While many major U.S. trade shows have canceled or postponed in-person events through Q1 and even Q2 2021, organizers of the SHOT Show are setting their sights on a hybrid event scheduled for Jan. 19-22 in Las Vegas. “If we can host a gathering of more than 250 or 1,000 people, we will,” said Chris Dolnack, senior vice president & CMO for NSSF—The Firearm Industry Trade Association, which owns and sponsors SHOT Show.
But it’s still a big “if” on whether the state will allow an event the size of SHOT Show. In September, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the state would lift its 50-person cap on public and private gatherings. Nevada implemented new guidelines that allow gatherings of up to 250 people or 1,000 total in four separate spaces under strict rules.
In January, SHOT Show 2020 drew 55,151 attendees and 2,570 exhibitors in 693,035 net square feet of exhibit space at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. Attendees came from 115 countries and all 50 states.
In 2021, the show will expand its exhibit space to the new exhibit hall at Caesar’s Forum with an additional 150,000 net square feet. “We are adding 189 exhibitors to accommodate companies on the show’s waitlist in this new space,” Dolnack said.
Convene spoke with Dolnack and Jeff Pressman, president, ConvExx, which manages and produces the show, about how they are moving forward with an in-person event during these uncertain times.
While some industries have struggled during COVID, the firearms and ammunition industry has continued to post gains. “In 2019, the firearms and ammunition industry was responsible for as much as $60.02 billion in total economic activity in the country,” according to the Firearm and Ammunition Industry Economic Impact Report 2020. Since 2008, the industry has grown 100 percent in terms of jobs and 213 percent in economic impact, according to the report.
Other major trade shows, like CES and World of Concrete, have canceled or postponed their in-person events originally scheduled for January in Las Vegas. “Our situation is different,” Dolnack said. “Our members have been open throughout the pandemic. They aren’t experiencing production or supply-chain issues. There’s been no halt to product development.
“Retailers want new products, and we have 1,500 small business owners and exhibitors who want and need access to this market,” Dolnack said. “They write orders at the show.”
With a mostly domestic attendee base of commercial buyers and sellers of military, law enforcement, and tactical products and services, SHOT Show opened attendee registration on Oct. 13, and media registration on Oct. 14. Exhibitor registration will open Oct. 26.
In 2021, there will be no on-site registration, and all attendees and exhibitors must be pre-registered by Jan. 6. To receive badges in the mail, attendees and media must be registered and approved by Dec. 17. Last year, registration opened Aug. 1, but about half of attendees typically don’t register until 30 days out.
Lower hotel rates for the 2021 show provide another incentive for attendees and exhibitors. SHOT Show worked with its hotel partners and its housing provider, onPeak, to adjust room rates, which are now lower than in years past — participants, Pressman said, “could get a room at the Bellagio for $129.”
“Transparency is key,” Dolnack said. Since the lockdown, the association formed a COVID-19 working group with key staff and partners, like Freeman, CSG Creative, Sands, and ConvExx. The group met once a week over the phone but is now meeting bi-weekly to discuss plans for moving forward.
In May, NSSF began communicating with exhibitors and attendees via its SHOT Show Insider, an enewsletter with show updates that is sent via email every two weeks. Content includes exhibitor guidance, planning tips, FAQs, and COVID-related changes for exhibitors and attendees.
Due to uncertainty around COVID-19, NSSF pushed exhibitor payment deadlines from April 3 to June 5. “At this point, we have collected 95 percent of exhibitor payments,” Dolnack said, “and we are tracking with last year’s numbers.”
In September, NSSF launched a virtual Exhibitor Academy, which offers eight sessions over two months. Typically, the one-day exhibitor education program is held in person in June in Las Vegas. “Several sessions focus on COVID mitigation and best practices,” Dolnack said. The sessions are live-streamed and available on demand.
“We had 200 exhibitors participate in our session, ‘Exhibitor Best Practices in the COVID Era,’ on Oct. 15,” Pressman said. Other COVID-related sessions include “Quick Tips to Overcome COVID-19 Concerns & Achieve Your Top Exhibiting Goals at the 2021 SHOT Show” and “Presenting The 2021 SHOT Show Floor Plan — New Entrances, One-Way Aisles and Hand-Sanitizer Stations.”
Sticking to the Rules
In compliance with current state mandates, masks will be required for anyone entering the “show bubble,” Pressman said. “We may lose 15 percent of our audience because they don’t want to comply with mask mandates,” Dolnack said. “But we plan to strictly enforce that policy.”
In August, NSSF announced that Geissele Automatics, a firearms manufacturer and distributor and frequent sponsor of NSSF events, will donate 250,000 face masks for distribution during the 2021 SHOT Show.
“With 2021 right around the corner, and given everything that’s going on, we were unsure if SHOT Show would even take place this year,” said Joe Plunkett, Geissele’s COO. “We were very pleased to work with NSSF to donate these masks in an effort to help facilitate SHOT Show moving forward and keeping everyone safe.”
“Our exhibitors and attendees practice gun safety, and mask wearing is no different,” Pressman said. Another sponsor has donated 50,000 personal hand sanitizers. “The valuation of masks and sanitizer is probably $150,000, plus freight,” Dolnack said.
Other COVID-19 safety measures include scaling back on the program and physical distancing. “We are cutting the number of educational sessions in half, and we will limit sessions to 150 people while also doubling the size of the rooms,” Dolnack said. “There will be no networking events, no cocktail receptions and no state-of-the-industry dinner, which usually draws about 2,200 people.”
In lieu of these gatherings, exhibitors will be allowed to host customers after hours on the show floor for the first time in 2021, Pressman said. “We are increasing our security budget, and we will have more Metro Police at the show than in years past,” he said.
Protocols will include:
- One-way aisles in the exhibit halls
- Increased entrances and exits. In 2020, the show had 18 total. In 2021, there will be 22 exits and 23 entrances. Entrances are being created in areas not yet utilized, like outside off Sands Avenue, for direct access into Hall G on Level 1 and Halls A & B on Level 2.
- Sands Convention Center has installed thermal scanners at all entrances. Handheld temp checks will be deployed at other locations. There will be six entrances to the “show bubble” with badge and temperature checks.
- Staggered entry times for attendees.
- No on-site registration. Exhibitor badges will be picked up on site by the primary contact of the exhibiting company, by appointment only.
- Increased number of shuttles to the 22 hotels in the room block. Shuttles will run at reduced capacity of 25 percent, and there will be separate locations for shuttle drop-off and pick-up to reduce queues in one area.
- View the SHOT Show floor plans here.
Keeping a Close Watch
“We are not going to put our people at risk, but we think we can produce a show safely and are committed to doing it if we can,” Dolnack said. “If we don’t believe we can do it safely at the time or the government says no, then we won’t.”
Dolnack said NSSF will make the final go/no-go decision on Dec. 1, about six weeks out from the show.
“We will cancel the event if the state doesn’t allow more than 1,000 people to attend,” Pressman said. “We are committed to producing a safe, effective show that delivers ROI for exhibitors and attendees. It wouldn’t be very productive for our exhibitors to have an event for 1,000 people.”
Danica Tormohlen was editor at large at Trade Show Executive magazine and is the former editor in chief of EXPO Magazine, and is based in the Kansas City, Missouri metro area.