Grow archery

ATA Trade Show: 20 Years of Growth

Author: Patrick Durkin

When the 2016 ATA Trade Show opens Jan. 5 in Louisville, Kentucky, it will mark the 20th anniversary of the archery and bowhunting industry’s chief business and social event, which annually draws about 9,500 retailing, manufacturing and marketing professionals.

The 2016 ATA Trade Show will play host to 615 exhibitors, who booked a record 229,000 square feet of booth space. In other words, you’d need four NFL football fields, laid goal post to goal post, to accommodate just the Show’s booths, minus the aisles. In fact, if you crammed all those booths on the 4.5-acre flight deck of the USS Harry S. Truman, you’d still need half of a football field for the spillover.

The Show’s roots, however, are more modest. The Archery Trade Association was known as the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization (AMO) when it held its first trade show in January 1997.

That inaugural show, also held in Louisville, attracted 6,000 attendees. And, while AMO owned the show, the organization and its staff did not yet manage show operations. Those services were provided by private contractors from 1997 to 2002. Therefore, the industry had limited ability to capitalize on the Show’s potential for growing and promoting archery and bowhunting.  That all changed once the ATA took full control of the Show’s management and operations at the January 2003 Show.

Scott Shultz, owner/president of Robinson Outdoor Products, has attended every AMO/ATA Trade Show the past two decades. Shultz, who also chairs the ATA’s Board of Directors, said the early shows were worth attending, but the mood was far different.

“Back then, the warm feelings of progress for archery were often overshadowed by disputes, factions and personal agendas,” Shultz said. “Plus, the AMO seemed to have huge potential, but it never really got airborne. It was fraught with legal battles, indebtedness and management issues. In those days, the AMO lacked vision, strong unified leadership, and a set of achievable goals.

“Today, the ATA is the hallmark of all trade organizations,” Shultz continued. “The ATA Trade Show is a benchmark that all others envy and aspire to. It’s among the best run, most organized and most profitable of any trade show on the planet.”

Shultz said the turnaround began in earnest after the AMO assumed control of the Show in July 2002. Later that year, the AMO changed its name to the “Archery Trade Association” to better identify itself as a service-oriented trade association that’s dedicated to helping its dues-paying members. The groundwork for those changes began two years earlier, however.

“Things started changing in August 2000 when the AMO Board hired Jay McAninch as its president and CEO,” Shultz said. “Over the next couple of years, Jay resolved the industry’s excise-tax issues, paid off its debts, and resolved its legal issues. After that, he took full control of the ATA Show. Ever since, the Show has helped fund ATA initiatives that promote and grow archery and bowhunting in every state. Thanks to the Show, the ATA has $5 million in the bank reserved to protect, promote and fund projects for our awesome sports.”

With the Show owned by the ATA and operated by its staff and reliable volunteers, the event also became the industry’s premier showcase each January for cutting-edge products and innovations.

“Everyone who works on the Show understands it’s the life-blood of our industry,” McAninch said. “We got off to a rough start in those early years, but once the Show was ours to own and operate, it became a great fundraising mechanism that benefits every ATA member, whether they’re retailers, manufacturers, buyers, distributors, media, or sales and service. It’s a no-frills event. Everything is geared toward business and efficiency to maximize the net proceeds that help grow archery and bowhunting.”

During the past decade, the Show has provided nearly $13 million in funds, staff expertise, and resources to state agencies, city and county parks-and-rec departments, archery and bowhunting organizations and other well-vetted groups for building archery ranges and archery parks; and operating after-school and community archery and bowhunting programs such as National Archery in the Schools Programs. The Show also helped fund the creation and implementation of programs like Explore Archery, Explore Bowhunting, Explore Bowfishing and the Retail Growth Initiative.

“By attending the Show, everyone invests in our sports’ futures,” McAninch said. “Today, each Show generates net proceeds of about $2.2 to $2.3 million to help grow archery, bowhunting and the industry itself. And it’s working. Between 2012 and 2014, our sports grew from 18.9 million archers/bowhunters to 21.6 million, a nearly 15 percent increase. Since we began this effort, the number of Americans shooting bows and arrows as increased by nearly 3 times. Every ATA member should take pride in those numbers.”

To help celebrate the Show’s 20th anniversary, several longtime industry veterans shared their thoughts on the ATA Trade Show, past and present:

Malcolm Snyder, vice president and marketing director, Pape’s Inc.:

  • “When I think back on those first few ATA Shows, I picture everything on black-and-white TVs. Things seemed so drab. People didn’t always know why they were there. You did your thing and went home. Today, the Show is full color, bright lights and neon signs. Everything is so vibrant and alive. Everyone knows their purpose. The atmosphere is totally different.”
  • “Twenty years ago, everyone came to the Show and argued. It was endless in-fighting about nothing, really: crossbows vs. compounds, carbon arrows vs. aluminum, mechanical broadheads vs. fixed-blades, lighted sights vs. fiber-optic sights, overdraw vs. full-length, and fall-away rests vs. shoot-through rests. It was always something, but do you drive technology or fight it? I feel old when I think about all that fighting.”
  • “Dealers years ago weren’t always sure why they were at the Show. They’d just walk the floor and look around. Now they walk the floor with the Big Bucks coupons and other discount programs. They’re always hunting for huge cost savings. They’ve learned how to work the Show.”
  • “I’ve been doing this 29 years, and one thing has stayed the same: the people. This Show has truly genuine people. They’ll fight you in the marketplace during the day, but give you the shirt off their back at night and on the weekends. They’re direct competitors, but they’ll still share a drink after the Show closes. They’re all cut from the same cloth.”
  • “The Show is exciting. You never know what will happen next. You’re sitting in your booth, talking to a dealer, and you see a guy over there with a briefcase, waiting to meet you. You assume he’s got nothing, but what if he’s about to hit the next homerun? The dealer leaves, and the briefcase runs over and asks five minutes of your time. He opens his briefcase, you look, and you say: ‘Holy sh–! How many can you make and when can you deliver them?’ That happens more often than you think.”

Jimmy Primos, chief operating officer, Primos Hunting Calls:

  • “I’ve been in this business over 30 years and worked every show there is. The ATA Trade Show has become one of the country’s premier, first-class trade shows. If you’re going to be a player in this business, the ATA Show is a must-attend event.”
  • “The ATA Show is a smaller-scale version of the SHOT Show. It’s very professional, and it draws all kinds of retailers, from one-man pro shops to big players like Cabela’s, Dick’s, Academy and Bass Pro Shops.”
  • “When you exhibit at the ATA Trade Show, you get a great measurement of how your company is doing. At the SHOT Show, you’re just exhibiting. You don’t know how your products are really going over. At the ATA Show, you’re exhibiting and taking orders, so you know how retailers are viewing your products. The ATA Show measures you in dollars and actual orders.”

Randy Phillips, owner, Archery Headquarters Inc. and Arizona Rim Country Products:

  • “People need to realize the ATA isn’t owned by some outside organization. The ATA is us, and the Trade Show is our show. The money we spend at the Show is invested in us, not an outside owner. All the money we pay into the Show gets pumped back out to get people interested in our sports and keep them in archery.”
  • “Those early trade shows 20 years ago didn’t have as many dealers, manufacturers or booth space; and a lot of people clogging the aisles and booths weren’t dealers. Now, you have to plan and organize to get through it. We use the ATA Show’s app to map things out and make sure we see who we need to see. Even then, it’s a scramble to cover all our of bases.”
  • “We started years ago with a 10-by-10 booth and kept it a long time. We now use a 10-by-20 booth. The Show seems so efficient and seamless now. It just flows. It used to be clunky. The ATA has got its operations down to a science, so you don’t hear many complaints. The ATA team does a great job analyzing what dealers and exhibitors want. As an exhibiting manufacturer, we used to always have ‘wander-around time’ throughout the Show. Now we’re so busy we have to stay with our booth until the Show’s final two hours on Day 3.”

Jay McAninch, ATA CEO/President:

  • “With this year being the Show’s 20th anniversary, it’s fitting that we’re marking the return of one of the industry’s largest companies, which underscores unity, a hallmark of the ATA. It’s great to see  Mathews back to the Show, signifying that everyone is here again and the Show is back to being the industry’s only archery and bowhunting trade show.”
  • “The ATA Show benefits from the many great volunteers who help us. Gregg Brown and his team from Suburban Whitetail Management of Northern Virginia take great care of the shooting lanes. Many family members of ATA staff volunteer, too. My wife, Janet, has worked in the ATA booth every year except one since 2001. Tina Stradtmann, Michelle Zeug’s mother, has volunteered for over a decade. Carla King, Mitch’s wife, has volunteered since 2007. Mitch Lewis, Maria’s husband, helps every year; and so does Luann Nelson, John’s wife. This year we’ll have over 40 volunteers working in nearly all areas of the show and every one of them is important to our success. They help keep our staffing costs very low, and in return, they get a few hours to enjoy the show since they all love archery and bowhunting.”

Brian Brochu, owner, Brian’s Archery Shop, Barrington, New Hampshire:

  • “When we first attended the Show back in the ’90s, we’d walk aimlessly up and down the aisles. Now we need a plan with a road map because you can’t physically visit every booth.”
  • “No one goes to the Show unless it makes sense financially. For 20 years, it has made more sense to go to the ATA Show than stay home and wait for sales reps to show me what’s new.”
  • “Our usual workday at the Show runs 18 hours. We’re out of our hotel by 7 a.m. and don’t return till 9 or 10 at night. When we get back, we sort orders and do paperwork until about 1 a.m. When I come home from the Show I have 75 to 80 percent of the year’s orders written.”

Mike Ellig, president, Black Gold Inc.

  • “Back in the Show’s early days, if you had a heartbeat and business card, you got in. We did a lot of sifting to find legitimate archery dealers. I still remember this one guy’s business card. It read, ‘Spawn’s Plumbing and Archery Supplies.’ Are you kidding me? We were always dealing with guys trying to get deals for themselves.”
  • “The ATA cracked down and vets every dealer. The guys getting in now are pretty darned legitimate. When we visit people in our booth now, we know they’re there for the right reasons.”
  • “We’ve grown from a 10-by-10 to a 20-by-20 booth. We used to take three people but now we take five or six. We make sure we bring people to the Show who can answer any possible question that comes up from dealers.”
  • “By attending the ATA Show year after year, you see how dynamic this industry is. Change happens fast. A company can own a market for years, but be gone two years later. In arrow rests, when the Whisker Biscuit came in low while fall-away rests came in high, the combination wiped at least one company right out.”

Todd Vaaler, director of operations, Gateway Feathers:

  • “When the Show began, it wasn’t helping the industry expand. It was only benefiting one or two people. Now we have this behemoth rolling down the road that’s funding worldwide archery growth for everyone. It has come so far and done so many good things. It’s a real blessing to have the ATA Show, and see it promoting archery and bowhunting so effectively.”
  • “The Show has boosted our international business with all the foreign retailers flying in for it. They enjoy the Show and like seeing our products firsthand. I would I like to visit our distributors in France and elsewhere, but I can see more of them far more cheaply by exhibiting at the ATA Show. And they attend the Show because it’s well-run and offers great access to quality hotels.”
  • “Years ago, it was hard to get major retailers to sit down with us and talk business, but they do now. The ATA Show helped us prove ourselves.”
  • “Central locations like Louisville and Indianapolis work great for the Show because they’re within reach of most of our dealers. By making ourselves visible to so many dealers under one roof, we can make money while helping them stay healthy and happy.”

Bruce Hudalla, president, Hudalla Associates:

  • “Each ATA Show is a must-attend event. For dealers to prosper and survive, they have to be here to see and test all the innovations. That wasn’t the case years ago.”
  •  “The ATA Show has become this industry’s Super Bowl, its World Series. Everyone wants to attend. It changed the industry. Before the ATA Show, the SHOT Show was the must-attend event. But now our show, the ATA Show, is the industry’s main buying and selling show. It’s where the industry kicks off the new year with its latest products and pricing.”
  • “The ATA Show is a huge piece of the marketing for most companies today. It’s their opportunity to market their brands and sell their product. You see so many big, monster booths now with their own meeting rooms. The big investment groups come in and hold major meetings, and some companies bring in all their executives for their big annual meeting. It’s where the industry conducts the year’s biggest business.”
  • “When you went to this show years ago, it was similar to deer classics and other consumer shows. It seemed everything was 8-by-10 booths. Most companies now build booths specifically for the ATA Show. You walk around and you see lots of professional marketing efforts in the booths, overhangs, suspended signage, staircases and even the restrooms. No one compares it to a deer show anymore.”

Dotty Nelson, owner, Nelson’s Arrows:

  • “The ATA Show is so well-run and well-organized. The people in charge know what they’re doing. You’ll still get some people coming into your booth looking for free stuff, but this is archery and there will always be people bringing friends along for the ride. The more you do this, the faster you get at spotting them. You say hi and how are you, and move along if they waste your time.”

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