Philip Moss provides an overview of the all-conquering British Shooting Show and his views on other shows and fairs in general

The move to the NEC has brought with it larger stands and international interest

At shows, it is usually the traders who are gloomy and complaining that things aren’t going the way they want. This year’s Shooting Show was notable in that most traders I spoke to were very happy with the event.

The organisers had done a good job and had even managed to keep the more annoying aspects of dealing with the NEC to a minimum. The multitude of visitors had never been more biblical in scale. I didn’t hear any of the usual complaints about pitch access, low sales or low levels of interest.

If there was any negative feedback, it came from the visitors. Much of this was the same old song. ‘Shows aren’t the same as they used to be’ and ‘Why can’t the Shooting Show be held in a field in tents like a proper game fair?’ and ‘Not much new here’.

It’s rare to hear me leaping to the defence of show organisers – but this time I am happy to. The changes that shows have undergone in recent years are driven to a great extent by the changing habits of the great show-visiting public.

Back in the day, there were more regional shows with ‘gunmakers rows’ worthy of the name and visitors would come along and spend at these.

Nowadays, visitors have got into the habit of turning up to a single national event and to a great extent,  this has  starved  smaller events  of  gun business.

If less business is being done at your local show, you cannot blame gun dealers for following the market to a large national event.

Rural Nostalgia

One huge national event tends to be one huge national organisational headache. Unlike Germany where every market town seems to have huge conference and exhibition facilities, the UK has remarkably few and the Shooting Show has already outgrown most.

Even traders get a bit dewy-eyed remembering idyllic evenings at outdoor shows where the sales were good.

We tend to forget the ones which were rained off or cancelled because of a dysentery outbreak owing to insufficient sanitation.

Yes, we know that the NEC could never be described as ‘sylvan’ or even ‘rustic’ but it is a place where a large show can be held in moderate comfort, sheltered from the February weather.

To answer the ‘not much new here’ point, in the age of the internet and the smartphone, it’s hardly surprising that shows are starved of novelty. The launch of a new product is nowadays a matter for social media rather than waiting for a suitable event.

The British Shooting Show laid on a well-run show that was enjoyed by almost all in attendance

Press a button and half the world knows about your new product. When product news is available on a rolling, round-the-clock basis via websites, social media, blogs and podcasts, consumers become a little underwhelmed by the wow factor of a show-based product launch.

However, shows still have one advantage that the consumer craves. Only at shows can he or she see, touch and try out a new product ‘in the flesh’. This something that no smartphone or computer screen can offer – no matter how sophisticated, it will still fall short of the traditional show retail experience.

Traders and organisers alike might have to get used to looking at shows in a new light. Rather than seeing new consumer habits as a threat to the existence of trading at shows, it might be important to see how they can fit into a new, integrated marketing and sales strategy. Some businesses have already grasped the nettle and have changed the way they operate.

Plan of Action

Just before this year’s Shooting Show, I visited Ollie Massy-Birch at ‘Fortis Outdoor Clothing’ and ‘In Tweed’ and he explained his game plan for the 36 shows he has on this year’s schedule: “We used to drive around the country with a huge amount of stock and still managed to arrive without the right size.

Nowadays, we take two or three samples for each garment and we take orders, measuring up each customer on the stand. We aim at a two week delivery and it seems to work. “Customers like having a made-to-measure garment delivered to their door for the right price and without having to drag an off-the-peg item around the show with them all day.”

Still, pretending that online buying doesn’t exist doesn’t help anyone, explains Massy-Birch. “You have to embrace the change and make use of it when it suits your purpose. Online shopping has benefitted Fortis immeasurably and is beginning to outpace our traditional over-the-counter sales.

“Online sales are just another tool in the sales tool box. I can’t see a day when we won’t do shows as they are a great way of getting customer advice
and feedback but I can see a day when the majority of sale are generated online.”

The online presence of Fortis has been achieved through a programme of investment in the website and social media. All the usual suspects appear on the list – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – though these are backed up with a sophisticated website and a commitment to regularly updated blogs.

Massy-Birch confirms that this is all aimed at ‘giving the customer the feeling that he or she is getting a similar personalised service to that they would receive at our shop or on one of our show stands.’

So the country show or game fair of the future might develop into a shop front or showcase for made-to-measure or customised products with the actual purchasing taking place online. Not exactly idyllic but if that’s what the customer wants who am I to argue?

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