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tse_logopThe following article is reprinted with permission from Trade Show Executive magazine. The article appears in the March 2016 issue of the magazine.

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The SHOT Show, owned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), is one of the largest shows in the United States, with 1,610 exhibitors covering 640,000 net square feet of exhibit space, and drawing over 64,000 attendees. It ranked No. 18 on TSE’s Gold 100 list of the largest shows in the United States.  Exhibit space is sold out and there is a waiting list just shy of 1,000 companies clamoring to get in. Their re-sign rate is incredible – there was space for just 57 new companies on the exhibit floor at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas this year.

I had a chance to sit down with Chris Dolnack, NSSF Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer during the last day of move-in at this year’s show to talk about the other side of success – how to find new space for companies when you’ve maxed out a venue, how to keep the organizational culture service-oriented, and how to keep salespeople motivated in a sold-out situation.

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SHOT Show attendees seeing what
is new at the NEXT Pavilion.

As Chris said, “No one ever goes to a retail store to see what’s old.” The same applies for trade shows. So this year, at the suggestion of their show management ConvExx, they tried out a new idea. The hallway in the third floor conference area of the Venetian was converted into the Next Pavilion – a place where 100 companies previously on the wait list were provided turnkey packages consisting of 3’x5’ counters, signs, chair, trash can, a new product showcase entry and an ad in the show directory. It sold out in 30 days.

Those hundred companies helped contribute to a 400+ new product showcase area. (Who says new product launches at expos are dead?)

He continued, “We view our customers – members, attendees, exhibitors –  as just that:  customers. We don’t want them to ever feel that we take them for granted or that they are being taken advantage of. We must earn their business year after year. While the NSSF may run the show, it belongs to the industry.”

This customer-centric viewpoint was hammered home as we talked about “mindshare” – keeping the show relevant 24/7 – 365 days a year. How do exhibitors and visitors feel about the exhibition six months after the show? Were buyers able to implement what they learned in classes and on the show floor?  Chris noted that it’s also about how show organizers reinvest in clients and the industry. “We have to both entertain and educate our audience. It is show business after all,” he said.

Providing quality attendee education for diverse market sectors, holding an exhibitor academy six months out from the show, producing webinars and listening to feedback from external and internal sources is also a priority for the SHOT Show. I agree with Chris that one of the best ways we can improve events is to listen and act on what our clients tell us. Too many organizations think they know what’s best for their shows and disdainfully ignore good advice – when, in reality, they should embrace feedback and ask the tough questions. Our shows have to be more than just square feet sold.

Like most other exhibitions, SHOT is feeling the competition for marketing dollars from trade media, consumer publications and electronic media. But Chris pointed out, “By analyzing what people buy and being open to suggestions and input from exhibitors, we can add value by bundling marketing opportunities, and providing solutions to exhibitor challenges.”

Having multiple touch points with exhibitors and sponsors helps keep the sales team focused. Selling more digital signage than banners, working with CNTV to produce SHOT Show TV (fresh daily content with ad spots to sell), expanding the SHOT Show store, and having a mix of some of the more traditional sponsorships and advertising opportunities helped the show sell $3 million in that category this year.

Chris summed up, “We want our customers to feel special. You know how Zappo’s sells “happiness?” We sell “specialness.”

My question to all of the exhibition organizers out there is: “Do you?”