Energized by unprecedented gun sales nationwide, firearms industry professionals turned out in record numbers to the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade ShowSM (SHOT Show®), and many made a point of saying "the best is yet to come."
"It's a wonderful time to be in our industry," said Sandy Chisholm of North American Arms, a handgun manufacturer. "We've seen tremendous enthusiasm on the part of sellers and buyers, and we see the prospect of a very good year ahead." Many agreed with that assessment of the market and of the SHOT Show.
The largest trade show of its kind in the world and the fifth largest trade show in Las Vegas, a city of trade shows, the SHOT Show set an overall attendance record of more than 61,000, including new highs for buyers at 36,383 and media at 2,466. Though show organizers deliberately reduced the size of the show to better accommodate attendees at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, still some 1,600 exhibitors filled booth space covering 630,000 net square feet. The show attracted industry professionals from all 50 states and 100 countries.
The SHOT Show is owned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry. Revenues from the show support NSSF's many programs that carry out its mission of promoting, protecting and preserving hunting and the shooting sports. "The SHOT Show allows NSSF to do many good things for industry, shooting and hunting," said NSSF President and Steve Sanetti. Added Chris Dolnack, NSSF senior vice president and chief marketing officer, "We have worked hard to make sure SHOT is a great selling and buying experience, and it has resulted in our best show ever."
Thanks to Americans' passion for firearms, the $4 billion firearms and ammunition industry has been a bright spot in the down economy. The industry supports many small businesses and helps preserve the 180,000 jobs associated with the shooting sports. In 2011, company executives saw records set for background checks, a reliable indicator of sales, including the most ever in a single month (December) and single day (Black Friday). Many in the industry believe, however, that Americans' interest in owning firearms will continue to grow in 2012, fueling their unabashed optimism about the year ahead. Many also said they would not be surprised to see supporters of the Second Amendment react as they did before the last presidential election when their fears over candidates who were unfriendly toward firearms ignited a sales surge.
From the opening bell, buyers filled the aisles to review products, many of them new offerings that will make their way to retail stores during the year. "Traffic is like we've never seen it before," said Mark Malkowski, president of Stag Arms, maker of modern sporting rifles (AR-style rifles), a big seller over the past several years. "Retailers we've talked to are expecting a record year."
One firearms retailer, Todd Vance of Vance Outdoors in Columbus, Ohio, agreed. "We had our best-ever year in 2011, and we've started off this year great and expect to be up." In his store, Vance said buyers are interested in concealable handguns, home-defense firearms, ammunition and tactical rifles, particularly new .22 caliber models.
Another handgun manufacturer, Sig Sauer, reported having its best first day at SHOT since the company began keeping sales records. "The market is stimulated," said Bud Fini, vice president of marketing, who added that the company's shooting academy is seeing many new gun owners. "First-time buyers, that's where the expansion is coming from," Fini said.
Accessories, from holsters to rifle slings to optics, are an important part of the SHOT Show. "We are selling sights like you can't believe," said Aimpoint's Roger Bell of the company's pro staff. "We signed up a lot of new dealers, and that says to me the market is expanding."
In the Mossberg booth, Tom Taylor, vice president of marketing, said, "This is about as much excitement as I've seen at a SHOT Show. People are buying optimistically, and we're going to build optimistically."
For first-time exhibitors, the SHOT Show can provide a big lift. "When you are a start-up company without a big marketing budget, the SHOT Show helps put you in front of the right audience," said Jeane Stewart of U.S. RAC, maker of firearm safety products for law enforcement. Stewart said her company great valued the show's New Products Center.
Any SHOT attendee will tell you the show is more than about selling and buying; it's a powerful display of industry unity and its resolve to meet any challenge affecting the right to make, sell and own firearms. At the NSSF State of the Industry Dinner, NSSF President Steve Sanetti said, "I have never seen us so unified and united in our purpose." As evidence, he pointed to NSSF's fast-growing membership, which now tops 7,000, an all-time high.
More than 2,000 NSSF supporters filled the sold-out hall for the State of the Industry Dinner, which was sponsored by Outdoor Channel and included a review of NSSF's accomplishment from the past year and entertainment from hugely popular comedian Larry the Cable Guy.
Opportunities abound at the SHOT Show, and some who attend are selling more than products. At South Dakota's booth, representatives had a goal of convincing manufacturers they should be making products in the state. "Last year South Dakota connected with more than 50 companies. Within four months, two of those companies expanded their operations to South Dakota," said economic development commissioner J. Pat Costello.
Many awards are presented at the show. NSSF presented Larry Potterfield of Midway USA with its Ken Sedlecky Achievement Award for his generous and longstanding contributions to programs that promote youth target shooting. The Professional Outdoor Media Association and NSSF honored veteran communicator and best-selling author S.P. Fjestad with the prestigious POMA/NSSF Grits Gresham Shooting Sports Communicator Award. Fjestad publishes "The Blue Book of Gun Values," a widely consulted database.
The show continues to benefit from the broadbased press contingent that lavishes attention on newly released products. The media, of course, are usually the first to spot celebrities, who this year included American Idol judge and rock star Steven Tyler, and NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. A big success was SHOT Show Media Day at the Range on the day prior to the show, where credentialed press reviewed and tested products. More than 1,100 press and 100 exhibitors attended Media Day--more than ever before.
NSSF ramped up its use of social media to keep its members and consumers informed about the show, making frequent posts to the SHOT Show Blog and providing Twitter updates that showgoers followed on "Twitterfall" screens placed throughout the venue. An expanded NSSF press room sponsored by Budweiser accommodated the record number of press with free Wi-Fi, a large working press area and other amenities.
In conjunction with the SHOT Show, NSSF sponsored the PGA Charities' Birdies for the Brave golf tournament that raised funds for injured armed service veterans.
The SHOT Show will return to the Sands Expo & Convention Center next year January 15-18.