea, rather than a fear of not being here.

The feelings I describe seem to be mirrored by everyone I have talked to at the show. No guarded answers on how things are going, how do you think this will work out or will you come back. All the answers were “this is great, awesome and yes.” People are happy here, people are taking orders and “writing paper” and paper are planning on attending the next one.

The paddlesports manufactures here like the association with other manufacturers in a small exhibit hall. It gives them the opportunity to learn and to shine. Several said it was nice to realize again, they where part of a larger industry.

This show would not have happened with out Darren Bush of Rutabega’s and Sutton Bacon of Nantahala Outdoor Center. Darren’s relationship in the community and knowledge of how conference center’s work, along with and I’m guessing his name and signature brought the show to life.  Sutton Bacon rounded up the hitters to sign on the dotted line to attend.

Are there issues, you bet. You can’t get everything you need here.  The other accessories that a paddlesports shop needs are not going to be here. No stoves (well one stove at the Point 65 booth by Liberty Mountain, no tents, no sleeping bags. None of those things that add up to more dollars spent at a store.  And a lot of those manufacturers are not going to be able to split and do two or more shows. Someone is going to have to give and I suspect, like always it will be the retailers. However if the money item is boats for a retailer, the draw, then this tradeshow is where those retailers need to be.

I was not really thinking of attending, but so many people asked me about the show at OR or told me they were going, I figured it was a Can’t Miss opportunity. I was right.

I’m glad I’m here. I fly home tonight and now wish I had more time to walk and talk the show, to spend more time with old friends, to meet new friends and to enjoy the paddlesports industry.

A little rambling, but an honest evaluation of 24 hours at a new Paddlesports Retailer Tradeshow in Madison.  Thanks Darren & Sutton the team you created to put this together.

Jim

 

 

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