Gossip, Tips, and Hacks After My 22nd SHOT-iversary
This was easily the best SHOT Show ever. After 22 years, I’m starting to get the hang of it. (Confession: I now count my SHOT Show attendance years to include the Covid year and the skipped mask mandate year. My first was 2002, and that’s where I count from.)
My show is different from most. I don’t exhibit. I had no scheduled appointments. No dinner reservations. And I’m solo. But I have a great team at home that prepared me. They actually gave me a list of nearly 500 clients, newsletter readers like you, and targeted booths I want to visit. My show notes document that I visited more than a quarter of those, plus dozens more that weren’t on the list, so easily 150 meetings.
The news is the same every year: “It’s Expensive to Exhibit.” One said it was like “buying a sports car every year.” Another I told this to replied “yeah, and you’re lucky to get a transmission out of it.”
My take is that it’s a big investment, and it might not be as essential for everyone as it used to be, but it’s still important for most. Some major companies have bowed out, and some newcomers can do without. I saw both upsizing and downsizing. Upsizing is usually in the form of “booth bloat”, and the associated acres of carpet, but if there’s room for the newcomers, that’s a fine way to support the NSSF (NSSF honcho Bob Scott reminded me that there’s still a waiting list). With the Caesar’s Hall providing lots of new space, there’s room for exhibitors who plan early. With everything on websites and social media maybe it’s possible to survive without being a SHOT exhibitor, but it might not be the easiest way to thrive.
Downsizing takes a couple forms. One client with a formerly grand booth downsized to a table at the Supplier’s Showcase, providing two days of presence for meetings, drastically reduced costs, a skeleton crew travel budget, and the freedom to walk the show for a few days. Others formerly exhibited but now attend. But I’d still urge any serious startup client to consider booking a booth to establish an important presence in the industry.
The Week Is Hard, But Life Is Good
SHOT Show is the most intense week of the year for many of us – certainly for me. As the date approaches things can get stressful. But the night before the show, as I was thinking about leaving a quiet home for a demanding work-week, I reminded myself of some important things I sometimes take for granted: I was able to enjoy a comfortable seat on a non-stop flight to a glamorous destination city, a chauffeured drive in a Tesla to my luxury hotel with a ridiculously large room and a grand view, and some of the finest dining in the nation. And I was privileged to attend a private event that most gun enthusiasts in the country would only dream of attending, and have the privilege of visiting with some of the most admired people in an important industry. The week may be hard, but life is good.
What follows will sound like a paid advertisement. I don’t make reservations, because I have a favorite home away from home at SHOT. I mentioned the location briefly before, so it’s not a secret, but I’ll tell you why the Bouchon Bistro is my home away from home.
My favorite bar purports to be the longest seamless zinc-topped bar (a French tradition) on the planet and it normally bustles after the show closes, starting gradually. On one extraordinary and amusing moment this year, I was literally the sole denizen of the grand expanse as depicted on page one. Minutes later the next wave of guests restored its usual energy. After so many wonderful meetings and conversations with fellow bar customers this year I joke that maybe I should just spend the whole SHOT show at the bar and skip all the walking.
First, I selfishly don’t make dinner plans with anyone. It’s not that I’m anti-social, and don’t have people I enjoy seeing, but there’s a big problem with those post-show dinners, no matter how good the company, how fine the food, and even who’s paying. The timing is a challenge. Dinner can’t start until the last arrival, so that means slack time until arrival, and drinking until the last guest arrives. Dinner lasts as long as needed by the hungriest or slowest eater, and one hates to decline post-dinner invitations. But that means that it gets late, and the energy for a happy and productive day following can be lost.
My hack is to book a room literally on the 10th floor, right down the hall from Bouchon. At the end of the day, I drop my bag, send messages from my room back to my team from the day’s meetings, and head to Bouchon well before 6. With no reservations, I take a seat at the middle of the bar, and prepare for a fine evening of outstanding service and food. I’m never lonely, and have some of the best meetings of the show with whoever sat with me by happenstance. I see old friends and make new ones. This year I met some key people that will likely lead to new logos on the back page at the next update. Some visitors are arriving for a drink as their party gathered (client Sandy Chisolm kindly introduced me to NSSF Board Chair Bob Scott, who I thanked for his work in putting on this event that makes it so pleasant for me to visit with so many clients in one place).
When you’re dining alone at the bar, there are plenty of chatty neighbors and servers when you wish, but one can enjoy some quiet time, or a call with family without interrupting anyone else. Which relates to a health benefit of a seat at the bar: it saves your voice. The SHOT Show floor has a lively sound level, and our voices get a workout over a full day of meetings. So, an evening with some rest time helps preserve the pipes for the next day. How often has a SHOT Show bug started in a dry raw throat?
A fine relaxing dinner might still allow me to depart by 8, when others are just sitting down to dinner, and walk a few minutes to retire at bedtime in the Texas time zone. Up well before the show opens to get ready for the day. Incidentally it reminds me of one non-industry friend who does trade show marketing, and said he and his boss conspire to “have dinner” one night and decline other invitations, each returning to his own room for room service and a good night’s sleep.
Home Kitchen Advantage
I’m at Bouchon literally every breakfast and dinner they’re open, and never get tired of the menu. I normally love interesting cuisine and adventure, but at SHOT I just want my comfy home away from home. The executive chef is Thomas Keller, arguably the world’s best chef (founder of the famed French Laundry). The notion of just being able to walk in and enjoy his cuisine is amazing, and to do so every day without reservations (and at a reasonable price) is a miracle. My dinner favorites include some that you might not jump at, but are extraordinary. The beef bourguignon is a paperback-book sized short rib that had me gasping after the first bite: “Why do people even order steak?!” The trout may bring back creek-side camping memories, if you’ve been fishing with a skilled chef. Try the blood sausage, the seared foie gras, and any special appetizers. And skip the sublime chicken, because it’s on the breakfast menu as part of the chicken and waffles. Breakfast also requires trying any hash, the crab benedict, and maybe steak and eggs to get you through a day without lunch. And I dare you to try the quiche. Not scrambled egg pie, but silky like a perfect flan.
This year, the celebrity chef was in town to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the restaurant, with a private party Friday night for his executive team and chefs from around town. The staff was nervously anticipating serving the boss. One night I heard one of the VPs standing behind me and I said a few kind words about my loyalty. He stunned me with an unobtainable invite to the private dinner, and when I regretfully declined he instructed the server that my meal that night was on him. Also, on my last breakfast the bartender provided a complimentary gift box of assorted pastries to take home to Karmen, after he learned how much she enjoys them. Nice. It was a good week.
I overheard one CEO exhibitor remarking that his team was remarkably healthy this year. They usually have a certain attrition due to colds and flu, but this was a healthy year. I suspect people are wisely staying home (or in their rooms) when in doubt, and not being heroes and toughing it out. Can’t imagine what might have changed this behavior pattern…
I <3 LV
For better or worse, I can’t imagine any other city in the country to host the event. Especially as my grumbles about mask mandates fade. Keep it here. (And I learned this year from one old timer who recalled the year it was in San Francisco – imagine that!)
How To Find Me In Other Trade Show Cities
When at NRA or NASGW, I look for a good new restaurant that isn’t a national chain. I simply search “James Beard” (the foundation that gives the “Oscars” of cuisine) and the city name. This has never failed, and I won’t mind bumping into a few readers at the next one I target. NRA will be at home in Dallas so that will be a special case. See you at some awesome new spot in Kansas City in October for NASGW!
An Inspiring Note
I recently heard something about my old friend and client Lew Danielsen, founder of Crimson Trace Corporation. I haven’t been able to confirm it with Lew, but since it’s a flattering rumor, I’ll spread it. When he sold his business to Smith and Wesson for about $100,000,000 a few years back, he quietly distributed unexpected checks to everyone who had been an employee for at least 10 years (I hope I recall that correctly, it could have been 20). From engineers to janitors. The amount of each check? $1,000,000.
Have a great day!