Trade Show hangover

This time last year I wrote an article discussing the future of sports trade shows, how they are may evolve over time and what place they may have in the sporting good industry of, say, 2020.

Twelve months on and, following the recent STAG and Intersport Shows, some of the answers are beginning to emerge and some questions still remain.

The conclusions are still a little raw but, on reflection, my own view is that things need to change, and already are changing.

Something old something new

I write this article sitting on a train meandering its way through Europe from Stuttgart to Ljubljana. Its a landscape that will change over the next eight or so hours, taking me from a modern efficient Germany with an economy that is still driving the Eurozone, to a more traditional, some would say old fashion, world that is Slovenia.

In some respects these same difference are reflected in our own sports trade – the modern retailer embracing eCommerce, social media and appealing to “today’s consumer” versus the old, perhaps even tired, sports shop struggling to find their way in an ever changing landscape.

Nowhere are these differences more evident than at the trade shows.

The show itself

There are those retailers that plan their trade show activity with military precision. Trade manuals and supplier offers are embraced and a “plan of attack” formulated to ensure they gain the very maximum from whats on offer.

Conversely there are those that, sadly, appear to embrace a weekend in the Cotswolds rather than an opportunity to develop their businesses with new products and new ideas – despite the intervention of the buying groups to ensure that this is not the key driver behind their appearance at the event.

There are those that hunger for knowledge attending, as nearly half of the STAG members did for example, seminars to develop their knowledge of a particular subject.

There are those that find it hard to change and take on board this new knowledge – as many Intersport members found following their three hour show introduction.

Time for change.

But what is clear is that we all need to change.

Suppliers and retailers alike.

The way we work together needs to be reassessed.

Trade Shows are a big investment for suppliers in financial and emotional terms and its no longer acceptable to be told “I have run out of time to place an order with you” or “that all looks great can the rep come and see me”.

There are very few independent business owners that like to be told what they should and should not buy, however the whole principal of a buying group should be, in my eyes, to embrace this concept for the “greater good”.

Sure, we all know that it is dangerous to have too many eggs in one basket – to be heavily reliant on one major supplier – however if that supplier is driving the global sporting goods industry, and one is able to trade profitably with the lines on offer, then I can see the positives in the argument.


In the (nearly) twenty five years I have had in this trade one of the major shifts has been the way the retailers buy.

Remember the days when they wanted to swing the racket, try on the glove, or pick up the bat?

Now, in my experience, many are happy simply to buy “off plan”. A CAD or an image will suffice.

Are there reps out there still taking 6 sample bags into each call?

Take this to its logical conclusion and the buyers are, effectively, self selecting their lines, driven as much by the marketing collateral surrounding the product as to whether or not the product is any good.

As a buying group member should I therefore rely on the experts within the group to pre select for me? Take many of the buying decisions away from me? Select my core lines on my behalf leaving me more time to find the elements that will give me a point of difference?

I think thats exactly what we will see.

Certainly if we look to Intersport in many European countries suppliers are not present at the show itself.

The core “pre selected lines” are presented in a core Intersport area (much as we seen evolving over the past few years in the UK) whilst the suppliers simply set up their show stand but are not present during the show itself.

Talking to many colleagues across the continent it appears the general consensus is that this works.

What is clear is that it prevents the negativity of suppliers moaning that nobody has been on the stand and focusses them, firstly, on working more closely with the group to gain a “recommended buy/mandatory buy/core selection” (or whatever the criteria may be) and, secondly, to focus on working with their key partners within the buying group to further enhance their offer.

But what about the STAG environment? Can this work in the same way?

The answer is probably not, not least because the nature of the members is different and there is not the ability to tie into international deals/SMU’s etc in the way that Intersport members can.

So what chance there?

Different venue? Different time of year? More guidance? No show at all?

The questions, I know, are constantly being asked internally – but thats the easy bit!

To find the solution is much harder.

Times are a changing

What is evident is that things are changing and will continue to change.

Market commentators often quote “the cycle of trade shows” and, in conclusion, its safe to say that we are in a part of the cycle where, certainly based on the trade shows of the past, shows are on the decline.

More accurately they are probably evolving.

And as the trade continues to evolve so will the format.

So. Until such time as I suddenly have 2 new weeks to enjoy back in the office every December Ill see you next year.

Same time.

Same place.

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