SHOT Show getting too big to handle

The SHOT Show is taking volunteers.

With the trade show floor having sold out for several years, nowhere to grow and a waiting list of 200 companies that want in — an unusual combination for Las Vegas in the past couple of years — the annual gun and hunting equipment convention is asking some of its biggest exhibitors to shrink their booths by as much as one-fourth.

Not only would this make room for fresh faces with new products, said CEO Steve Sanetti of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which stages the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade show, but it also would allow the trade show to reduce the square footage it rents out.

"We have been trying to fit a size 14 foot into a size 10 shoe," Sanetti said. "The big companies bring out new products, of course, but we want to make sure smaller innovators can get in as well. So far, we haven’t had any push back" from industry heavyweights such as Smith & Wesson.

By cutting the floor size, he hopes to give buyers more elbow room in the aisles and free up space for food service and other amenities. Show management has already reduced the floor size from about 675,000 square feet last year to 630,000 square feet for the four-day run that began Tuesday. The plan calls for a target of 600,000 square feet, with at least as many as this year’s 1,600 exhibitors.

Despite the cramped quarters, the SHOT Show signed a three-year deal with the Sands Expo and Convention Center that will run through next year.

The show has rotated among different cities in the past but has come to Las Vegas for 20 of the show’s 33 years. A survey among SHOT Show attendees showed they preferred staying in Las Vegas in January.

But many other groups have the same idea. According to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority statistics, January has ranked either first or second in monthly convention attendance for each of the past eight years.

The Las Vegas Convention Center is tied up for the entire month with the International Consumer Electronics Show and the World of Concrete, even though the latter is now smaller than the SHOT Show because of the depressed condition of the construction industry. "Since we wanted to be in Las Vegas in January, the Sands was the only game in town big enough for us," Sanetti said.

The show has been at the Las Vegas Convention Center in the past, but lost its priority due to its practice of moving around.

After last year’s show, Sands management undertook several physical upgrades to try to alleviate exhibitor complaints, including constructing escalators between the first and second floors, replacing the blue-tinted lighting on the first floor, and installing food stands and more prominent signage. But Sanetti said it was still undecided where the show would go in 2013.

Besides the changes requested by big exhibitors, the SHOT Show will try to move out exhibitors of peripheral products, such as Western-style jewelry, to make room for makers of guns, ammunition, scopes, camouflage clothing and other products directly related to hunting.

In addition, the show’s organizers might work to deliberately bring down attendance, which is expected to come close this year to the record of 58,000 in 2008, by checking applications more closely to weed out spectators who can’t make purchasing decisions.

As a whole, the firearms and hunting industries have continued to plow through the recession largely unscathed. The number of gun ownership forms processed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms hit 91,900 during the year ended Sept. 30, 6 percent higher than the previous year and more than double 2005.

Twenty-one states posted increases in hunting licenses sold in the past year, added Sanetti.

Exhibitors said the convention has shown few signs of recession, either. "It seems very busy here," said Dick Hammett, president of Winchester Ammunition in East Alton, Ill. "We have six conference rooms as part of our exhibit and they have been busy all day."

"It’s looking pretty good, up from last year," said Corey Leatherwood, a marketer for Leatherwood Optics, which makes rifle scopes.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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