Indoor Future?

Here’s a question that’s harder to work out than it first looks. Was the British Shooting Show bigger or smaller than last year, in terms of square-footage?

I felt it was rather bigger, as evidenced by the entire sections of the show I didn’t even see until the third day, having unconsciously traipsed down the same aisles every time instead of exploring. Surprisingly, though, I’ve seen comments online that dismissively state it was “a third of the size” of its last incarnation at Stoneleigh. It can’t be both, can it?

We’ll probably never know – area and volume can be extremely deceptive (if you ever want to distract a room full of geeks, ask them how many ping-pong balls could fit in the room and watch them spend hours coming up with wildly differing answers). As we all know, in a niche industry, quality matters more than quantity, and there were glowing reports from the 294 exhibitors (there’s one quantity we do know) on the quality of trade they had at the NEC.

Many reports told of a different crowd attending on each day. On Friday you got the hardcore shooters, those who asked technical questions about all the kit on offer, who came with a lot of money but didn’t necessarily spend it on the day (instead preferring to research their prospective buy in person, then pick it up from a local retailer a few days later). On Saturday you got the shooting masses, who tended to buy on the spot, and on Sunday you got the families – though this isn’t an outdoor country fair, and the ‘families’ here definitely had more of a serious feel about them than the much-maligned ‘ice cream brigade’ who fill up the aisles at some events without ever buying anything.

In general, exhibitors view this as a show worth supporting, with many saying they would take a larger stand in 2019. In the post-economic slump, post-CLA world of field sports events, this is some feat, because show organisers don’t get anything for free. They have to work for every square-foot of event space they sell, work to convince exhibitors their outlay will be worth it – that it’s more than just a chance to turn over a few quid but also one to be involved in a showcase for the gun trade, to unite and demonstrate to the wider world that we’re a sizeable and respectable industry, to help ensure that more newcomers enter the world of shooting and provide long-term sustainable business for retailers.

That might have been a tough sell in Newark, and not a trivial one at Stoneleigh, but the NEC is absolutely the perfect place in this regard. It puts shooting on a level footing with Good Food, Photography, Comic-Con or any of the other sprawling mainstream shows that come to the venue. Even as the British Shooting Show was going on, a few halls over, the six-day mammoth that is the National Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show was taking place. (I spoke to one trader who’d taken a stand at both – now that’s a marathon week).

The first year at a new location is never perfect but the British Shooting Show has scored some crucial wins with its move. In 2019, I feel, the dialogue will have shifted for the first time from ‘Why should I attend this?’ to ‘Why shouldn’t I?’ For attending the BSS will surely be the default option for the huge number of big manufacturers and distributors who exhibited this year, and even for the few who didn’t.

On the wider scale, we have a full programme of outdoor summer events coming up – what does the rise of the BSS mean for them? They’ll be busy, for sure, but will the big names of the gun trade – the GMKs, the Edgar Brothers, the Blasers – be so keen to attend themselves? After all, they’ve already had their premier event of the year – what budget remains could conceivably be better spent on targeted marketing events such as dealer days. For an industry whose central activity takes place primarily outdoors, are we betraying our roots and moving indoors en masse?

This might be the cop-out response but I think we need to support every kind of event. Perhaps we will do it in different ways – with the palatial trade stands reserved for the high-ceilinged indoor venues and the big brands choosing to support retailers’ stands, thereby turning the outdoor fairs into retail heaven. One of the few complaints I heard from punters about the British Shooting Show is that they came with a chunk of money to spend but found that too many stands were just displaying, not selling. So instead of changing the BSS, we build events for them. That’s where the summer shows come in. Personally, I’m looking forward to the Northern Shooting Show. Both outdoors and indoors, it has the potential to serve both markets – oh, and there’s somewhere you can head if it rains.

The 2018 events calendar is off to a strong start – let’s hope it continues. CF

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