Exhibitors Rave About SHOT Show Exhibitor Academy

June 29, 2016

“I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity,” and similar sentiments from SHOT Show exhibitors were repeatedly exchanged with National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) staff at the conclusion of the 3rd annual SHOT Show Exhibitor Academy.

This year’s Academy was held June 20-22 at the Sands Expo  Convention Center and was attended by more than 100 SHOT Show exhibitors. The Exhibitor Academy is the brainchild of ConvExx, the show management firm who won the bid to manage SHOT Show beginning in 2014.

ConvExx created their first Exhibitor Academy for the SEMA show during the height of the recession when exhibitor’s budgets were being slashed. The emphasis of the SEMA Academy was on saving money and deriving value from the exhibiting experience.

Jeff Pressman, president and CEO of ConvExx, explained that when they took over management of SHOT Show they saw another potential for the Academy but for a different purpose. SHOT Show has an exhibitor retention rate at about 98 percent and a very long wait list for new exhibitors to break into the show.

 Chris Dolnack, senior vice president and CMO at National Shooting Sports Foundation, said that part of a show organizer’s responsibility is to make adding value to exhibitors part of their continuous improvement process. For NSSF, the exhibitor Academy is a major component of that process.

The focus of the SHOT Show Exhibitor Academy is teaching exhibitors to get more return on their investment and how to attract the attention of the mass of buyers attending the event.

“We want to ensure our exhibitor’s success and to help them take advantage of all the tools and opportunities that our SHOT Show partners have to offer,” Dolnack said.

He added, “When you have companies like Freeman and Las Vegas Sands showing exhibitors how they can save money, by actually paying these companies less, I think that helps demonstrate extraordinary sincerity and transparency.”

NSSF has been hosting the Exhibitor Academy for three years and they are continually modifying the event and improving it based on attendee feedback from previous years.

This year’s event kicked off with a buyer’s panel titled “Inside the Mind of a SHOT Show Buyer”. Dolnack said that the addition of that panel was in direct response to feedback received from last year’s attendees.

Three of SHOT Show’s biggest buyers spent an hour offering up advice to Academy attendees. Some of that advice included starting your conversations with buyers with what makes you better than your competition, make sure your staff is well trained, highlight what is new, and never pack up early.

All three buyers agreed the show app was their go-to source for exhibitor information and help to navigate the show.

When asked about the use of swag and celebrities to draw in buyers, a chuckle arose from the panelists. The general opinion was that the attendees standing in line for an autograph or swag are probably not serious buyers.

Other educational sessions centered on managing the show timeline, budgeting, marketing, media outreach, booth design, booth staff selection and training, and one-on-one meetings with show vendors and experts.

Kirby Frank of Dead Foot Arms was attending the Academy for his first time and said one of his favorite sessions was a campfire discussion where long term SHOT Show exhibitors exchanged advice with new exhibitors.

Dead Foot Arms was a first-time exhibitor at SHOT in 2016, participating in SHOT Show’s Next Pavilion, a new addition to the 2016 show that showcased manufacturers and suppliers never before seen at the show.

Jeremy Lamph, director of sales and marketing, Cobalt Kinetics, made a return trip to the Academy this year because he learned much from the other exhibitors last year.

“I wanted to come back and learn more.  I also wanted to come back and share what I had learned with the new people,” he added, “The networking opportunities are incredible. The people in the industry are always looking to help each other out, and I love that.”

Attendees at the Academy had plenty of time to network with other exhibitors over breakfast and lunch, as well as evening socials. “The networking with other exhibitors was very important to us,” Frank said. “We met exhibitors who we’ll be able to partner with at the show to showcase our product.”

Connections were not just being made between exhibitors. “Not only is the week a great educational opportunity and value-add for the exhibitors to complement their experience at the annual show, but the networking and activities we hold during the Academy generate stronger relationships between the exhibitor and management,” Pressman said.

The Academy ended with an entertaining and dynamic team building game, The Amazing Race to SHOT Show.  Teams answered trivia questions and participated in a Password game show style competition. At one stage of the race, the game turned into a show sales tool.

Teams had to guess the price of different show services. One team was stumped on the price of a premium exhibitor listing. They assumed that premium came with a high price tag, but was surprised to find they could buy in at just $850. The exhibitors on that team felt the premium was worth the investment and would consider it for the 2017 SHOT Show.

Speaking of return on investment, just what is the value of investing in a program like an Exhibitor Academy? According to Dolnack, it is very simple.

“First and foremost, you build a new level of relationship with your exhibitors because you have shared a unique experience with them that results in a more informed and more efficient customer,” he said. “Second, that new found level of trust results in a loyalty that money can’t buy.”

For organizers thinking about creating an Exhibitor Academy for their shows, Dolnack has this advice; “Work with your show partners to create a unique learning and networking experience.  And do it right.  Roll out the red carpet, or don’t do it at all."

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