Huge event at a fork on the slope
Snow Sports Industries America’s annual Snow Show arrives in Denver this week, luring an army of ski industry champions who deliver a big economic boost to the city in a quiet time of year.
This year, those 17,000 dapper snow lovers, in their next-season’s jackets, will deliver more than a $30 million impact to downtown as they buy and sell the latest and greatest stuff in one of the ski industry’s biggest gatherings.
While the snowy West will certainly spike energy among attendees this year, the venerable trade show — where thousands of ski shop owners peruse more than 900 brands to fill their stores next season— is undergoing a significant shift.
David Ingemie, president of the member-owned, nonprofit SIA trade group for 35 years, is stepping down. Incoming president Nick Sargent, a former Burton ex----
“Therewere no shows in front of SIA in 2000, and now there are 27 shows, ... most in December. That expansion has increased the cost of the buying and selling cycle for all involved, whether you are a retailer, rep or supplier.”
David Ingemie, president of the SIA trade group
ecutive, is inheriting a trade show grappling with discord. Veteran attendees, such as The North Face, Black Diamond and Dynafit, skip the gathering, while others, including Burton and Arc’teryx, set up shop near the Colorado Convention Center.
And in 2017, the show will shift from the late January slot, which it has occupied for nearly 20 years, to the first week of December. Switching dates is designed to better meet the new buying, selling and manufacturing cycles of today’s shifting economy while also making the once absolutely essential trade show more relevant for ski shop owners, gear makers and industry leaders.
The trade show circuit is evolving, especially for events such as Snow Show. For decades, Snow Show was a vital business gathering where gear makers signed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars’ worth of orders from retailers eager to stock their shelves with the latest new skis, snowboards, jackets, boots and accessories. But in recent years, retailers have ordered next season’s merchandise and manufacturers have factory orders set by November and December.
So the current Snow Show isn’t about buying and selling as much as it is a confab, a gathering of industry leaderswho schmooze, attend seminars and get ideas for the next year’s hardgoods and softgoods trends. That kind of face-toface time is important for an industry that relies on relationships that span a continent. But is it worth the cost of building a two-story display booth packed with ever-expanding lines of merchandise in a pricey convention hall and staffing it with a dozen high-level employees for four days in a city far from home?
“Who is going to spend $50,000, $100,000, or even half amillion on a big, beautiful booth just to drink beer with friends?” asked Chris Sword, president of Boulder’s Dynafit/Salewa North America, who last year opted out of Snow Show for the first time in many years and is skipping the show again this week.
“The community aspect of it is totally critical, but in the end, you need to look at your goals and weigh what you need to do to accomplish it,” he said. “On the surface, it’s a super appropriate show for the brand and what we do, but at the end of the day, when you look at what’s efficient and effective to accomplish our goals, it just doesn’t pencil.”
It was an easy decision in the 1990s, when those gear makers returned to headquarters with a stack of orders.
Nowadays, SnowShow’s status is slipping. Especially when the 22,000-attendeeOutdoorRetailerWinter Market trade show in Salt Lake City is in early January and a host of regional trade shows across the country fill the November and December calendars.
“There were no shows in front of SIA in 2000, and now there are 27 shows, ... most in December. That expansion has increased the cost of the buying and selling cycle for all involved, whether you are a retailer, rep or supplier,” longtime SIA chief Ingemie said, noting that the shift to December will help prepare gear reps who peddle the next season’s skis, snowboards and gear at the two dozen regional trade shows that will now follow Snow Show.
“Instead of just a trade show, it’s amarketing event,” he said. “It’s presentation and brand positioning and introducing new products and making the statement that needs to be made so reps can do a better job promoting their products (to retailers) at regional shows.”
The smaller gear companies— especially in the apparel business — seem happywith themove to December, even though many manufacturers aren’t keen on the current plan to have a show both next January and in December 2017 as the shift begins.
Dan Abrams, the president and founder of Denver-based Flylow Gear, has to have his orders sent to fabric mills by mid-December to get his company’s ski gear shipped to retailers by August.
“Moving up the show helps a lot,” Abrams said, noting how that might not work for larger brands who have to send their orders to factories even earlier. “So for them, SIA was just for marketing. But to who? To the industry? For smaller brands like us, we use the show to get orders, but that’s us, a scrappy brand that fits our whole booth in a van and spends four times the cost of the booth and space on samples.”
For retailers, moving the show to December works for timing their orders on softgoods, but that is the meat of the selling season. Diverting workers from the shop floor in the holiday season toward a trade show could be troubling, said Kat Jobanputra, chief operating officer of the 180-store Specialty Sports Venture, the retail arm of Vail Resorts.
“It’s got its positives and negatives,” Jobanputra said. “I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it.”
Jobanputra and Sword echo a commonly heard plea: SIA should work with rival Outdoor Retailer— owned by Emerald Expositions, a top trade show owner— to coordinate their shows.
“I’ve said they should collaborate. I’ve said that to both of them, but there are a lot of challenges there,” Jobanputra said. Sword suggested the SIA focus on hardgoods — skis, boards, boots and bindings — while Outdoor Retailer focuses on softgoods and apparel.
Unlike Outdoor Retailer, which seems to always be considering a move to another city, Ingemie says moving Snow Show from its longtime home in Las Vegas to Denver in 2010 “was the best decision SIA has ever made.”
The 11-year deal for Snow Show still represents the largest convention booking in Denver’s history. The annual event helps the city’s convention planners, who often work several years ahead in booking large-scale events in the Colorado Convention Center.
The option to shift the date of Snow Show to December has been on the table since SIA first arrived in Denver six years ago. The early December slot is even slower for convention business than the late January weekend, so the shuffle was not a problem, said Richard Scharf, president of Visit Denver, the city’s convention and tourism bureau.
While cities such as Salt Lake City have to promise hotel developers as much as $75 million in tax incentives to keep shows such as Outdoor Retailer from moving to a larger location, Denver has never had to offer packages like that, Scharf said. There are 3,000 rooms within a block of the convention center and thousands more a short stroll away.
Visit Denver and SIA will begin negotiating a contract extension as soon as this year, Scharf said.
“It’s just a great show for Denver. It’s a good-sized show and meets at a great time of year, and the annual aspect for us is huge,” Scharf said.
Burton, the most dominant player in snowboarding with a lion’s share of all board, boot, binding, apparel and accessory sales, broke from the Snow Show convention floor last year, setting up in the City Hall music venue on Broadway for Snow Show, which this year runs Thursday through next Sunday. The Vermont company hosted fashion shows and concerts in the cavernous bar, displaying its ever-growing line of products to retailers who nibbled catered food and drank from open bars. The company is doing the same thing this year.
“Everyone was blown away with how we brought that space to life,” said Burton president John Lacy.
Showing all of the brand’s expansive line was limited on the Snow Show floor, said Lacy, noting that the company’s Anon goggles and its resort-partnership division have remained inside the Snow Show campus.
Lacy said the bump up to December is a positive sign that SIA is attentive to the changing dynamics of the snowsports retail industry.
“This move gives a little better balance to the retailers writing orders and how we balance manufacturing and making sure our inventories are scarce,” he said. “They have to try new things, andwe have to challenge the industry as whole and see what benefits we gain from shaking things up.”
LeeWright, above, cleans a giant pair of goggles while setting up Electric’s booth in preparation for last year’s SIA Snow Show at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. The enormous eyewear was used to promote the gogglemaker’s quick-change lens systemand press-seal technology. Below sits a display of POC helmets and googles during Snow Show in 2012. This year’s event runs Thursday through next Sunday. Denver Post file photos