From its humble beginnings in St. Louis, in 1979, to taking every nook and cranny of the Sands Expo Center in 2017, the SHOT Show is the industry’s signature event, bringing together more than 1,700 exhibitors and 65,000 attendees. Next January, SHOT Show will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary, so we asked a handful of today’s top outdoor writers to pick two exhibitors they know well to tell their SHOT Show stories. First up in our new “Blast from the Past” series is Hodgdon Powder and Chris and Bob Hodgdon, interviewed by the very talented Phil Massaro. Enjoy! — Chris Dolnack, NSSF Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer
Hodgdon Powder Company
The Hodgdon Powder Company. To a reloader, that name represents an industry staple, a company that has been around for nearly as long as modern reloading itself. Founded just after the Second World War by Bruce Hodgdon, the company is piloted by a third generation Hodgdon, Chris, a man I am lucky enough to call my friend and one of the nicest fellows in the industry.
Chris is a hard worker, a man devoted to family and Creator, and a man who has seen his fair share of time in the firearms industry. With the 40th SHOT Show in its planning stages as I write these words, I sat down with Chris and his father, Bob Hodgdon, to discuss their views and memories of the SHOT Show — similar and different at the same time — and what it means to them.
Phil Massaro (PM): Welcome gentleman, and thanks for taking the time to chat about SHOT. I’ve been to four or five SHOT Shows, but I imagine you’ve seen a few more than that. Tell us about your first year.
Bob Hodgdon (BH): The first SHOT Show in 1979 was a huge event for the owners and management of Hodgdon Powder Company. We, like the rest of the firearms industry community, had been delegated forever to attend the NSGA [National Sporting Goods Association] show in Chicago, the only national trade show available. That venue had always presented lots of obstacles to our industry.
PM: Bob, how were those older NSGA shows a problem?
BH: The first was that the management of that show refused to give a segment or integrated area physically to the firearms industry. We were basically scattered throughout other athletic, golf, track, volleyball, tennis exhibits, and what have you … so our customers had to search for us … . Or perhaps just happen to trip upon us as they walked by. We were a small group of exhibitors compared to the full size of that show, and were simply not important enough for any special attention.
Another huge problem was that the venue had been in the McCormick Place in Chicago, and always in the winter. I can remember transporting our small booth in the company station wagon, unloading at the dock in 40 miles-an-hour winds at just about zero degrees Fahrenheit.
It was always a very expensive venue, with typical Chicago union workers who took over the second your booth and materials hit the dock, and with many charges and surcharges and extremely high rental fees for every service and needed rented item. I do not remember any special events for any company or our group of vendors, say a press conference, or new products area, or any of the many features that are provided on a routine basis by the NSSF at the Shot Show today.
PM: Your anticipation must have been high for that first show.
BH: The first SHOT Show was in St. Louis, probably taking up no more than 30,000 or 40,000 square feet. Many of the firearms companies attended (there were certainly not many in existence then, compared to today), but many did not, as not many could afford both shows, and if you left the NSGA even for a year and then came back, you drew a booth in the back near the restrooms next year.
I can remember being excited about a place just for our own industry! We built a new booth and cancelled future rentals at the NSGA, which was basically burning your bridges before using them. We gambled on the success of the SHOT Show. Again, we were small, but were excited about the opportunity and were not disappointed, as the traffic first year had to be at least double for our company than at any show previously in Chicago.
PM: Chris, your start at SHOT Show came much later than your dad’s. Tell me about it.
Chris Hodgdon (CH): My first show was in 1995, when the show was held in Dallas. While both my father and uncle tried to explain the sheer scope of it all, their words fell short of what I experienced. I was completely overwhelmed. It was an incredible time — what with all the exhibitors and their goods — and completely gratifying. I immediately noticed how the industry pulled together for this event.
PM: Chris, I’ve had much the same experience. I liken it to the Mountain Man rendezvous, where we all get to see one another again.
CH: Exactly. This industry — and my own business especially — is based on friendships and relationships. SHOT is simply the best opportunity to build on old friendships and to create those new relationships with our dealers. While the SHOT Show is filled with tens of thousands of people, our industry is rather small if you think about it, and I consider myself lucky to have so many friends among the attendees.
PM: What was your best show?
CH: Probably either 1997, where we launched our VARGET Powder, or 1998, when we launched our Pyrodex Pellets. Both products have been a huge success, and we were very proud to bring them to the show. Likewise, with the acquisition of IMR Powder, Winchester Powder and Goex. All were well received.
PM: Over the years, Chris, is there one particular product you recall as being the “it” product to have?
CH: Well, Phil, I’m not a big gadget guy. I have a couple of favorite guns and scopes and whatnot, but I’d put your question in a different light. I think the Obama administration caused our industry to come together in SHOT Show like no other event in my memory. It resulted in a huge, exponential growth in SHOT Show attendance, and our industry banded together in both revolutionary products and hunter/shooter education.
PM: Did you commit any “rookie mistakes” during your first few shows?
CH: I am the third-generation Hodgdon to head our company, and you better believe I felt the pressure when the baton was passed to me at SHOT. I did my best, but I knew the target was on my back. In retrospect, it all worked out ok. I’m glad I had the Hodgdon reputation to lean on.
PM: Chris, tell me one the funnier stories you recall from SHOT Show.
CH: I have a good one. I was with an advertising rep from a magazine that focuses on traditional muzzleloaders — you know, flintlocks and Hawkens and the like, not the modern in-lines — and he was wondering why we weren’t advertising our Pyrodex powder in their magazine (this was long before we acquired Goex powders). As if on cue, a gentleman decked to the nines in mountain man garb — buckskin fringe jacket and all — walks past the booth, and my buddy Tom asks the guy if he shoots Pyrodex in his flintlock. The guy never broke stride, just bursts out laughing and kept on his way. I looked at the ad rep and said, “There’s your answer.” The rep had no response.
PM: Chris, give me an idea of how you view the SHOT Show, other than the obvious business dealings.
CH: Without those dealers, there’s really no point in the show. Other shows — the NRA Annual Meetings come to mind — may be more consumer-based, but the SHOT Show is our opportunity to have great face-to-face conversations with our dealers and distributors and to become friends instead of just over-the-phone business dealings. That’s extremely important to us. We’re a family owned business, and tight relationships are very important to all of us here at Hodgdon. We’re also here to support the NSSF, which is the single-most important industry partner. They’re always here for those of us in the industry, and while there are other groups who focus on individual rights, the NSSF supports us in the business. We’re happy to support them.
PM: Being self-employed, I understand the stresses involved in running a business. You seem to love what you do at Hodgdon. Every time we talk you’re as excited as if it’s your first day. Tell me about that.
CH: I really do have that perfect job here at Hodgdon. I’m excited to come to work every day because I get to share my passion of hunting, shooting and reloading with our valued customers — what could be better than that? Following in the footsteps and legacy that my grandfather Bruce, father, Bob, and Uncle J.B. created here at Hodgdon is a great privilege, but all the credit goes to God because he has provided giant blessings for the family business. My coworkers and friends in the industry are incredibly special people, and I’m grateful for every one of them.
Folks, those are the words from Chris and Bob Hodgdon, two of the many people I look forward to seeing each year at the SHOT Show. Without that opportunity, we may have never had the chance to become good friends. Here’s to SHOT Show’s 40th Anniversary, and 40 more just like it!