By: Steven Threndyle/Media Tent (with additional reporting by Mike Lewis)
While trade shows in traditional sporting goods categories have had financial trouble in Canada in recent years, the Know?Show, Canada's premier action sports and lifestyle trade show- which just wrapped up August 26 at the spankin’ new Vancouver Convention Center, which was built for the upcoming Olympics - was another huge success; a minor miracle in this down economy.
This August marked the 7th iteration of the three year old Know?Show, which also hosts a winter show in January and the numbers showed significant growth:
KNOW?SHOW August 2008
RETAILERS: 453 / 169 Stores
EXHIBITORS: 275 (69 Exhibiting Companies)
KNOW?SHOW August 2009
RETAILERS: 862 / 492 Stores
EXHIBITORS: 450 (72 Exhibiting Companies*)
* Internal growth accounted for the lack in new companies exhibiting. We give our returning exhibitors the first chance to secure space, and they soak up most of the new area we have available - Perry Pugh
Know?Show is the brainchild of three skaters who rep for major brands. Perry Pugh (Globe), Nick Brown (Lifetime) and Ben Couves (WeSC) didn’t honestly have anything against the mainstream trade shows, it was just that “they tended to be very regional,” Pugh says. “I distribute to a lot of retailers in other provinces who could not attend shows like the BCSGA (BC Sporting Good Association). We often thought - why are we dreading going to these trade shows? So we set out to create something that was more relevant, specialized, and most importantly, fun for those of us in the action sports industry.”
Know?Show is unique for Canada in that it is centered in Vancouver. Since the eastern axis of Ontario and Quebec holds the bulk of Canada’s population, it’s natural to hold trade shows in those provinces in many sporting goods niches. As Pugh points out, however, “the distribution centers for many action sports brands is here in Vancouver.” He adds, “Vancouver is a world-class city - tremendous restaurants, scenery, nightlife - it’s just the kind of city that should be hosting this event. People need to do business, and this makes it fun.”
The show started small, with a 10,000 square foot space in the adjacent Canada Place Convention Center but has grown five-fold in size to this year’s space at 55,000 feet. “A few months back we were panicking, wondering if the downturn would affect booth space bookings. But we were sold out weeks ago. We likely turned away 25 or so possible exhibitors.” As if to emphasize the point, a rep from Ripper Skateboards dropped by to exchange cards and ensure that his company would be ‘in’ next year, for sure. Nick Brown estimates that over 500 buyers signed up for the 3-day event, which took place during the busy back-to-school retail season.
The support that the Know?Show organizers have received from the starched collared shirts and suits who run the Convention Center has been outstanding. Pugh asks, “Who would have guessed that three years ago, we’d be hosting an event in the same venue that the Olympics will be held in?” Indeed, the new Convention Center was built to accommodate the 10,000 plus international media who will be in attendance next February to broadcast the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Where the recession has affected the show was in anecdotal evidence in terms of orders being written up. As reps, all three gentlemen concurred that “bookings were conservative - retailers don’t want to get into an overbought situation. However, if they wait on the sidelines, they may not be able to get items they want if they are depending on seasonal re-orders.”
Of course, one way shops can save money is to hit the Canadian show and not fork out the big bucks in airfare and lodging for Action Sports Retailer.
Still, Know?Show is a long way from the madness and industry insanity of ASR. “People come here and get down to business,” Pugh says. “There aren’t a lot of distractions.” Attendance at Know?Show is dominated by buyers and shop employees from independently owned shops mostly in western Canada, though some small shop owners from Atlantic Canada made the trek, too. Indeed, a walk around the show floor on the second day revealed quiet, wide-open aisles with most of the action confined to the showrooms and trade booths. If folks were cutting loose, they were waiting for the end of the working day to do so.
"Perry and Ben get it," says Fred Glackmeyer of The Boardroom, a local Vancouver shop. "Overall it just has the right vibe, good size, we're happy with it. Our buyers are stacked at the Know?Show. It's a time to do business. Vibe wise it's great. They throw great parties and the nicest thing for most people is that the parties are scaled to the point where you're not waiting in line with what you thought was a VIP ticket and watching people go in. Everybody's a somebody."
Hopefully, most show attendees left with the Know?Show’s most coveted souvenir - the expensively-produced Know?Mag that is now in its 7th edition. Pugh says, “from the beginning, we wanted a branding tool to promote the show in a unique way.” Printed on heavy stock and perfect bound with cardboard front and back covers, the KnowMag is “a way to showcase the personalities that we work with - artists, skaters, models - to create some synergy in the industry and extend the brand. It has a 100 percent pick-up rate, and we know people who have kept all seven copies of the Know?Mag.”
This Januray the Know?Show will be taking a trip east to Calgary due to the Olympics and the shows organizers and retailers alike are excited about the location and the nearby terrain of the Canadian Rockies. "Calgary is a pretty dynamic, young city and they have great trade show facilities with a good scene," says Pugh. "You've got the Rocky Mountains right there so there's a really vibrant snowboard scene and a lot of really strong retailers coming out of there. The other side of it is it's just the easiest direct flight in and the best hotels and events. It should be a good time."