By Ben Langlotz | February 1, 2023 | Firearms | 0 Comments
I hadn’t set foot in Las Vegas for three years. I felt like Rip Van Winkle, but wasn’t quite sure why. Had Las Vegas changed? Or was it me? Last time I had left behind a newborn, and now she bosses me around in paragraphs peppered with words like “actually” and “because.” A different digit at the start of my age might have made things hit differently, too.
The Uber was a Tesla, of course. The exhaust aroma in the airport parking garage made me wonder whether that too might soon be as distant a memory as the smell of cigarette smoke on airplanes. The room key was already in my pocket on a phone app I didn’t yet quite trust. Which led to a miraculous interval of 55 minutes from the screech of “wheels down” to the “click” of hotel room door latching behind me and leaving me in silence after a travel day. I had passed through the amazingly-empty Venetian lobby after being dropped off by another Uber driver stunned to learn he could own his car for 1/3 the cost of what he was paying Hertz to rent it.
At first, I worried that something was off. My favorite breakfast spot (I request a room on the same floor for convenience) was closed for breakfast until Thursday. Are my old favorite SHOT Show comforts on the way out? (Fortunately not – a server later assured me that they are still staffing back up after Covid, not phasing out – I expect next year will be back to normal).
Plenty of Space at Last
My morning visit to the supplier showcase had the usual ulterior motive: Find the dozen or so real startup gun companies that pick a booth among the drill bit makers and plating companies because of limited alternatives, or to save some money. This year’s show renewed my enthusiasm for meeting the newcomers, some of whom are destined to success and an eventual slot in the main hall.
From there, I worked through my “short list” of nearly 200 clients and friends to meet and greet. But I found myself rejuvenated, and reverting to my old SHOT Show strategy: Eyeball the innovative-looking exhibitors, and introduce myself. Key signals I look for in a prospective client are keywords on the display backdrop like “innovation” and “patent pending.” I find that meeting a new gun company that tells me they already have a patent attorney is among the most promising leads. They have innovations worth protecting, and they already understand the value of patents. It’s an old maxim of sales and marketing that it’s easier to close a deal when you need to persuade on only one point (which one to hire next time) than when you need to win a second point (the value of patents).
The big picture for 2023 was that there is now plenty of space for all these newcomers. They aren’t spending years on a waiting list, or relegated to a table at a distant hallway. I miss the “Newbie Ghetto” because it used to be a great concentration of newcomers I wanted to meet, but the Show seems better off as it is with space for all suitable exhibitors.
Speaking of Newbies, I have a suggestion to enhance the show. Just like you might provide a long-time exhibitor a placard celebrating a milestone like their 10 years of exhibiting (I heard one 20th Anniversarian grumbling about the lack), a bright splashy placard advertising “First-Time Exhibitor” would be good attractant for people looking for what’s really new.
How to Avoid the Biggest Mistake of New Exhibitors
I’d also add that “Patent Pending!” would make a nifty splash sign that stimulated curiosity. Maybe I should prepare a couple dozen and send them to the right clients in advance each year? (I’d do sparkly party balloons but the labor union would probably want a cut for blowing them up). I may as well add another tip for future clients designing their booths: Be sure your booth tells a visitor at a glance what makes you special. If it’s the first 44 magnum revolver to take Glock magazines, don’t put that in the fine print below your unrelated company name and the list of fine materials you use to manufacture it. Make the headline banner: “The Revolver That Takes Glock Mags!” Toss in a “Patent Pending” splash to enhance the spirit of innovation, and you’ll have a crowd for the whole show. Plus a bunch of video bloggers wanting to reveal the craziest new product of the show. Even an innovation with less drama should get the spotlight. No one cares that it’s “precision” or “from billet.” But if it’s “California-legal rapid fire” then that should be one thing that every passer-by can’t help but notice.
Speaking of splash, did you notice the crazy booth in Caesar’s with all the greens and oranges and flame-throwing videos? It was like a carnival side-show between the freak-show and the water gun balloon context. And it beautifully followed my perennial advice on branding – this time visually: Don’t try to “fit in” – try to STAND OUT.
What I Loved About the “Caesarean Section”
First, the new section opened up across the bridge at the new Caesar’s Forum has proven to be an essential relief valve to open up space, enabling all my favorite newcomers to join the party as space frees up elsewhere.
Second, the “C-Section” is as architecturally fine of an exhibit hall as I have seen our industry fill in decades. The lighting is great, the scale and materials are modern and appealing (not designed by a city government committee) and the lobbies and bathrooms are impressive.
Third, I like the rock and roll soundtrack. Not too loud, but a ZZ Top riff or Keith Richards classic guitar solo cut though and added energy without adding noise. Bowie, Petty, Winwood – good playlist for the 50 and 60-something crowd of old rockers. My first impression early in the day in the quiet smallest hall was “Do we really need to add more noise to the show?” but I changed my mind as the day progressed. One little problem: Those copyrighted songs in the background may mean that all the video bloggers will bans from YouTube. Ouch! There must be a way for the music rights licensing organizations to license incidental rebroadcast rights in these circumstances. Maybe even include a detectable audio code that can be verified.
Fourth, it’s not as far as I thought. I devoted most of a day to the C-Section, and didn’t intend to return as I do elsewhere for “mop-up” operations to catch missed meetings. But I got one important “can you come back and meet the guy?” text just as I was readying to call another Tesla Uber to the airport from the other side of creation, and it wasn’t a bad walk. I realized that I could catch an Uber from the street over there so it wasn’t a round trip. But, I was surprised at the lack of signage guiding me to the bridge in the first place. I expected big hanging signs including in the lobby outside the main hall, but all I noticed was a carpet mat sign after I was already at the door to the bridge.
For an exhibitor that will have motivated deliberate visitors, as opposed to replying on foot traffic and happenstance visits, the C-Section might well be a first choice. And what struck me is that at the other end of the desirability spectrum, the “leftovers” after those with priority for booth selection, were among my most favorite “neighborhoods”. The inconvenient remote corners of the lower level were filled with innovative newcomers, and I enjoyed every aisle. It’s probably not practical to offer a newcomer section, but it sure would make me happy.
I also note that the “breathing room” afforded by Caesar’s seems to result in a better arrangement of exhibitors. Those small “Law Enforcement” sections used to a mixed bag including regular gun companies and others who picked them because they were better choices than other areas. Now, the other areas have attractive spots available, so the LEO sections are quite purely LEO exhibitors, and miss-able for those not in the market for that type of product or service, but perfect for those who are. Well done!
After writing on the subject a couple times last year, I’ve gotten a reputation for promoting the car that is so advanced beyond the competition, it’s like an AR-15 in a Spaghetti Western*. So when I visited the booth on one of my back-page clients, and was discussing a technology issue, I made a Tesla analogy to the marketing manager. “Don’t say that to [The Boss]! He hates Teslas!” he replied. So of course I did, and engaged to hear and address all the concerns about how you waste all that time never going to the gas station every week, and the effects of the cold on battery range. I told him I’d bet he’ll be driving a Tesla in 3 years. I told him about the Tesla that plunged 250 foot off a California cliff a few weeks back and all four occupants walked away. Then he let it slip that he likes speed, lots of speed – and he hadn’t heard until then that you can get a grown-up luxury car that with a 0-60 time less than 2 seconds – superior to even million-dollar supercars that you can’t actually buy. It was over. After a few more questions and answers to which he replied “Really?!” his eyes were literally moist as I hugged and congratulated him on his conversion. (*Like an iPhone next to an old dial phone with a curly cord?)
Everyone kept asking me my opinion on the pistol brace ban and whether it would hold up in court. I have no clue, and it depends on which judge hears the case. I think braces are a side issue, and that the core issue we should focus on is the absurdity of a federal law that bans rifles with less than a certain barrel length because it makes them dangerously concealable, even as handguns are agreed to be protected arms under the Second Amendment. Our reply should always be that short rifles and guns with stocks and added grips are safer for society than widespread pistols because they reduce the dangers of inaccurate shooting. It’s a crime against public safety that these are effectively banned.
That’s how the leader of one longstanding client described this year’s show. He had a new beard and rocker hair that made him look for a moment like a Tom Petty (R.I.P.) booth appearance, so he walked the “chill” walk. He revealed that last year’s show was something of a Covid super spreader event, even with the highly touted mask enforcement. He described how one attendee who tested positive on site was spirited to his hotel room, then hours later was met in his room and extracted to a distant and dilapidated quarantine hotel. I had doubted my non-attendance, but not after hearing all that.
Describing a SHOT Show is something like a blind man describing an elephant. I heard the 2022 show described all over the map, from “waste of time” to “best ever.” But the consensus for 2023 was that this year’s show was productive but uncongested. Chill but not dead. Valuable but not essential*. Fun. Personally, I found it rejuvenating as I rediscovered the innovative newcomers I enjoy as much as old clients.
*I never really fulfilled the promise of the title. In 2033, SHOT will undoubtedly be going strong, and very beneficial to the right exhibitors and attendees. But with online catalogs, buyers don’t need to sign the big orders in the booth like they used to. Dealers have already seen the new products online. I’ve already met many of my newer clients on Zoom calls. Face-to-Face isn’t as essential for some, but it will always have its place for many. And having space for the newcomers who can get critical early attention will always be a win. As will the chance to network, shake well-sanitized hands, and embrace some dear old friends. After this year, I’ve never looked forward to the next SHOT Show with more enthusiasm. See you there, and everywhere else along the way!