As I look ahead to my 20th SHOT Show next year I realize that my annual reports in this forum are usually about sharing experiences among insiders and old-timers. So this year I thought instead I’d start with an overview and some tips for my readers who are new to the industry.

“What’s The SHOT Show?”

That was my question nearly 20 years ago when I was an established patent attorney but a newbie gun nut. I had called a riflescope company about buying a scope and was having a technical discussion with the guy on the phone. He turned out to be the owner of the company, and when he learned I was a patent attorney, he said he thought I asked good questions and asked if I would be at the SHOT Show. “What’s the SHOT Show?” I replied.

The answer is that The SHOT Show is THE firearms industry trade show, put on by the true “gun lobby,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). It’s closed to the public, and it takes some serious effort to get in even as an attendee. It’s even harder to get in as an exhibitor, as I’ve been told there are multiple reasons why my law firm will never be able to get a booth (e.g. I don’t sell firearms-related products, and the idea that I might showcase multiple clients is unwanted “booth-sharing.”) That’s cool, because I vastly prefer the freedom to visit my clients and make new friends, so I’m better off as an attendee.

How To Get In The SHOT Show

This is a tricky question. The best advice is to start early and don’t wait until a week before. I know real industry participants (like a famed author who has designed a special edition gun for a major manufacturer) who can’t get in at the last minute. There are ample rules and guidelines, and lists of acceptable evidence of genuine involvement in the industry, but give it a few months. Some come in as “media” and others beg a badge to tag along with an existing exhibitor they have contacts with. But beware because the show takes an extremely strong stance against “badge sharing.” I know of one long-time major exhibitor who was almost banned for life (virtually putting them out of business) until they begged to be forgiven because one employee borrowed the badge of another.

If you’re a typical newbie inventor looking for suppliers, customers, and partnerships, then attendance is probably indispensable. You might find a way in as a trainer, media, or law enforcement based on your circumstances (search “SHOT Show – Attendee Admission Requirements” for a list of categories and the documentation required). “Startup Companies” is a likely choice. Acceptable documentation includes: “A letter of intent from an attorney stating that you intend to start a business directly related to the shooting, hunting or outdoor trade, the military, law enforcement or tactical markets.” I’m comfortable providing that letter for all my appropriate clients. Box checked, see you next year!

Incidentally, don’t feel bad if year after year the show management gives you hoops to jump through providing annual evidence of your connection to the industry. I sometimes faced that, even as I was donating tens of thousands of dollars in legal services to support the NSSF as their pro-bono trademark attorney. Starting well in advance helps.

How Not To Get Kicked Out Of The SHOT Show

The show has lots of good rules, all well thought out for the benefit of participants and the industry. The one my startup clients ask most about is “suitcasing.” The rules state: “Suitcasing” refers to the practice of companies or persons who come to the Show as attendees but “work the aisles” from their suitcase (briefcase), soliciting business from other attendees and exhibitors.

I’m no authority, but my understanding based on decades of listening for gossip is that no small inventor ever got in trouble for asking a potential industry partner: “I’ve invented an improved [invention] and wonder whether you or someone in your company would be interested in learning more about my patent-pending invention? No NDA required.” This is probably (but maybe not officially) perfectly permissible.

My assumption is that enforcement is “complaint-driven” and that enthusiastic inventors who are polite and respectful of the time of others would never be complained about even if they are “cold-calling” at select booths with no existing contacts. In 19 SHOT Shows I have cold-called well over a thousand booths (including nearly 100 last month) and never received a complaint. And to emphasize, I’m talking about inventions before they are on the market. If you can actually take orders, then this advice doesn’t apply and the prohibition properly applies to you. Networking is OK – Selling isn’t.

I will caution that if you can qualify as an exhibitor, you should probably invest in a booth or table instead of skirting the rules. Below I note some different options for newcomers. But if you’re like me and couldn’t get a booth if you tried, then you should be fine. I imagine my firm’s hypothetical “Innovation Showcase” booth as a benefit for my start-up clients, but that’s not permissible, and that’s OK.

Seeing The SHOT Show With 2020 Vision

(I just wanted to publish this cliché as a headline before you’d heard it a hundred times more!) Anyway, here’s my report on this year’s show.

When my Uber driver heard I was going to the SHOT Show he revealed that he loves guns and owns six. All Glocks. Just to be conversationally polite, and knowing they all look alike, I asked which was his favorite. “The folding Glock,” he replied to my delight and amusement. You see, Full Conceal is the maker of those incredible folding guns and is a patent client of mine. I’m a fan of their extraordinary achievement that amazes those who handle one the first time (not a flimsy gimmick but actually a safe and solid instrument). What made me laugh is that the Glock attorneys I spend a lot or time with (on the other end of a phone line to resolve a dispute) tear their hair out every time someone says something like that. But I can’t blame the driver because he has a product that is made from a genuine Glock pistol. (The attorney on the other side nicknamed me the “Glock Whisperer” because of my success in resolving the disputes without litigation).

Uber Question: If I select “no conversation” in my Uber passenger preferences, will I get in trouble if I talk too much? Also, I confess to being the guy who enters the stale-smelling car and asks the driver to turn off the “recirc” (i.e. “stale air”) button. Shouldn’t that be taught in high school?

Options For Newbie Exhibitors

I’ve raved in recent years how the NEXT section of the Show in a third-floor hallway is one of my favorites – mostly newcomers that are happy to meet me. I actually send advance copies of my book to all with public addresses as a welcome to the show. This year was a little weaker, with more stuffed animals, embroidered hats, and challenge coins. But I scanned through and met lots of good new companies.
I’ve started arriving Monday morning so I can attend the Suppliers Showcase which also continues to Tuesday. A startup in the industry won’t want to miss meeting all the suppliers of everything a gun company could need, including extrusions, plating services, precision equipment, springs, and much more. Tucked in were a few other industry exhibitors who could have been regular SHOT Show exhibitors but decided on this more affordable 2-day option. Some were interesting to me on a little patent-pending tool side project I’ll soon report on.

My new don’t-miss favorite venue is the Pop-Up exhibit on Wednesday only. About 300 mostly 10×10 booths with simple setups that are perfect for a start-up with a limited budget, but who wants to gain exposure, take meetings, and assess reaction. Also perfect for a gregarious patent attorney who likes meeting new innovators and giving away books and free legal advice. I spent the majority of that day there, and made a ton of new friends. The exhibitors not only saved a few bucks, but could pack up and enjoy the show after just one day.

Steering Clear of Viral Marketing?

With the new Caesar’s Forum venue to open for 2021 across a skybridge from the main floor, things will likely be shaken up next year. I note that a couple of major exhibitors were announced as anchor tenants for the new hall (presumably with some sweet enticements), so this looks like a serious addition, unlike the “parking lot tents” of long ago. Thankfully the organizers didn’t move any elements of the show “down the strip” where they might be ignored by most busy attendees.

Health Worries?

That Wuhan Coronavirus was not as much of a concern as the “SHOT Show Crud,” and thankfully there’s less of that this year too. I didn’t even see much evidence of the other kind of “Corona Virus” (too much Mexican beer at the Circle Bar the night before). Could this industry be getting healthier? I have to say I’ve seen some impressive health and fitness achievements as some of our grander associates have slimmed down. Maybe it’s just me and my “upper-middle-age” of 57, but I find myself asking more often “how’s your health?” than “how’s business?”

Health was especially important this year as I wanted to be sure to return healthy for the whole family, including our beautiful daughter Sally, born early December. Based on a couple of conversations, it turns out that I’m not the only one in the industry who has engaged in deliberate “family planning” to ensure against the unthinkable birth in mid-to-late January. Not only would that risk a missed SHOT Show for the birth, but also Daddy being away for every birthday for the rest of a child’s life.

Welcome Sally!

Random Thoughts On SHOT 2020

There’s a “secret entrance” to the show on the third floor. Leaving St. Mark’s Square with its blue-sky ceiling, stay left when the crowd is descending to the main floor. You’ll pop in at the end of the NEXT level with all those exhibits plus the lounges and clubs. There’s even a quick stop for your badge pickup if you’re pre-registered with a barcode – which lets you avoid the lines at the airport.

That drops you in for the Caliber Club, which opens at 7:30 every day, and is my hospitality (not-so-) secret of the show. It costs a couple hundred dollars, and offers coffee, sodas, a continental breakfast and nice lunch (hot buffet on Wednesday and Thursday), with no lines to get in the way. That saves a couple hours per show for business (or sleep). Conference rooms can be reserved for private meetings, and it’s a nice place to pause away from the show (and meet some great contacts at a shared lunch table). I used to think of this as something to be kept secret, but have decided there’s room for more, and I’ll look forward to seeing you there next year (Did I mention that it will be my 20th? Think you might hear me mention that again?)

A recent Facebook comment about an industry figure with a sexual harassment problem made me rethink the lingering use of trade show “booth bunnies” (i.e. provocatively-dressed models with no connection to the company or industry) to gain attention. I didn’t notice many this year, so maybe they’re already on the way out. It’s tacky at best, reveals a lack of real marketing message, and doesn’t belong in an industry that truly encourages diverse participation. I’m hesitant to suggest yet another rule, and I usually admire creatively provocative marketing. But isn’t it time for the NSSF to establish an appropriate policy that leaves the strippers on the Strip and not in our community that owes our female colleagues a welcoming and professional environment?

SHOT 2021

For all these years, I’ve never arranged a reception for my clients as I do for NRA and NASGW. It always seemed that no one has the time, and y’all are too busy taking your own clients out for dinner. But… I think I found the perfect time and venue for a happy hour next year to commemorate my 20th SHOT Show. Save the date of Monday at 5PM, SHOT Week 2021. The best bar in town (location still my secret) has the ideal atmosphere at that time as I discovered this year. It’ll be perfect for a relaxed get-together as setup day ends and everyone gets warmed up for a great show. Until then, I’ll see you in Nashville, if not before.

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About the Author: Ben Langlotz

Ben Langlotz is the nation’s leading firearms patent and trademark attorney, and the author of Bulletproof Firearms Business: The Legal Guide to Success Under Fire. He is trusted by more firearms industry companies than any other lawyer or law firm in the nation, and is consistently ranked at the top of all attorneys in securing gun patents and gun trademarks.