2008 Annual SNEWS® Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: Trade show attendance and manufacturer support questions answered

With this report, we wrap up the 2008 SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey summary, where outdoor specialty retailers get to speak their minds and offer industry observations and commentary on what is great, good, not so good and desperately needs improvement in the industry. Over the last four weeks, we've presented sections of survey results to All Access SNEWS subscribers, with last week focusing on best-selling outdoor brands in the climbing, paddling and snow categories. This week, we ask retailers to tell us what trade shows they attend, what associations need to do to gain their membership support, and what one thing manufacturers need to do to better work with specialty retailers.

With this report, we wrap up the 2008 SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey summary, where outdoor specialty retailers get to speak their minds and offer industry observations and commentary on what is great, good, not so good and desperately needs improvement in the industry. Over the last four weeks, we’ve presented sections of survey results to All Access SNEWS subscribers, with last week focusing on best-selling outdoor brands in the climbing, paddling and snow categories. If you missed it, click here to read Part 3 of our annual survey, “2008 Annual SNEWS® Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: Top-selling brands for climbing, paddling and snowsports.”

Although SNEWS sends the survey to hundreds of outdoor specialty retailers all over the country, this survey is by no means scientific in its approach. We do believe the results are quite representative of the outdoor specialty retail market as a whole, and those surveyed are consistent from year-to-year, so comparing answers from past surveys presents a useful picture of trends, market conditions and retailer moods — one of survey’s most useful features.

OK, let’s get on with the Q&A results:

Which trade shows — either regional, national or international — did your stores and buying staff attend in the last year?

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market – 75.5%

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market – 58.5%

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Early Show – 26%

SIA – 24%

EORA Mid-Atlantic Region – 22%

EORA Northeast Region – 14.5%

Magic – 12%

Midwest Reps Association (MRA) – 12%

Did not go to any trade shows – 7%

ORA – 3%

SHOT – 2%

Did you increase, decrease or keep your team’s attendance levels the same for the shows you visited this year?

Kept attendance the same – 46%

Decreased attendance – 29%

Increased attendance – 19.5%

Any comments you have regarding trade show attendance, we’d love to hear them.

  • I would like to see Fly Fishing (Retailer) rolled into Outdoor Retailer.
  • We will definitely downsize our attendance to the national shows in 2009. They are poorly timed as most of our buying is completed by then.
  • The show is very important and not just for paddlesports — if we can only do one show a year, Outdoor Retailer is the one. Some talk of a paddlesports only show might benefit some, but it would be expensive to have to attend both OR and the new show.
  • Dates are way too early for us — might not go in the future.
  • The early regional trade shows were a huge help and also allowed us to skip SIA.
  • Trade shows are a real dilemma for us — we do lots of outdoor programming and all the shows this past summer were at very very busy times for us — we could not be out of the shop. Deadlines are due even before we can ascertain what our sell through was. There has to be a better way!
  • The manufacturers are not considering that many of its retailers/outfitters are very busy with their operations when these trade shows are scheduled. We finally decided that we are focusing on what’s most important at that time of year, which is our customers. If you are not at your operation during its busiest time, you are sending a message to your customers that you don’t care and we refuse to do that. I guess we know where the manufacturing community stands.
  • Too many outsiders, ie kids, dogs, lookers.
  • Wow! Way too many shows. Way too much wasted time!

What does a trade association need to do for you to consider membership?

  • We belong to both OIA, PIA — the greatest value so far is the discounts and information. It would be great in today’s day and age to see them more fluid with greater ability to network and work together.
  • We belong to SMC and GOA. These groups provide a great deal of information into how the outdoor/ski specialty market is trending. The other important detail is that they allow for collective bargaining of deeper discounts for the member shops.
  • We belong to a few. From them we get info about events, shows, but very little info other than what the manufacturers want to feed us. Associations that promote our sports need our help money-wise to remain somewhat free to call bullshit on the manufacturers when it needs to be done.
  • There is nothing — we are a smaller business that does not see any benefits.
  • We used to be members to many, a decade or so ago, but did not see any benefits. Provide better insurance plans, business and health.
  • We do belong to the Conservation Alliance, though, and support the Access Fund through our local advocacy group. For us, it’s more important to protect the environment than to join trade associations. I guess I see the benefit of the Conservation Alliance and other groups like that and am less clear on what groups like the OIA have to offer us.
  • We do not belong to any. We keep our focus on our local community and support outdoor organizations in our own backyard. I’m not sure a trade association can do the same thing for us that our local watershed, riverkeeper, trail clubs, etc., do. That is where we put our time, energy and donations.
  • We receive PIA as a Wenonah dealer. Also belong to NMMA and Sail America. Have never found any significant value in any of them. Maybe they need reps like manufacturers to explain how they best serve dealers. We like the freight rates we get with OIA, but that’s about it.
  • We belong to Grassroots Outdoor Alliance where the best benefit is sharing info with fellow retail members. Don’t derive any direct benefits from OIA.
  • Trade associations should be primarily information exchanges, business service providers and lobbyists. Most of the above (SIA, OIA, TAPS, PIA) are not information exchangers and business service providers. And, they are somewhat marginal as lobbyists. The lobbying by the groups mentioned needs to be improved and better focused in order to be of value to me. And, when one is driven by a big box (REI/OIA), then even what publicity and lobbying is done is suspect as it is primarily a marketing tool for the two drivers there. Many don’t agree with me on this, but I’ve never been given a cogent argument on why I might be mistaken.

What one thing could manufacturer partners do to support your business and to help the two of you do better business together?

  • Support small specialty retailers’ Internet commerce efforts via Shop-a-Tron and other services, rather than channeling all their online sales through mega etailers or direct to consumer.
  • Communication or lack of or effectiveness seems to have been a problem this year. Reps don’t seem to want to travel as much and customer service seems to be an afterthought. The first thing they would realize is we are in essence a partnership, and we should value each other like one. Be open to creative marketing strategies. New ideas that are not traditional.
  • Control Internet pricing so that we are on a level playing field.
  • Manufacturers seem to be forgetting who their customer is. Not every situation on the sales floor fits into their terms agreements, and it would be nice if they were more willing to work (with) the retailer. In addition, and more specifically, manufacturer’s shipping and paper work mistakes are taking up more time than ever to correct. There are always going to be small mistakes, but it getting close to 20 percent to 25 percent of all our orders have some issue with them. These issues take up valuable time that we cannot afford.
  • Realize that we are on the same team and after the same goal. The relationship players will win in the marketplace regardless of their product. The web, spreadsheets and a couple of phone calls don’t constitute a right to $10’s of if not $100’s of thousands of dollars in business.
  • The best thing that manufacturers can do to support our business is control distribution and sales. This means keeping control over the quality and number of their dealers and not opening new distribution channels or selling direct to the consumer themselves. The other is to uphold all dealers to the same code of conduct and not allow anyone to disregard their dealer agreements.
  • Put their money where their hand is! Stock the items they want to sell, not just the preseason order amounts. They want the orders so far in advance so they can just produce what is ordered. That is why the ordering season is always being pushed up. They want us, the retailers, to assume the risk and when we don’t they open the big box.
  • Communication — The folks we deal with on a day-to-day basis need to know what is going on. Customer service reps need to be aware of inventory issues, not just take orders. How many times do we establish a customer service rep contact with a major supplier, and call to find out we have been assigned to someone else — anybody want to tell us??
  • Remember why we sell the product we do — so people can have fun and be safe outside. New products should be innovative otherwise keep making what has been working. This is ultimately an environmental decision as it requires much less retooling and retailers will need to discount product less if it stays the same season to season!
  • Ship what I want, when I want, the way I want it. I only give them eight months heads up, GET IT RIGHT!
  • Instead of making us turn in orders in November so we can get product in June… how about a January deadline for a September delivery? The deadlines are just becoming totally unrealistic.
  • We don’t feel a close relationship with very many of our suppliers. We are a service-oriented shop — we work hands on with our customers. Not only do we sell our suppliers’ products, but we teach people how to use them and we take them outdoors to enjoy their gear. Sometimes I think manufacturers lose sight of the small, hands-on operations. Pre-seasons are due so far in advance, and when we actually see what is selling through during the season, we have trouble adjusting our orders. We don’t have a magic ball…we do have personal interaction with our customers’ wants and needs. We need to be able to react to that…and we need suppliers that can also react to that reaction. Oh for a perfect world!
  • Improve product availability and more consistently review their sales reps to assure quality.
  • Stop selling direct to the consumer from their websites. If companies feel the need to sell direct, they should partner with companies such as Shop-A-Tron that allows the local retailer a chance at the sale.
  • I will speak specifically to the paddlesport industry here. As an outdoor specialty store with a paddlesports section, it’s frustrating that you can do $30k-40k of business with multiple kayak suppliers and be insignificant. I mean, as in not get a phone call all season (forget about a clinic). I would love to see a shift away from reps hauling boats from dealer event to dealer event to sell product direct to consumers for the big retailers. I thought the paddlesport reps were here to service my account and staff, not sell stuff for retailers. There is something wrong with the formula here, guys!
  • Put less emphasis on pre-seasons and allow for more in-season fill-ins. Stagger ordering dates — we are small but deal with 25+ manufacturers.
  • If you want us to accept your ridiculously early preseasons, then you need to be willing to take back product that does not sell and trade it for product that does sell.
  • Help with sell-through and fill-ins. Our biggest growth is all with the brands that do this.
  • Stress that box stores and specialty retailers cannot co-exist selling the same branded products. Specialty retailers promote the sport, and then get put out of business by large box stores.
  • Have good sales reps that get to know my business to help me make better decisions. Also have reps that care and will visit and follow up with the smaller dealers. I will purchase more from reps that work with me and stay in contact.
  • I do not regard any of my vendors as partners in any way, shape or form. They represent opportunities for my creativity to be managed into profit. I expect them to advocate for their market focus, their products, their business terms, etc., and I in turn advocate for my needs, products, terms, delivery, etc. We are both like lawyers who are members of the bar (members of the outdoor industry, if you will) but we have our own clients (interests and needs, if you will) and we respectfully advocate for those interests and needs. It is a very good system, both for the law, and for vendors and retailers. It is far better than a partnership, which I think is really another term for vendors screwing with a group of magic Kool-Aid swilling retailers. Therefore, to continue the metaphor, we each need to be professional, to be honest, to listen and probe how one another’s needs might find common ground, and work at all costs, to meet our own needs. Then we build the business on a very solid base, instead of some bluff. When the case is settled (orders in), we shake hands and go eat dinner, go fly fishing, play golf or whatever to help keep the commercial bridge in the kind of repair that will allow commerce to cross between our companies when needs are met for both vendor and retailer.
  • They could all sit down with us and ask this very question. Get to know my business, what my needs are for MY market, because we are all different in some ways. Blanket programs for everyone doesn’t work. Talk to me, find out what I need, then craft a plan that will grow your brand with me. Discounts, dating, freight programs, marketing, product seeding, clinics, environmental — all should be negotiable depending on my market needs.

Click here to read Part 1 of our annual survey, “2008 Annual SNEWS® Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: The best and worst.”

Click here to read Part 2 of our annual survey, “2008 Annual SNEWS® Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: Top-selling outdoor brands for camping and backpacking.”

Click here to read part 3 of our annual survey, “2008 Annual SNEWS® Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: Top-selling brands for climbing, paddling and snowsports.”

The SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey may not be reproduced for redistribution of any kind, in whole or part, including for promotional or sales purposes of any kind, to consumers or the trade, without the written consent of SNEWS. Contact SNEWS at for reprint details and restrictions.