SHOT Show 2024 Preview

Industry Primed For Biggest Event Yet

Previously labeled as “the Super Bowl and Christmas Day wrapped into one” for the firearms industry, the SHOT Show serves as an important inflection point, launch pad and revenue generator for thousands of businesses in our space. With more than 2,500 exhibiting companies, 50,000 motivated industry professionals and 13.9 miles of aisles on display, it’s hard to argue against that assertion. 

Here in early December, SHOT Show 2024 is roughly 50 days away — which will quickly feel much closer with the holidays at hand. To give attendees and exhibitors a leg up on what to expect at the industry’s largest event, we sat down with Chris Dolnack, NSSF SVP and chief customer officer, and Melissa Schilling, NSSF managing director, exhibitions and conferences.

Records Continue To Fall

With the expansion to Caesars Forum in 2022, SHOT Show’s exhibiting footprint eclipsed any previous show in the event’s history. And it only continues to grow. 

After reaching 816,000 net square feet across The Venetian Expo and Caesars Forum venues in 2023, 2024 is primed to set the record as the largest SHOT Show ever with the addition of the Archery Business Pavilion.

In October, Trade Show Executive ranked SHOT Show as the eighth largest trade show (measured by net square feet) in the U.S. The show is now also the third largest trade show held in Las Vegas. These feats are a testament of the industry’s resilience, according to Dolnack.

“These figures show the passion our industry has — there are always new companies who want to gain access to the market,” he said. “And, despite our detractors’ best efforts, we’re still growing. There are still companies on the waiting list, even after the expansion to Caesars. With the addition of the Archery Business Pavilion we’ll be at 816,000–820,000 net square feet in 2024.”

Purposeful Growth

Dolnack pointed out NSSF isn’t looking to grow the SHOT Show “just for the sake of it.”

“Everything has a maximum size,” he said. “We don’t want to get big just for the sake of getting big, because then the customer experience diminishes. There’s an intersecting line between the size of the show and the customer experience — if the show gets too big, it’s not as valuable.”

To that end, the NSSF has put procedures in place to confirm qualified buyers attend the show.

“As far as the customer service for qualifying our buyers, our show management team does an excellent job looking at the different documents to show a prospective attendee is, in fact, a buyer — which ensures a quality attendee,” Schilling said.

While Dolnack understands these procedures could be frustrating for established attendees, they’re a necessary component of providing a better show experience for all.

“I know people get annoyed with it, but this is our way of making sure businesses are still active — which is why we ask for an FFL, invoice, etc. It keeps out the tire kickers. We know there are those who are going to get in from buyers or exhibitors to some extent, so we try to do everything we can without going over the top.”

He continued, “We want to make sure exhibitors are getting the qualified audience they’re paying for. It wouldn’t do us any good if we had 100,000 who aren’t qualified. It’s better to have 50,000 attendees who are engaged and active.”

A Fresh Wave

According to Schilling, one of the lasting impressions of SHOT Show 2023 was the significant percentage of new buyers at the show.

“33% of buyers at SHOT Show 2023 were first-time buyers,” she said.

Schilling attributed this figure to a mix of NSSF’s marketing efforts and the fact 2023 was the first “normal” SHOT Show since 2020.

“With our marketing and approach last year we were able to reach different segments,” she stated. “We can’t pinpoint exactly why we had so many first-time buyers last year, but the pandemic likely had a significant effect. New buyers also came in as a result of businesses changes. We’ll see if these trends continue at SHOT Show 2024.”

Dolnack heralded the success of NSSF’s diverse marketing efforts to reach new buyers.

“We had different messaging to reach sporting goods stores, gun shops, L.E., military and shooting ranges,” he said. “Each segment got materials that would specifically appeal to them and pointing out the value of attending the show.”

Dolnack shared which values appealed most to prospective attendees.

“Seeing all the manufacturers, networking opportunities, getting to interact with members of the media, attending education sessions all ranked high,” he noted.

Delivering For Customers

In the last few years, “networking” has grown as one of the most desired and important facets of SHOT Show. 

“In our post-show research, networking has consistently ranked higher and higher. It was in the top five, it’s now in the top three. If this is what the customers want, then we need to deliver it,” Dolnack said.

This led to the creation of the SHOT After Dark program, which debuted at SHOT Show 2023. For 2024, SHOT After Dark will have events on each night of SHOT Show week, beginning Monday.

Flagship networking events — All-Star Jam Concert (Tuesday, Jan. 23), Industry Networking Reception (Wednesday, Jan. 24) and Industry Happy Hour (Thursday, Jan. 25) — will provide ample opportunities for attendees to connect after hours. 

Schilling shared why this program has become such a vital part of SHOT Show’s offerings.

“What we found, as were making the decision to add more networking, is when exhibitors were purchasing lead retrieval to scan badges a lot of it was happening after show hours. They were taking their cell phones and were scanning badges, so you saw the need for networking and the business taking place,” she said.

“It’s a case of staying in touch with your customer and trying to meet it,” Dolnack added.

Education Opportunities

SHOT Show week offers ample education opportunities for business owners and L.E. professionals alike.

Previously held in a one-day format on the Monday before SHOT Show, SHOT University expanded to encompass three days in 2023 — which will be continuing in 2024. Tuesday–Thursday, dealers will have a variety of education sessions and panel discussions on offer — ranging from tips for improving profits in 2024 and using ChatGPT to amplify business to an NSSF state legislature affairs update and an FBI/NICS town hall discussion with ATF. After being held in the Caesars Forum last year, SHOT University will be back at the Venetian Expo this coming show. (See the online version of this story for the full schedule.)

SHOT Show’s Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP) has various training sessions running throughout the week, as well. New for this year, American COP — a sister publication of Shooting Industry — teamed up with NSSF to provide law enforcement professionals with a variety of courses they can take and receive enrichment certifications.

What It All Boils Down To

SHOT Show not only serves as a key cog to kick-start the New Business Year, it’s also a crucial revenue generator to support NSSF’s many programs.

Dolnack shared his goal for attendees of SHOT Show: “We want to help keep you in business, and we want to help you grow your business.”

He continued, “At the end of the day, we’re taking two sets of customers — exhibitors and buyers — and putting them together and creating a memorable experience. It’s really all about how they feel while they’re at the show, directly after the show and six months after the show. That’s what stays with them and determines whether the show is successful or not.”

In just several weeks, attendees will literally have thousands of opportunities to enrich their businesses, make new connections and identify the next wave of surging new products during SHOT Show Week 2024. 

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