So, much of the drama from the little revolution that we were involved with this summer has already passed. As of last week, there’s a tacit – if fragile – agreement between all involved to have one local summer show next year. Not incidentally, we’ve also agreed to have the show prior to OR Summer Market. (Stay tuned for dates and details…)
This all sounds good. I’ve long been a passionate rep advocate; there’s no end-game in being the last rep standing. We reps need to work together for the benefit of reps, retailers, and vendors alike. One unified show accomplishes this better than two divided ones, no question. Still – and this bears repeating – MORE was not just about dates.
This seems to be a genuine surprise to many. Little wonder. In the heat of the moment it’s doubtful that anybody read what MORE was about, and I’m certain that next to nobody was listening. (We were all too busy trying to shout one another down.) Maybe this is an opportunity to revisit the original mission. While MORE had six talking points, the main idea can be summed up in one sentence: Current market conditions demand a more vibrant and timely local trade show.
Arguably, MORE accomplished this. We can debate the particulars, flaws, and merits of the MORE show forever, but to most who were there MORE was a slam-dunk event. And, true, some of the most valid criticism is coming from those who weren’t there. It goes something like this: “Why should we spend more money to do the same business?”
This is a good question that deserves an answer.
There are many who feel that the lowest possible expense structure yields the best business return on investment. If this were true all specialty retail stores would look just like Walmart. We’re in a specialty business and to a rep we don’t sell anything that anybody absolutely needs, and neither do our customers. We do sell premium products that tap discretionary budgets. When you’re trying to convince people to spend money that they don’t need to spend, presentation is important to success.
To this end, many of our retail partners have invested in making better presentations in the past year. Uncle Dan’s moved two stores to bigger, brighter locations. Alpine Shop moved one of their stores to a better space across the street. Midwest Mountaineering created even more promotional events. In fact, most of our retailers invested heavily in promotion, infrastructure, merchandising and even consulting in this past year. (Many also launched online sales forums also, but this is another conversation.)
Let’s not forget our vendors. By example, in the past year three of Pemba’s vendors moved headquarters to bigger, better, more feature-rich locations. Almost all improved their tradeshow presence, too. Many polished infrastructure, invested in new computer tools, re-arranged staff to create more efficiencies. And – yes, even in these days of rampant lay-offs – most of our vendors hired for new positions.
OIA, our national trade organization, has invested more dollars this past year into education, outreach, political advocacy, and research. SNEWS started sending out newsletters more frequently, and revamped their once-per-year magazine. Outdoor Retailer improved both of their markets in definable, palpable ways.
Meanwhile, in response to all of this investment, we reps have continued to show product from the same rolling racks and grid we bought thirty years ago. (Sometimes we even stand up.)
It’s true that reps are under pressure. Expenses are shifting to us and job descriptions are being stretched further than ever before. With the rise in expenses and the relatively flat market, most of us took a big pay cut this year. But the only way out is through. We need to invest in growing our businesses. Our customers, our vendors, and the market requires this.
This isn’t a bad thing, far from it. The truth is that a strong, vibrant local show saves reps both time and money. Gas is going to stay at $4 per gallon. Average hotels in the US will still be $100 per night. Air travel is becoming prohibitive. By creating more attractive regional tradeshows that draw and hold more attendance, we save money. (How many retailers spent less than one day at ORA last week?) Even if the up-front investment in dollars is higher, the return is also higher in both dollars and time.
Why not spend four days getting work done well than four weeks getting it done poorly?
Ken Barmore (one of the founders of Outdoor University) once said that working with reps in a group is like herding cats, and that working with specialty retailers and small vendors wasn’t much easier. We’re all individuals, after all. (We wouldn’t be in this industry if we weren’t.) Since Ken’s herding cats metaphor rings true, which would you rather do: Chase a bunch of felines around a room trying to get them all in a corner at the same time, or open a can of tuna and have them all run to you?
In a nutshell – or, rather, in a can – this is why we still need MORE. And to reiterate, it wasn’t just about dates.