Insider Tips for Planning Your SHOT Show Trip

It's easy to get overwhelmed at the annual SHOT Show held in Las Vegas. Here's what you need to know from show veterans to make the most of your trip.
Insider Tips for Planning Your SHOT Show Trip

For those who’ve attended SHOT Show for years, it can be easy to get the attitude that you’ve been there, seen that and done it all. You know which vendors you need to see, who needs to be taken to dinner and a show, which retailer seminars you need to attend and so on.

But not everyone has been going to SHOT for years on end.

SHOT Show gets thousands of new attendees every year and, as you can imagine, the first time at the Sands can be an overwhelming experience. Even for those veteran show-goers there’s always something new to see. Without some dedicated planning, you’re bound to miss something you shouldn’t.

NSSF asked several retailers for their advice to those who are relatively new to SHOT Show and those about to experience their first. Here’s what three of them had to say.

Solidify or Make Relationships

Ace Sporting Goods is a third-generation, family-run store about 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that opened in 1947. Though originally an auto parts and general/hardware store, Ace eventually moved to concentrate on hunting and fishing until the product line was geared exclusively to the shooting sports.

With now 70 years of gun selling and buying under the company’s belt, Ben Romanoff, general manager at Ace, along with his father, George, take a unique approach to SHOT Show. For them, it’s not so much real-time buying as it is browsing and making and solidifying relationships.

The SHOW Show is among the top 25 trade shows in size in the United States. (Photo: NSSF)

“What we’re trying to do is get the pulse on the industry,” says Romanoff, “but I’m gathering that information on a daily basis, too…We walk up and down every aisle,” Romanoff says of the mileage he puts on over the course of the show. “Do we buy? Sometimes. We look at each other and ask ourselves if we think this will work in our market.”

When Romanoff does buy at SHOT Show, it’s usually distributor deals and SHOT Show exclusives. For new products, Romanoff says the first things he asks a manufacturer are where they’re advertising and who knows about their product. A few thousand followers on social media “doesn’t fly,” he says.

“You could have the greatest product here, but if you’re not advertising, if you’re not really in these mainstream magazines for the industry, if you’re not getting noticed that way, it’s going to be tougher for me to sell,” he explains. “I can try to advertise myself, and we’ve done that, we’ve tried some new manufacturers and my guys talk it up, but if people aren’t familiar, they’re going to go back to familiar brands.”

Romanoff cautions those who are going to try and wing it at SHOT that it’s going to be pretty difficult because of the number of people and exhibitors there. “We have a pretty good idea of who is going to be there, so my dad and I sit down with that list of who’s going to be there and we map it out. Make sure you see the people you really want to see,” he says. “Take the time with those manufacturers, but don’t take too much time. You know you can really get sucked in.”

While Romanoff does schedule appointments, mostly with his reps, sometimes he will pop into a booth for a conversation with the manufacturer. “Ask, ‘Hey, is this a good time to sit down and talk?’ ” He focuses on the big manufacturers first, because sometimes it can be tough to get close enough to ask your questions. “Come up with a game plan,” he stresses.

Something Romanoff does during these conversations is talk about promotions he wants to run — for example, Ruger Days, Glock Days and Smith & Wesson Days. Later, he follows up with what guns he would like to have.

“You just rolled out these guns. If it’s possible, we’d like to get a stock of them in so whenever one of our customers comes to our promotional weekend, they’re going to get the latest and greatest gun,” Romanoff says as an example of his follow-up.

Using Social Media Updates

Neuse Sport Shop is a single-footprint store located along Highway 70 in eastern North Carolina. The massive 70,000 square-foot outlet is staffed by 65 employees and has well-stocked firearms, ammunition and hunting departments, a dedicated ladies shop and an eight-lane, 25-yard indoor handgun range. The store is open seven days a week.

Marketing Director Zach Godwin says the company has a definite plan when it comes to approaching SHOT Show, what they do there and how they communicate back to the store and to their customers. Staff who attended the 2018 SHOT Show included Godwin, who is also Neuse’s archery buyer, and Craig Harper, the guns and ammunition buyer.

Godwin’s on-the-ground marketing plan calls for live-streaming after show hours to let customers know what the buying team is doing and why they’re at SHOT Show, but a lot of what he will do from a new-product standpoint is gather information for later social media use once they have those products in stock.

“We’re going to be using Facebook quite a bit,” says Godwin. “There will be some product, but we mainly want to show the vastness of the SHOT Show to our customers and get them excited about what we’re doing and why we’re there.” Godwin says his team communicates with the company president and vice president on a daily basis about what they’re seeing and any deals they find. In addition, they plan to discuss new products and any new lines they would like to bring back to the store.

When it comes to managing the week in Las Vegas, Godwin says, “We’re going to use all of the resources made available to us by the folks at NSSF.” When the vendor list and map come out, for example, the team scans that list to see if there are vendors on it they’re unfamiliar with and then looks up those potential new partners to see what they’re about.

“We’re going to see if they fit the categories we’re looking for and, if so, we’re going to make it a point to get by that booth while we’re there. We’re going to use the map app, and we’re going to be looking at where these vendors are beforehand and scheduling meetings with them, especially our key vendors. We’ll map that out and make sure we’re not having a lot of lag time from walking between booths,” explains Godwin.

Harper agrees, saying a dealer without a plan “probably needs to stay home.” The show is so large that Neuse sends five buyers, because it means five different sets of eyes looking at everything and hitting the show’s many different product categories.

“I think you need to go out there with a game plan and use everything that’s been given by NSSF — all the mobile apps and maps to sales and knowledge of some products going into it. Just winging it is going to be a shot in the dark,” he adds.

Even with a plan in hand, booths mapped out and appointments scheduled, the group still makes time to simply walk the floor and discover new and unique products. “We want to see as much as possible and make sure we’re not missing anything,” says Godwin.

One tactic on the show floor Godwin uses to find what’s grabbing people’s attention is what he calls the “seagull effect” — when he sees a crowd flocking around a booth, it means there’s a reason, and he knows he should go see what’s going on. He finds that it often leads to “what is popular with other companies like us” and that, he says, helps “make sure I’m not missing out on any of those big deals.”

Watson Chambers Defense Institute (WCDI) is a firearms training and retail store committed to serving customers through in-depth education and the latest and greatest products. The 12,000 square-foot facility is staffed by eight employees, four of whom are firearms instructors who teach classes ranging from basic to advanced and also provide corporate training.

Attending SHOT Show is an important function for WCDI, according to company president Aaron Watson. There, he educates himself on product changes so that what he does stock is the freshest available.

“I’m really there to see all of the new stuff and get ahead of it so I know what is going to be old soon, what I need to get out of my inventory because the new models are coming out and what I need to hold off on buying, because new models are coming out,” he says. “It’s a chance for me to make sure what’s in my store is up to date.”

Being up to date is important, because WCDI is very active on social media where real-time discussions on the newest products are the norm. “Facebook really runs our whole business,” says Watson, who specifically designates time for making Facebook posts during SHOT Week. “We’ll also cross-post from Instagram to Facebook. The larger reviews I take home with me, and I do all of the editing after I get back a week later, and then we post them.”

Social media isn’t just a primary strategy for connecting with his customers, it’s also a resource for Watson. “What normally happens is I see a vendor on Instagram, and the post says ‘Here’s my booth number,’ and I can search the booth number within the SHOT Show Mobile App and it will lead me right to it.”

Watson begins planning for the show well in advance, even scheduling dinners with distributors and key accounts as early as December.

“Those are the important deals I need to get done,” he says. As for routine business partners, Watson prefers to pop in at booths rather than schedule appointments, though he tries to time those visits so they’re on the days his dealer reps are there. “Most of my reps I see only once a year. They are states away and I usually only talk to them over the phone, so it’s nice to pop in and say ‘Hey,’ but I try to have as much scheduled as far in advance as I can.”

To make his route through the show as efficient as possible, Watson says he uses every resource NSSF makes available. “I use the SHOT Show Mobile App, and the digital map they have is very useful. I’ll also use the SHOT Show itinerary, because normally I stay and attend some of their conferences and seminars,” he says.

Pre-show planning begins with making a list of everyone Watson knows he needs to see, dividing the show into sections, and then mapping out where he needs to go. “There are days I don’t even go on another floor or another section because I’m so focused on one section at a time,” he says of the show’s intensity.

No Strategy? Bad Idea

For those dealers coming to SHOT Show without a strategy, Watson warns that’s a very bad idea and says that they’re wasting their time.

“I guess if you just want to go there and write off the first one [SHOT Show] as a learning experience, great,” he laughs, adding that it’s extremely important for dealers to show up and know where everybody is going to be. If there are any big personalities to see or conferences or presentations you want to go to, you should have those paid for, scheduled and ready to go.

“Have your full itinerary set for the entire duration you’re there, including just being in Vegas and doing things after SHOT Show. Vegas alone needs a schedule,” he says.

Despite his emphasis on scheduling, Watson does rely on free time to walk the floor to discover new products and follow up on things he saw only briefly earlier in the show. “What I try and do is have that free time on the last day,” he says. “Fill in anything you missed or get to the new stuff you had no idea was even there.”

In addition to finding out what’s new, Watson uses his time at SHOT Show to establish new relationships with distributors and manufacturers. He also holds back cash to set up new accounts. “It’s really about who has some nice new stuff that they can sell me on. If I get there and it’s old stuff, then I’m really not interested in it,” he says regarding what he looks for when considering new accounts.

One final thought from Watson is to bring an extra duffle bag to SHOT Show.

“I’ll probably be returning with more stuff than I came with. Will all the brochures we get, I need the extra bag to bring it home.”


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