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Denver and Colorado rolled out the red carpet for the SIA tradeshow yesterday. Politicians, local media and the convention bureau pulled out all the stops to make the show feel welcome in its new home.
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper attended a grand opening ceremony in the lobby of the Convention Center.
“That never happened in Vegas,” said SIA President David Ingemie.
In addition, 50 members of the state legislature attended a special legislative luncheon.
Multiple television stations covered the opening of the show, and 650 members of the media registered to attend, including a writer from the New York Times, a much larger contingent than previous years, Ingemie said.
“The noise for the snowboard and ski industry coming out of this show will be huge,” he said.
Ingemie said the difference in how welcoming and easy to work with Denver is vs. Vegas is substantial. He said it’s more than just a red carpet treatment. The state makes $2.6 billion a year from the snow industry, he said, “so they get the snow business.”
He said the tenor of the conversations is very different. In Colorado, the attitude at meetings is, “How can we both win? It’s refreshing.”
Even the union employees at the Convention Center are skiers and snowboarders, he said, and are excited about the show.
The new location is not as popular with California retailers, however, who used to drive to Vegas. The biggest fall-off in preregistrations for the show came from California, Ingemie said. The new location is not more expensive for retailers from many parts of the country but for Californians, it is, he said.
Overall, the number of buyers that preregistered fell 1% and the number of store owners/management that preregistered fell 8%, Ingemie said.
Several California snowboard shop owners I talked to said they weren’t coming to the show, including Duke Edukas of Surfside Sports and Matt Pindroh of Liberty Boardshop.
“With most of the major companies I deal with here on the West Coast, I can get most of Surfside's snow orders taken care of locally,” Duke said.
“In the olden days of the snowboard business SIA was a necessity for us, but now, with the local WWSRA show being held locally, there is no reason for us to go all the way to Denver.
“When SIA was in Vegas, that was a different story,” he said. “We could load up the van, or Paul's motor home with four to six people, or get an inexpensive flight out of Orange County or Long Beach, get a couple of rooms in Vegas for super cheap, go to the show to see new lines, network with executives from the snow companies, and party with the reps at night. In other words, ‘It was Vegas baby!’ "
Many trade shows pay for the travel expenses of key retailers to attend. But Ingemie said SIA is a nonprofit organization and does not do that. Plus, he said, it does not seem fair to pay for some retailers to attend but not others.
“Everybody out there pays the same price,” he said.
Some snow industry folks have told me they expect SIA to return to Vegas after a couple of years. I ran that theory by Ingemie, and I can tell you, he seemed pretty firm that that would not happen.
SIA signed an 11-year contract with Denver, he said. While you can always get out of a contract, it would have to be a dramatic switch for this new venue not to work, he said.
Also, when SIA made the decision to leave Vegas, hotel rooms and other expenses were rising in Vegas. Prices have now come down because of the recession, but Ingemie fully expects prices to rise again there when the economy comes back.
And contrary to rumors I have heard, Ingemie said Vegas has made no effort whatsoever to woo SIA back.
Ingemie hopes more Californians will return to SIA when the economy improves and says SIA will continue to work hard to make the show as relevant and compelling as possible to attract them back.
I asked a few brand executives how they were feeling about the change in cities.
“I so badly wish it was still in Vegas,” Skullcandy CEO Rick Alden said. “But the number of people at the show, the number of exhibitors and hopefully the number of buyers is surprisingly and refreshingly high. … It’s better than anticipated and while I wish we were back in Vegas, I am so relieved this is working.”
He’s also happy because he’s going backcountry snowboarding with friends during the show.
Electric Co-President Bruce Beach said Electric is really pleased with the 90 appointments it had lined up before the show.
“Anyone that is serious about goggles comes to this show,” he said.
And he mentioned one other benefit of being in Denver vs. Vegas.
“It was nice I didn’t have to stay up all night,” Bruce said.