A Moveable Feast

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: February 5, 2019

I’m nuts to be writing this.

The Snowsports Industries America (SIA) show, now somewhat integrated with the Winter Outdoor Retailer (OR) show, concluded its 3-day run in Denver last Friday. The convenience of having the decision-makers of every important Alpine ski supplier in one room couldn’t be more perfect for my purposes. Any sane person in my position should adamantly and publicly proclaim every aspect of the current incarnation of the SIA show to be an unassailable success.

Before I once again demonstrate my capacity for ignoring the tenets of enlightened self-interest, let me interject that I’m not the only one who benefits from our little industry’s once-a-year confab. Major suppliers connect with major buyers (either individually or collectively) as part of a process that eventually results in major sales. I’m all in favor of a national show that attracts all stakeholders in snowsports and makes it affordable to exhibit and attend.

This is why people go to the SIA show. It’s not the only reason, but it’s the most important one.

The last three words, “affordable to attend,” is the bone in the throat of the present arrangement. As part of its agreement to sell the national show to OR, SIA negotiated a graduated increase in the cost per square foot to exhibit from the price SIA had previously charged its members (roughly $13) to the charge OR was accustomed to invoicing when its show was in Salt Lake City ($28). This means the already high costs of displaying ones wares is predestined to go up.

And that’s just the cost for square footage. Charges for carpet, drapes, pipe and furniture that were formerly picked up by SIA are breathtaking add-ons at OR. Hotel room rates have skyrocketed. The consequences aren’t just limited to the increased expenses that have to passed on to the consumer; the cost bump obliges suppliers that once consumed large showrooms to shrink their presence, reducing the amount of room to display product.

Of all the rationales for a national show, the one that resonates the most with buyers is that you get to see the entire line, which doesn’t happen at small regional shows. But if a brand has to shrink its footprint to keep costs from crippling all other marketing, where’s the space for the entire line?

An executive of an important clothing brand etched the situation in stark clarity for me as we stood in his booth last week. Like all clothing companies, his brand had been taking orders since October; in January, there isn’t much left on the table. He told me the expense of showing at SIA was more than half of the business remaining to write. So I asked, what does your booth look like next year? We stood about ten feet inside a booth that had to be forty feet deep. “It probably won’t go past where we’re standing,” he said.

At one time in the not-so-distant past, ski suppliers would try to outdo one another in the size and magnificence of their often multi-tiered displays and meeting areas. There’s no better example of the decisive break with the past than K2, where the booths of a decade ago were part theme park, part writing rooms. This year, rows of skis formed the only partition with the aisle, encircling a utilitarian open space. The simplicity of the presentation had the advantage of making the product the star, but it’s nonetheless quite a contrast with the playful showmanship of yore that’s no longer sensible to stage.

The solution to the problem of rising costs for participating in a national show is the natural migration of more business to the less expensive regional rep association shows, where a good deal of equipment orders are already written. The clothing brands still have the recently inaugurated fall OR show, a separation of the soft goods biz from the later hard goods order cycle that the clothing companies had been requesting for ages. (See my piece on the subject in Skiing History.)

This is Marcus Caston in Engelberg, Switzerland. He was also at the SIA show. The man knows how to get after it wherever he goes.

One linchpin that ties any national convocation to SIA is the Winter Sports Mart, a pre-convention show-within-a-show for two cooperating buying groups. These meetings are the lifeblood of the buying associations; if it weren’t for the WSM meetings, there would be even fewer eastern and midwestern dealers attending SIA. Point being, wherever WSM goes its dealers are sure to follow, along with the supplier community who sells to them. These are well-managed groups that will find a way to rendezvous with their supply chain however circumstances may change.

If this sounds like I’m advocating leaving SIA as an empty shell, a vagabond trade show with no place to call home, well, I’m not. What I’m suggesting is the ski trade should re-examine how it brings buyers and sellers together. SIA’s central mission has always been its trade show; perhaps now it’s time to shift focus to a higher calling.

In a brilliant piece by Porter Fox that headlined last Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Review section, Why Can’t Rich People Save Winter?, Fox cites SIA president Nick Sargent: “We made a decision that we are going to work toward reducing the carbon footprint and preserving winter for the next generation, so that is what we are going to do and that’s our commitment.”

Great idea, and one that’s already in motion, as reported Monday in Snow Industry News: (OIA, SIA and NSAA Align to Create the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership). Let SIA be our collective voice for effective action on climate issues, and let the trade show principals support the shift to smaller scale, affordable venues, providing needed relief for battered marketing budgets that could be put to better use making the sport more affordable for the middle class.

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