In an era where nearly everything can be accomplished virtually, how we approach tradeshows may be changing, but they remain an industry staple.
The rise of online shopping, directories, and social media marketing and networking sites, not to mention Zoom, has changed how we do business. Nevertheless, the tradeshow remained the undisputed networking champion for brands and athletes alike. Then, Covid hit. As the world tentatively opened up, the question loomed: Were tradeshows worth the risk? The answer, almost unanimously, was yes. With tradeshows back on the table in 2021, many are already looking forward to 2022 and beyond.
In a global industry with far-flung players, tradeshows provide a unique opportunity to bring people together. Attending shows allows dealers, distributors, and manufacturers to have valuable face-to-face time and permits brands to build their community, check out the competition, and get instant feedback. “Trade Shows are still the best solution to meet distributors, big buyers, and dealers,” opines Diego Zanga of Eurotank’s Rainbow Kayaks and Drago Rossi. Their mix of business and pleasure has forged countless friendships, business deals, and connections that outlast a few days of walking and talking shop. The most valuable moments at the show often happen in the margins—during the build day, at early morning coffee, and of course, the afterparties. While the paddle sports industry loves a party, it is far from the only reason we value an annual exchange.
A Major Media Platform
Show hosts are placing greater emphasis on fostering human connection through in-show events like lectures and symposiums, demo days, and increasing time for attendees to mingle. Simultaneously, content production is being prioritized so brands can interact with the many unable (or unwilling) to be there, even long after a show is over. Ironically, facilitating a digital presence at live events is increasingly vital, and shows offer an unrivaled PR platform. Interactive platforms and show-produced media, combined with the attendance of influencers, highlights what is happening minute to minute. This benefits smaller companies who lack the resources and time to produce content or reach global markets, and bigger ones using the show to catalyze their promotional efforts in one event. “Combining show presence and online promotion wins us a global audience of industry customers and paddlers at a consumer-level simultaneously. It’s a win-win for everyone,” says Pete Astles of Peak Paddle Sports.
Global distribution shortages and the rise of online shopping platforms are increasing the importance of live product comparisons. While most product specs are available online, only sitting in a boat or picking up a board and paddle makes the numbers real. Testing a product on the water is something else again. It will not be surprising to see more shows highlight this aspect in the future, especially as getting outside allows attendants to de-mask, relax, have fun, and even open the doors to the public.
Tradeshows hold companies true to their promises and motivate brands to step up when it comes to industry-wide commitments, such as being environmentally friendly or giving back. If you aren’t advertising or promoting the one thing people are asking about, whether going green or promoting diversity, you will be next year. Equally, tradeshows provide a time and place to reward industry leaders while allowing others to collaborate on big-picture goals without being competitive. It’s about coming together to determine what we as an industry want our goals to be.
Making Less More
At the Paddle Sports Show in Lyon, France’s Covid restrictions limited attendance. If Omicron and Delta are any indications, the need for proof of health, whether vaccinations or tests, is likely to continue. Although navigating restrictions means smaller numbers and fewer people walking the halls, less is sometimes more. “The real value in trade shows can now be found at smaller, more targeted events which guarantee the audience has an interest in our industry and products,” says Hobie Europe’s Giro Priebe. Smaller numbers mean more time to spend with people and restrictions on entry equal attendees with agendas. Many at the Paddle Sports Show in Lyon acknowledged the smaller numbers but believed there was a higher percentage of quality interactions—suggesting that those who came were serious about why they were there and what they wanted.
“In a global industry with far-flung players, tradeshows provide a unique opportunity to bring people together.“
While many chose to attend tradeshows in 2021 to see old friends, make new connections, and showcase what they have been working on, they also came to claim a stake in the future of paddle sports. “Since COVID, every business has adapted to operate without tradeshows, and I see this as a compromise,” says Aztron Co-Founder Tony Yeung. “Tradeshows are the most effective and efficient way to communicate with a large number of distributors/dealers, and it will never change. Once we can, Aztron will exhibit at all the major tradeshow worldwide in every continent.” They, and we, hope you’ll join them.