In the past four weeks, I’ve attended two gun shows and two agricultural trade shows (whaaa?) as a vendor for my home based steel target business, MOA Targets. I spent a total of eleven days staffing the shows, and about 2500 miles traveled, and three states. As I’m still in my first year of business, this was the most concentrated bit of promotion I’ve done to date, and was largely done to show off my new long range reactive target, the Mozambique. Here’s my analysis.
Crossroads of the West Phoenix January 18-19 – in a metropolitan area of 4.3 million people, this show was the weekend after SHOT, and was considered a small one. It was about the size of what is billed as the Big Reno Show (which I’m used to doing), which brings in folks from all over the west coast. Sales were better than normal for me, despite not being local and not having a very diverse onsite inventory, due to travel. Two local competitors, neither of which have a web presence, were present. Decent amount of cards handed out, but less than average. Many of the same vendors that attend the Reno Crossroads shows were here. This was my first ever show outside my normal stomping grounds of Reno, NV.
Colusa Farm Show (NorCal) February 4-6 – The annual farm show is the big happenings in fertile Colusa, CA. A largely outdoor show, it covers the several acres of the local fairgrounds, and is focused on commercial agriculture, mostly nut orchards and rice. At a population of less than 6,000 (county population ~22k), this show is a whole different scale than the Phoenix one a couple weeks earlier. That being said, considering my booth cost me nothing, it was worth doing just to get my product in front of folks that might never make it to a gun show. Plenty of farmers and ranchers shoot, and a decent amount of cards were handed out, no sales at this show. Interestingly, while there were less people at this show than an average gun show, I estimate I talked to a larger percentage of the farmers than I do gun show folks. Apparently, I was a big enough deal to make the local paper, so I’ve got that going for me. No other firearms industry vendors were present, that I noticed.
World Ag Expo (SoCal) February 11-13. The annual World Ag Expo in Tulare, CA is similar to the Colusa show, but much larger and more trafficked, with the promoters estimating 1500 vendors and 100k paid attendees at this largely outdoor show. While once again I had no sales, I spent the majority of the show talking to interested folks, and handing out cards with wild abandon. I learned something important about California shooters at this show. With no more 50 BMG sales allowed in the state, long range shooters have taken to 338 lapua strongly, and there is a lot of interest in products that are suitable to use with the round. The NRA and the Elk Foundation also had booths at this show.
Silver Sage Gun Show, Bourbon Square Casino Feb 14-16. The final show of my tour, this was held in the hallway and meeting room of a small casino in Sparks, NV, my home turf. This was the first show at the venue, and with a total attendance of about 500, and less than 50 tables, it was the smallest by far. Poorly advertised, and mostly viewed as a potential failure, this show was actually pretty decent. I had better sales than I have at some larger shows, and while I didn’t hand out many cards, it was to a higher percentage of the attendees than normal. Most importantly, every attendee was given two tickets for free beer, and many of those tickets ended up with me, so I drank for free all weekend. Only local vendors were present.
My conclusions based on these four very different shows, three of which were outside my normal area of operations, is that it’s worth getting out of your normal area for an occasional show, but it’s tough to measure the return on investment. Looking at the analytics for my website, I didn’t see much of a bump in traffic from any of these shows. Total sales from the two shows that included sales were average for what I would get in Reno, but included significant travel in one case. The Phoenix show nominally paid for itself, assuming I work for free. The farm shows may yet bear fruit, but for the short term only pencil out if I work for free. The local show, which was the smallest, most poorly attended, and vaguely depressing show I’ve ever done, at least left me with free beer and lunch money.
tl;dr – starting a small business is hard, but generally involves more beer than a real job