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I’m not a product review type of guy when it comes to the SHOT show every year. My radio show isn’t chock full of product reviews and never will be. That’s by design. While my time at SHOT, now in its 21st year, makes me a hardened veteran of the annual event, my purpose for attending every year has morphed along with my career.

Way back when it was held at other locations outside of Sin City, I attended my first show as a representative of a holster manufacturer now long out of business, but at the time, cutting edge. Later I attended as a regular magazine columnist and spent most of my time networking within the industry and hanging in the media rooms. As my career grew over the last 13 years, I’ve attended as the host of Armed American Radio using the show format and my position on “radio row” as a vehicle for securing interesting interviewees. Even then, my purpose for being there gradually changed each year as the show aged and grew beyond what it was at the time.

As late as 2019 I would spend 8 hours or so at my portable studio seeking as many guests as possible and taping upcoming segments to run after returning home, mostly product review type interviews. No more. Those days are over. If you listen to AAR, you’ll note I spent each day bringing one hour of live radio from the remote studio and that’s it…nothing else. Three days of live broadcasts from the floor of the event then home to the Sunday Monstercast broadcast.

Business as usual, just from a very cool environment.

So what could I possibly bring to the table regarding SHOT and why would I even write it up? Of course, while I’m there I fondle as much cool firepower as I can and drool over all of the things I do not have in my safe, like everyone else but now, more than ever, I stay focused on my real purpose for being there. Networking. SHOT has become, to me and my company, the single best vehicle for networking with decision makers who hold the keys to keeping the fight for gun rights on the nations airwaves…and this year did NOT disappoint!

My assessment in this column isn’t about the new Kel-Tek that had lines around the booth but more so the overall health of the show itself. I would like to say I’m writing a “post-pandemic” review but it seems that still may be a bit too optimistic, sadly. COVID fingerprints continued to dominate the landscape, unfortunately. Last year, SHOT, like everything else, was put on ice due to the virus and I wasn’t convinced as late as ten days prior to its start date, that this year’s event would kick off as planned.

Thank God it did!

Here’s my take and why it matters to all of us. As you would probably expect, attendance at this year’s SHOT was down, way down. Noticeably down. It was felt as soon as I headed to baggage claim on Monday evening after arrival in Vegas when a usual cluster**** at baggage claim was flat out non-existent. In fact, my baggage carousel was the only one turning, and if you’ve ever been to Vegas any day of the week, that never happens, particularly when there are major conventions in town. I knew right away with two large conventions on tap that this was not a good sign for attendance at either show.

I stayed at the LINQ this year and the hotel itself upon arrival was noticeably slow. I could get around easily, the casino floors were open, there were seats at the bars and restaurants and closing times were much earlier than usual…as in there were actually closing times and that NEVER happens in Vegas.

On Tuesday after arriving on the show floor a couple of hours early to get the lay of the land and set up the AAR studio, the empty booth spaces did not go unnoticed. In fact where I was located was a 7,000 square foot booth space vacated by Beretta who donated their space to the NSSF Media Center. Across from me was another 14,000 square feet of space that would have housed Benelli and to my left another 5,000 square feet of space vacated by Burris. There was incredible breathing room, and well, it was fantastic!

Doors Open

Once the doors open every year it’s usually a stampede from show open to show close with noticeable attendance drops on the final day. This year? From the moment the doors swung open it never reached the level I have seen over my last 21 years. Actually, each day I could count as many as 30 seconds between people walking in front of our space on the main show floor. That never occurs, not even on the last day of the event when it was at its peak.

I loved it!

It became readily apparent that the clogged walkways, the idiots stopping in front of you every two feet, the foriegn media and sales reps with their wheeled carts hitting you, were not going to materialize. Again, I loved it.

So what does all of this mean? 

I believe, when it’s all said and done and life goes back to “normal,” it will be a “new” normal. SHOT will still exist but as a changed entity. Many vendors have come to realize that these large, bloated, and extremely expensive floor events may be going the way of the dinosaur and just aren’t worth the expense. I’ve spoken to many of them and not one sees an ROI anywhere near the expense to attend. Not one. Like we saw this year, skeleton crews will be the new normal, fewer attendees and fewer exhibitors will dominate future shows.

I think we’ll begin to see more regional events laser focused on specific market segments and buyers that actually will bring an ROI to those who participate in that more target rich environment. SHOT will dominate as it always has as the lead dog, albeit a smaller collar.

This event, from everyone, and I do mean everyone I spoke to, was more relaxed, much more comfortable, and for all of us, far more productive than shows past for those very reasons.

A win-win all the way around.