With conventions, concerts and live events having dropped like proverbial flies, there’s a serious bit of speculation around the outdoor industry concerning the biggest event in our industry: SHOT Show.
SHOT Show, despite all the complaining that accompanies any massive event, is the event of the outdoor industry. Despite it’s being too-large (and growing) to hope to see, even in a lengthened format, it’s still where the industry goes to do business. I’ve often compared it to a combination homecoming, tent revival and medicine show -with a good dose of carnival tossed in to give it some spice. It’s all of that, and considerably more.
What we often overlook is that SHOT is essential for the overall health of the industry. It’s where CEOs of major corporations mix with entrepreneurs, retailers and wholesale distributors. That yeasty mix is essential in an industry that still values entrepreneurship at the individual level. And “conversations” at SHOT have led to everything from collaborations to outright acquisitions.
None of those are bad things. They’re essential if the industry is to thrive.
Rather than speculate on SHOT 2021, I reached out to the guy who’s responsible for it: Chris Dolnack, NSSF’s Senior VP and CMO.
In our conversation yesterday, we touched on a lot of topics. It left me feeling enthusiastic about SHOT 2021, but frustrated because no one can answer some of the most cogent questions.
Six months from now is far further than anyone can reasonably predict where the nation will be because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two weeks ago, most of us felt the tough times were behind us. Today, we know that was wishful thinking, not rational decision-making.
There’s no reasonable way to know what the situation will be. No one ever expected Las Vegas would to close- for anything. But it did.
Now, Nevada, Clark County and City of Las Vegas’s governing officials are taking a more systematic approach to the future.
“We’re still on,” Dolnack told me, “we’re full speed ahead in planning. But there’s still no absolute certainty that government won’t say ‘no’.”
That however, hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm. He’s still looking forward to SHOT 2021. But he and the NSSF staff are now forced to plan for more variables that most of us ever imagined. The COVID-19 working group (formed months ago) is trying.
So what do we know?
“We know SHOT Show 2021 will be different,” Dolnack answered, “but how different remains to be seen. We know buffet lines are a thing of the past, and food service won’t mean coffee stands and cups out for everyone- it will mean food and coffee behind glass barriers with servers.”
The NSSF has already made some big changes. To me, the biggest is the elimination of on-site registration. Let’s be clear here: there will be no on-site registration.
“It’s the only way we can avoid 2,000 people queuing up for credentials,” Dolnack explained.
Badges, he tells me, will be mailed this year, although there will still be the ability to print credentials in Las Vegas. This year, however, there won’t be print stations at Las Vegas’ McCarron Airport. It’s an attempt to prevent lines and gathering of people in one of the city’s occasionally most crowded places.
As far as physical changes, he says there will be more sanitizer stations and masks will be available.
However, he said unequivocally “If it’s mandated by local government that everyone must wear a mask we will follow that regulation.”
Transportation, especially when it comes to those ubiquitous shuttle buses is still very much up in the air.
If they’re not allowed, how attendees get around will have to be addressed. As anyone who’s ever visited Las Vegas knows, it’s a challenge to get around in normal times. But the working groups of NSSF are putting together contingency plans for that, along areas that most of us hadn’t even considered.
Today, for example, hotels are only permitted 50% occupancy.
Will the pandemic situation stabilize enough to allow for additional capacities? If you answer, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll be right, but the equal odds say you’ll be wrong.
Potential limits on working personnel might have sever impacts on preparations for erection- or removal of exhibition spaces. That could mean booths would need to arrive sooner and ship later. That has the potential to impact any of the myriad shows that follow SHOT.
All this contingency planning requires a “decision tree” that Dolnack laughing admitted was “pretty involved” . When you start playing “what-if”, you quickly realize there are many more variables than a majority of us could ever imagine, much less consider.
“The whole premise of potential limitations and additional regulations goes against the grain of this industry,” Dolnack admits, “we’re an industry that exists because the work of a lot of individual entrepreneurs over the years.”
One thing hasn’t changed, Dolnack said “ Our goal: we want to deliver a great experience that helps the industry grow.”
SHOT Show 2021 without the pandemic craziness would already different enough to squeeze some comfort zones. Its expansion into Caesar’s Palace opens another significant exhibit space. Anchor companies like Ruger, Davidsons, LWRC and others, have put their not-insignificant presences there, along with a myriad of smaller companies. Some had been on a waiting list that at one point was more than1,000+ companies long.
The expansion, despite the complaints of those of us who try- and fail-every year to cover then entire show, is actually a benefit in this crazy time.
An additional 300,000 square feet of total space (150,000 feet of exhibits) allows the crowds to spread out.
More space means more people, even in the time of social distancing.
This year, might not see the announcement of significantly more attendees when the show closes. There’s still no way to know if government regulations will force limits on total crowd allowed inside the SHOT facilities. If it does happen, work arounds could mean anything from assigned entry times to one-way traffic through the miles of aisles. It could also force a hard limit on the number of exhibitor, attendee and non-exhibiting manufacturer badges.
That’s a lot of unknowns.
But, Dolnack assured me, there’s no need to worry that exhibitors will lose their money if SHOT were to be cancelled. If conditions dictate cancellation, half of any payments will be refunded ASAP, with the remaining amounts applied to SHOT 2022.
To me, that represents a significant commitment. Other industries are rife with cancelled events where exhibitors received nothing but terse apologies.
The NSSF puts out a regular SHOT Show Insider report on the latest news for members.
I’m pleased to let our readers know that we’re also going to be giving regular updates on SHOT Show 2021 going forward.
It’s all part of the NSSF’s plan to see as many of us as possible in Las Vegas in January. It’s all part of our longstanding promise: we’ll keep you posted.
— Jim Shepherd