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Feb 15, 2016

Sports trade shows: Paul Sherratt considers their format and future

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

12 months on, some of the answers are beginning to emerge, while some questions remain. On reflection, my view is that things need to change - and already are.

Changing landscape
I’m writing this article sitting on a train meandering its way through Europe from Stuttgart to Ljubljana. It’s a landscape that will change over the next eight or so hours, taking me from a modern, efficient Germany to a more traditional world that is Slovenia.

In some respects, these same differences are reflected in the sports trade - the modern retailer embracing ecommerce, social media and appealing to today’s consumer versus the old sports shop struggling to find its way in an ever changing landscape.

Nowhere are these differences more evident than at trade shows. There are retailers who plan their trade show activity with military precision. Trade manuals and supplier offers are embraced and a ‘plan of attack’ formulated.

Conversely, there are those who appear to enjoy a weekend in the Cotswolds, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to develop their businesses, despite the intervention of the buying groups to ensure this is not the key reason for their attendance.

What is clear is that we need to change. Suppliers and retailers alike.

Trade shows are a big investment for suppliers and it’s no longer acceptable to be told: “I have run out of time to place an order with you,” or: “That looks great, but can the rep come and see me.”

There are few independent business owners who like to be told what they should and shouldn’t buy. However, the object of a buying group should be to embrace this concept for the greater good.

Preselection approach
In the near 25 years I have been in the sports trade, one of the major shifts has been the way retailers buy.

Remember the days when they wanted to swing the racquet, try on the glove or pick up the bat? Now many are happy simply to buy ‘off plan’. 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 preselect for me, leaving me more time to find the elements that will give me a point of difference? I think that’s exactly what we will see.

If we look at Intersport in many European countries, suppliers are not present at shows. The core preselected lines are presented in a core Intersport area, while the suppliers simply set up their stands, 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 suppliers moaning that nobody has visited their stand and focuses them, firstly, on working more closely with the group to gain a ‘recommended buy, mandatory buy or core selection’ and, secondly, on working with key partners within the buying group to further enhance their offer.

What about the STAG environment? Can this approach work in the same way? The answer is probably not because the nature of the members is different and there isn’t the ability to tie into international deals and SMUs in the way Intersport members can.

Finding the solution
So what chance is there? Different venue? Different time of year? More guidance? No show at all? The questions, I know, are constantly being asked internally. To find the solution is much harder.

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

Market commentators often quote the cycle of trade shows and it’s safe to say we’re in the part of the cycle where, certainly based on the trade shows of the past, shows are in decline. More accurately, they are probably evolving. And as the trade continues to evolve, so will their format.

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