A Tale of Two Trade Shows

A Tale of Two Trade Shows


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

You may recognize that paragraph as the opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the classic story taking place during the French Revolution.  It also could be used to describe the recent activity regarding two trade shows – the SHOT Show that took place in Las Vegas from January 15-18, 2013 and the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show that was to take place February 2-10, 2013 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania before being postponed.

The Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT), just celebrating its 35th annual event, is owned and sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).   The NSSF, founded in 1961 and having over 8,000 members, is a trade association for the firearms industry.  They are headquartered in Newtown, Connecticut.  The SHOT Show is not open to the general public and is restricted to industry professionals.

The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show (ESS), dating back to 1951, is the largest outdoor hunting and fishing trade show held in North America. The show is owned and operated by Reed Exhibitions USA, based in Norwalk, Connecticut.  Reed Exhibitions, a division of Reed Elsevier PLC, organizes over 500 events in nearly 40 countries and has 33 offices worldwide.  Reed Elsevier is headquartered in the United Kingdom. ESS is a consumer show, and as such is open to the general public at large.

NSSF hires Reed Exhibitions to manage and produce the operations of the SHOT Show.  While Reed manages the SHOT Show, all decisions, policies and actions on the SHOT Show are made at the direction of the NSSF.  NSSF has no involvement or affiliation with the ESS.

DISCLOSURE: For the record, I have friends that work at NSSF, Reed Exhibitions, and both shows.  I have also worked with Reed professionally in the past, while with a former employer, and currently work with them as an independent contractor on several events.

Let’s look at the timeline of events affecting both shows from the last 90 days:

November 26, 2012 – Reed announces plans to add a new Tactical Gun and Accessories section to the ESS.

December 14, 2012 – Twenty-six people were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut by a single gunman.  In the days and weeks after this incident, there was and still is spirited public debate regarding gun control in our country.

Gov. Tom Corbett inspects tackle with Ken Okorn, a director of the Cumberland Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited. Corbett toured the Sportsmen Show at the Pa. Farm Show Complex & Expo Center on Thurs. Feb. 11, 2011. JENNY KANE, The Patriot-News

January 7, 2013 – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett reaffirms a state policy that allows gun shows at state owned facilities, such as the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex (site of ESS) after a caller on a recent radio show suggested such shows be banned.

January 9, 2013 – Exhibitors start to move-in and set up displays at the SHOT Show.

January 11, 2013 – Harrisburg’s The Patriot-News reports that over 200 first-time exhibitors have signed up for space at the ESS.

SHOT Show 2013 recap

January 15, 2013 – SHOT Show opens to registered attendees and buyers.

January 15, 2013 – Reed announces that tactical rifles will not be a part of the 2013 ESS.  Reed posts the following statement on the ESS website at 6 p.m.: “The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show is a unique celebration of the authentic hunting and fishing traditions that are cherished by millions of Americans and their families.

We are proud to celebrate these pastimes by featuring 1,200 exhibitors offering a diverse range of products from outfitters to fishing boats and RVs, from archery to art and from clothes to cabins.

As a hunting-focused event, we welcome exhibitors who wish to showcase products and firearms that serve the traditional needs of the sport.

Clearly, we strongly support the Second Amendment.

However, this year we have made the decision not to include certain products that in the current climate may attract negative attention that would distract from the strong focus on hunting and fishing at this family-oriented event and possibly disrupt the broader positive experience of our guests.

ESS is proud to participate in the preservation and promotion of the rich hunting and fishing tradition passed from generation to generation by American families.”

Harrisburg’s The Patriot-News reported that evening that Reed’s decision will impact five out of more than 1,200 registered exhibitors, according to a conversation with the general manager of the ESS.  The general manager was also reported as speculating that two of those five impacted exhibitors likely would not be exhibiting because of Reed’s decision.  Also reported was that the decision was for 2013 only and that Reed made this decision internally.

January 16, 2013 – Over 350 Facebook users comment on ESS’s Facebook page about the previous day’s announcement.  Most comments are overwhelmingly negative and calls for a boycott of the ESS are first mentioned.  One group starts a Boycott the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show Facebook page.  At the time of writing this post, the page has over 19,000 “likes.”

January 18, 2013 – SHOT Show closes in Las Vegas with record attendance of 62,371.  Over 1,600 exhibitors took over 630,000 net square feet of booth space.  It is the fifth largest trade show to be held in Las Vegas.  NSSF also issued the following statement during the SHOT Show, in regards to Reed’s announcement on the upcoming ESS show: “The National Shooting Sports Foundation strongly disagrees with the decision of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show’s management to disallow the display and sale of Modern Sporting Rifles at its 2013 exhibition. In our discussions with Reed Exhibitions, we have made this very clear.

While assuring us that all legally available firearms will be welcome at future Eastern Sports and Outdoor Shows, it was explained that this unfortunate decision was made in response to the planned actions of a single retailer that would have drawn significant unwelcomed media coverage at a time when firearms ownership is being assailed in the media. It is important to note that this year’s show will continue to feature a wide variety of firearms.

However, it would be unfair to penalize the 1,200 exhibitors or the some 200,000 sportsmen and women who will attend the show by discouraging participation at a time when the hunting and shooting sports community needs to be united in the face of political challenges.

We urge industry exhibitors and attendees to participate in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show as planned and encourage attendees to visit the Reed Exhibitions booth at the show to share their concerns and to then enjoy the show.”

January 19, 2013 – One of ESS’s major sponsors, Cabela’s, announce on their Facebook page that they are pulling out of the show.  At the time of this post being written, it has been “liked” over 14,000 times and has over 3,700 comments.

January 20, 2013 – The first celebrities pull away from ESS.  Lee and Tiffany Lakosky of The Crush television program issue a statement that includes, “We can’t support a show that doesn’t completely support the Second Amendment.” In their statement, they mistakenly take the NSSF to task on the ban that Reed announced.

January 21, 2013 – The ESS’s original organizers in 1951, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (PFSC), announce they will not participate in the 2013 event.  PFSC turned over the ESS to the company that is now Reed in 1955.

January 21, 2013 – Organizers of the Boycott ESS Facebook page announce plans to hold an online “Virtual Sports Show” during the dates of ESS.

January 22, 2013 – Smith & Wesson announce their withdrawal from ESS via Twitter and Facebook.

January 22, 2013The Patriot-News publishes an article on the bind many ESS exhibitors find themselves in – join the boycott and forfeit several thousand dollars of fees for exhibit space and services, or participate and risk the backlash of others in this industry.

January 22, 2013 – The National Rifle Association announces that they are withdrawing from ESS and will not participate in any other shows hosted by Reed with a similar policy.

January 23, 2013 – The National Wild Turkey Federation, Quality Deer Management Association and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, among others, cancel their participation in the ESS.  Over 200 vendors have announced they will no longer be exhibiting at the show. January 23, 2013 – Linda D. Thompson, Mayor of Harrisburg, calls for stronger gun control laws at a gun control rally at the State Capital.

January 23, 2013 – Congressman Tom Marino from the 10th district of Pennsylvania (which includes Harrisburg) calls on Reed to reverse the announced ban at ESS, declaring it to be “yet another attempt to undermine protections guaranteed to all Americans under the Second Amendment.”

January 23, 2013 – Jim Shepherd, editor of The Outdoor Wire is quoted, “Reed Exhibitions just might have drawn – unintentionally – a figurative line in the sand. They’re large enough that while the Eastern Show fiasco might have a price, it will be more embarrassing than fiscally punishing. But here’s a critical truth: for some of the companies, the decision to pull out of this show comes at a terrific cost. For cottage businesses, from handmade duck calls to custom knives, withdrawing from this 9-day extravaganza is deliberately putting your business in financial peril.”

January 24, 2013 – Reed announces the postponement of the ESS with the following statement: “Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event’s historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families.  In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests. This was intended simply as a product decision, of the type event organizers need to make every day. It has become very clear to us after speaking with our customers that the event could not be held because the atmosphere of this year’s show would not be conducive to an event that is designed to provide family enjoyment. It is unfortunate that in the current emotionally charged atmosphere this celebratory event has become overshadowed by a decision that directly affected a small percentage of more than 1,000 exhibits showcasing products and services for those interested in hunting and fishing. ESS has long been proud to participate in the preservation and promotion of hunting and fishing traditions, and we hope that as the national debate clarifies, we will have an opportunity to consider rescheduling the event when the time is right to focus on the themes it celebrates.”

January 24, 2013 – NSSF issues the following statement regarding the postponement of ESS: “We have just learned that Reed Exhibitions has decided to postpone the 2013 Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. In the days following Reed Exhibitions’ announcement that modern sporting rifles would be prohibited from the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, the leadership of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has been in intense, frank discussions with Reed Exhibitions management in an effort to reverse this unacceptable decision. These discussions reached an impasse. NSSF is in no way affiliated with, nor does it participate in or exhibit at this show in any way. Reed Exhibitions does, however, manage the NSSF-owned SHOT Show (though Reed manages the SHOT Show, all SHOT Show decisions, policies and actions are made at NSSF’s direction). Because of Reed’s recent actions, NSSF is considering all options regarding the management of future SHOT Shows.” January 24, 2013 – The Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau issues a news release regarding the local economic impact the postponement of ESS will have.  Highlights include: “the postponement of the state’s largest outdoor sports show means $44 million in direct spending from vendors and attendees and $80 million in lost revenue for the local economy. The 22 hotels offering special room rate agreements for show vendors and attendees say the event accounted for approximately 12,000 room nights over a 10-day period in a traditionally slow tourism season for a region that welcomes 10 million visitors annually.”

January 24, 2013 – Local hotels, restaurants and hospitality workers comment on the loss of ESS to The Patriot-News. Comments include: “It’s financially devastating. It’s one of the highest-volume weeks of the year for us,” and “The magnitude of the sports and outdoor show — you’ll never match it.”

January 24, 2013 – Exhibitors receive emails from Reed stating refunds will be provided for all fees paid to ESS.  Details of the refund process will be released by January 31.

January 24, 2013 – Harrisburg Mayor, Linda D. Thompson issues the following statement on the postponement of ESS: “It is unfortunate that Reed Exhibitions of Norwalk, Conn., has made the business decision to postpone the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show scheduled for the City of Harrisburg in February. It is also unfortunate that legal gun owners and the many families who have enjoyed a long tradition of hunting in the beautiful rural environment around the region will be deprived of this major event because of a controversy caused by firearms manufacturers who profit from the sale of weapons designed for the mass killing of human beings. Many regional arms and outdoor vendors and related services have been hurt by the postponement as well. This kind of conflict within the firearms community is the result of years of polarization between the majority American sportsmen and hunters who exercise their constitutional right to bear arms and at the same time favor reasonable illegal gun controls, and a minority of NRA members who refuse to recognize the very real problem of illegal military style weaponry and the mass havoc such weapons facilitate.”

January 27, 2013 – The group behind the Boycott ESS Facebook page publishes a listing of over 300 exhibitors that had announced they were boycotting the ESS prior to the show’s postponement.  Also nearly 50 speakers and celebrities were listed as boycotting ESS. February 2-10, 2013 – The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex is empty. Several of the local and national organizations that pulled out of ESS held events at the local Bass Pro Shops store.  Bass Pro Shops had pulled out of the ESS prior to the boycott due to a disagreement with Reed over parking arrangements at the ESS.

February 13, 2013 – Dauphin County, Pennsylvania Commissioners allocate a $58,000 tourism grant to book the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex for 10 days in 2014 on the dates traditionally held for the ESS.  Commissioners hope to announce plans for a 2014 outdoor show within the next month.

February 15-17, 2013 – The Eastern Chapter Wild Sheep Foundation, another group that had pulled out of the ESS, went ahead with their 22nd annual Hunting and Outdoor Expo at the Lancaster County (PA) Convention Center. Harrisburg’s local CBS affiliate, WHP-TV 21, does a live remote from the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex on Saturday, February 16th, stating over 100 ESS exhibitors were holding their own event in Lancaster, making no mention that these exhibitors were participating in the ECWSF event.

COMMENTARY: As you can see, events have been quickly happening in this tale of two trade shows.  In reviewing the timeline, I have a few observations:

*     Some folks have privately commented to me that they think Reed made the decision to ban certain tactical arms as a result of the close proximity of their headquarters in Norwalk to Newtown, a distance of approximately 25 miles.  NSSF is headquartered in Newtown, where the December 12th tragedy occurred.

*     I believe that Reed did a terrible injustice to their client NSSF in announcing their decision to ban these items on the first day of the SHOT Show.  Many people assumed that NSSF was involved with ESS based on Reed’s participation with both events.  NSSF took heat that it did not deserve.

*     A workable solution, I believe, could have been the adoption of a simple (to me, at least) policy – If the merchandise was legal to own and possess in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, its display and sale should have been allowed at the ESS.


*     NSSF’s press release concerning the postponement of the ESS contains reference to reviewing future management options for the SHOT Show.  I would speculate that the relationship between NSSF and Reed is strained at this time.  Many hunting and outdoor enthusiasts are calling on NSSF to replace Reed on the SHOT Show.

*     Having worked on the tourism and hospitality side of our industry, my heart goes out to the local Harrisburg businesses and employees that were depending on the income generated from ESS visitors.  I believe the $80 million economic impact figure to be conservative.

*     Likewise, many of ESS’s exhibitors have incurred losses with cancelled travel plans, freight shipping to the general service contractor, etc.  Having once played the role of a lawyer in a high school play, I’m surprised that I have not yet heard the phrase “class-action lawsuit” mentioned against Reed.

*     I am deeply troubled by many of the comments in newspaper articles, Facebook posts and on Twitter making reference of Reed being a British owned corporations and trying to force their viewpoints on the American public.  I am sure you can agree with me that we Americans never try to force our viewpoints anywhere else around the globe.

*     It is interesting to note that the residents of the Harrisburg area have elected a Mayor and a Congressman with widely divergent views on this discussion.  Governor Corbett has been relatively quiet about the ESS controversy, with no press releases about this topic on his website, but is quoted on a local television station’s website with a comment concerning the local economic impact of the postponement.

*     The above map shows how Pennsylvania voted in the recent 2012 Presidential elections.  Democrats won the state for President Obama with 52 % of the statewide vote and carried all of the blue counties.  Dauphin County, where Harrisburg is located, is the one blue county in the “center” of this map and went Democratic with 52.4% of the vote.  Democrats carried the heavily populated Philadelphia areas in the east, while Republicans carried most of the rest of rural portions of the state.

*     I am anticipating that the 2014 version of the SHOT Show, to be held in Las Vegas next January 14-17, to have even greater attendance than this year’s record-breaker and will again be highly successful.

*     Currently, ESS is only postponed and not cancelled.  I just do not see any viable way for Reed to hold a 2013 ESS without further fanning the flames of rhetoric and also being a financially successful event for them.

*     In this age of corporations having wide and varied business interests, will Reed face a backlash at other events they manage, with boycotts or exhibitor cancellations?

I welcome your thoughts on what has transpired with these two trade shows and hope you will comment here on my post.  For the first time ever, I am imposing some rules regarding comments on one of my posts.  Your comments should be solely related to the issues that relate to these two trade shows and not get into a discussion, either pro or con, on the Second Amendment or gun control.  If you do not comply with this simple request of mine, you risk having your comments not being posted.

4 Responses to A Tale of Two Trade Shows

  1. I feel horrible for the hospitality community in PA for the money they are losing because of this cancellation. It is also such a blow to the small businesses whose yearly profit/loss is hugely affected by this one, now cancelled, tradeshow.

    What was striking to note is the different relationships that each of these organizations had with REED. Shot Show has them manage logistics but retains the ownerships and the leadership of the event themselves. The ESS gave their show/their baby to REED so they have no input anymore. This should be a cautionary tale to events when deciding to abdicate ownership of their event to any company.

  2. Thanks for the timeline Greg. I think this is a very interesting study. A show organizer often has to make decisions such as these no matter what industry they cover. Sometimes you make a good decision and sometimes it’s a bad one…you can never please everyone. But this seems to be a case of Reed not understanding their customer. And by customer I mean the exhibitors and the attendees. Clearly there was a lack of communication as well. For something to go this far off the rails and to cause a boycott…there could not have been honest and open communication from the git-go.

    A good reminder for show organizers, who when faced with a big decision, to get on the phone with your customers and talk about it. How will it impact them, what are some of the issues they will be faced with that you’ve not considered? Sadly you cannot teach someone the need for understanding their market. You either get that or you don’t.

  3. An incredibly even-handed account of what happened in the wake of the Newtown massacre and how it affected the two events.

    I, too, feel for the exhibitors, the attendees and the local populace. The economic impact is devastating to them. This should have been handled far more gracefully but, as usual, hindsight is 20-20.

  4. It is a very well written article Greg, and it provides alot of food for thought. It illustrates that every action has a reaction and the immense ripple effect that it can cause.

Leave a reply