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Springfield went to the SHOT Show and a star was born.

Hitch your wagon to a star." So goes that old axiom so often quoted to fledgling companies seeking a quick formula for success. The theory suggests that by forming an affiliation with another rising star, the path to fame, glory and financial security becomes a much more direct shot.

For Springfield Armory, the SHOT Show has, indeed, served as that rising star - a fast moving vehicle which has been instrumental in the Illinois-based firearm manufacturer's rapid rise from obscurity to bonafide star status.

The Springfield/SHOT Show joint ascendancy began in 1979. Springfield Armory, then just five years old and claiming but a single product line (the MIA rifle) and only a handful of employees, became a charter exhibitor at the very first SHOT Show in St. Louis, along with such established firearms giants as Remington, Winchester-Olin, Marlin and Sturm-Ruger. Tom Reese, the current Springfield Armory CEO, remembers that first SHOT Show, "We probably should have been awe-struck in the presence of all those old line manufacturers. But we were so young and naive, displaying at this big gun show' just seemed like the logical thing to do. The only thing that really awed us was that we had actually written a check for $1,300 for our little 10 feet by 20 feet booth space. At that point in time, that was a lot of money for us."

How things do change. No more piling people and display materials into a couple of cars or vans and driving to St. Louis, Atlanta or Dallas as in the early days. Because today, after thirteen years of continuous participation in the SHOT Show, the company can genuinely be considered a big exhibitor both in terms of seniority and presence in the show hall. Springfield's little display has mushroomed from its miniscule 10 feet by 20 feet configuration to a 30 feet by 80 feet behemoth, complete with conference room, kitchenette, walk-up second story, and an on-line computer. Instead of a skeleton crew of four people manning the booth, Springfield now brings a professional show staff that numbers in the dozens. Travel and transport are by semitrailer and air, and the company controller now writes a hefty five-figure check for booth space which easily surpasses the company's entire annual advertising and promotion budget during those early years.

Why does Springfield Armory place so much emphasis and invest so much money on a single trade show? Dennis Reese, Springfield's most recent past president, explains: The SHOT Show is more than just another trade show'. It's the industry event of the year - the focal point of the entire year for most manufacturers, importers, distributors and dealers. If you have something to sell, a new product to introduce, contacts to make, or if you need press exposure the SHOT Show is definitely the place to be."

Is the SHOT Show just a show & tell public relations affair for Springfield? Not on your life. It's the biggest and best selling opportunity of the year. "We have always taken a lot of orders and written a lot of business at the SHOT Show, sometimes several months worth in just those three or four days," Dennis Reese says. "Since we changed our distribution system to strictly dealer direct' five years ago, the SHOT Show has become an even more crucial part of our marketing program and selling effort. It's the only chance we have all year to meet lots of prospective new dealers all at one time, show them our product line, explain our program and sell in volume. Dealers do come to the SHOT Show to buy, not just to look. And we do our best to accommodate them."

It can be said with a great deal of accuracy that Springfield Armory and the SHOT Show have grown up together. The SHOT Show has spent the last thirteen years growing into the largest exhibition of shooting sports equipment in the world, with 1,200-plus exhibitors, 16,000 buyers and a staggering 350,000 square feet of floor space. Simultaneously, Springfield Armory has grown from a small, virtually unknown, single product manufacturer into an aggressive, active industry leader with a rapidly expanding product line of both long guns and handguns, a staff of almost two hundred, and worldwide sales that continue to show dramatic increases almost every year.

What are Springfield's future SHOT Show plans? "More of the same," Tom Reese declares. "We're no fools. We know that the SHOT Show has been instrumental in our growth. So as long as it remains a viable marketing tool for us, we'll be an active part of it. For us, the SHOT Show has been a real winner. And we know a winner when we see one."

What advice does Springfield's top dog offer to novice exhibitors? "Learn from the experience of others," Tom Reese says. "Watch what other exhibitors do to look and act professional. This is a very professional trade show not just another gun show. So it's important that your company, your people and your display look as professional as possible at all times. The way this show keeps growing every year, it's critical that your display is attractive and unique enough to make you stand out from the crowd. You also need to come prepared to sell. If that means special SHOT Show prices or new dealer programs, have them ready to go. The SHOT Show can make or break your whole year both in terms of sales and winning new dealers, so you've got to do whatever it takes to get the job done right.

We have also learned the value of bringing a large show staff. The show is exhausting both physically and mentally, particularly since it's now been expanded to four days. With a few extra people on hand, everyone has the opportunity to take an occasional break, refresh their minds and bodies and avoid serious burnout, We're also of the opinion that since the SHOT Show is the single best mirror of the whole shooting industry, we feel it's to our advantage to bring a few extra people each year just so they can get a real overview of what this industry is all about, who the competition is, and who all these dealers really are who have been buying and selling our products for all these years. When people from our sales and advertising department, engineering, production and purchasing come to this show, they get a whole new perspective on the value of their individual jobs and the position our company occupies within the industry, and they get valuable feedback they don't often hear the rest of the year. Bringing employees to the SHOT Show is a guaranteed remedy for tunnel vision. Once they see the big picture firsthand, they seem to have a much better grasp of their roles and ours."

"One more piece of advice," adds brother Dennis, and maybe the most important one for any new exhibitor at the SHOT Show - Wear comfortable shoes."

Spoken like a true veteran.
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Title Annotation:Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show
Author:Grueskin, Robert L.
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Exporting the Shot Show.
Next Article:Taking advantage of the Shot Show.

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