2012 SHOT Show - A look into the Firearm Industries Trade Show from the perspective of two new members

by Aaron Kirkingburg and William Harn

Sunday – Flying out

We checked our concealed carry firearms at the Southwest Airlines baggage counter, and prepared to board our flight to Las Vegas. Though firearms are prohibited from the show itself, we would have them for any other circumstances. Neither of us having ever attended the SHOT Show, we had a four hour flight to contemplate the possibilities that lay ahead. An uneventful flight, a shuttle bus to the hotel, and a quick meal before calling it a day ... morning would come all too soon.

Monday – University Day

The day starts early as we are ushered into the room with 300 other shooting sports enthusiasts. The room is filled with people wanting to achieve the same goal; to grow the shooting sports industry. There are people here focusing on training, running a range, owning a shop (store front and online), and making all manner of products for the sport.

The classes were picked for their content and relevance, based on feedback from previous SHOT Show surveys filled out by SHOT Show University participants. This year courses included successful business strategies, ATF compliance, Internet marketing, inventory control, and how to deal with the media, to name a few. Not knowing what to expect, we were pleased with the content and professionalism of the presentations.

The networking dinner held after the University was a welcome chance to make new friends and retail/wholesale contacts. Conversations included, but weren't limited to business deals, ideas and opinions on how to grow the shooting sports industry, and RTKBA. Just because someone is presenting a course at SHOT Show University does not mean they have a grasp of 2A issues. You may be surprised about the conversation and impact you could have on an individual here. We should always be prepared to enlighten someone!

Tuesday – Law Enforcement Rooms

Yes we said rooms. There are two smaller rooms, an exhibit hall, and portions of another room dedicated to law enforcement related items. The products range from ammo to body armor and everything in between. Innovations in tactical accessories, training products, duty gear, breaching tools, rappelling equipment -- it goes on and on. We did a little business with the "Blue Gun" training aid booth, and secured some new classroom props for drills and demonstrations.

If you like black rifles, and love to accessorize, you could spend the entire week picking through this section. It's like being in a candy store. Everywhere you turn, there is something new to look at, touch, fondle, and discuss with those around you. Where did the day go?

Wednesday – More Law Enforcement and some Hunting

Started out still in the law enforcement section. Hey, it really is that big of an area. Then we made it onto the main floor where firearms manufacturers along with hunting equipment companies were unveiling their new products. We reviewed everything from dehydrated meals, to high-end imported shotguns. We ended the day sipping cold premium import beer being served compliments of several different organizations around the show, and chatting with the exhibitors at the Lansky booth about their knife sharpeners. Some of the things we perused throughout the day:

Tactical rails, flashlights, replacement triggers, knives, re-loaders, dehydrated meals, optics, apparel, safes, gun racks, hunting accessories, firearms of every kind, make and model, zombie gear (oh yea, I said zombie gear), targets, cowboy action shooting gear, you name it, it's here!

Thursday -- Classes

There were several classes available on Thursday. We attended three, including "How to Spot a Straw Purchase" which was taught by an active ATF agent with case studies, and real-world knowledge to pass along. The other two classes were business-related: how to incorporate on-line sales through GunBroker.com to expand your market, and identifying your business's true competitors. Both were very helpful and useful to anyone who is currently running a retail store/range and wants to expand, or is considering opening one.

We attempted to make more progress on the show floor between and after classes, but had little success. It is amazing the people you run into, and the friends you make while here. Everyone is friendly, and ready to talk about "gun stuff." By the end of the day, we barely saw any more of the show and the classes ended up being our main accomplishment.

Friday -- The mad dash

Friday was a mad dash through the lower level attempting to see the rest of the show before it was over. It is just that big! Anyone would be hard-pressed to consume, and actually digest the entire thing. We finally ended the day in the lower levels sipping complimentary draft beer in a booth shared by two Ohio companies including one called "Armor Source" that supplies Kevlar helmets to the military, and happens to be located a few miles from my home. Tired and hungry, with aching feet, we grudgingly gave in to the realization we simply couldn't see it all!

Saturday -- Going home

Flying out was a mixture of feelings: Glad to be heading home to see family and get back to our own beds, but sorry it was over. We made many new friends -- and some of those friendships will endure. We encountered celebrities, TV personalities, and other well- known individuals including Lee Ermey, Al Lindner, Tred Barta, Wayne LaPierre, Jeff Foxworthy, and Tom Knapp to name a few. One big benefit that cannot be overlooked is the opportunity to talk with other small business owners from around the country (and world). Sharing ideas, problems, solutions, products, and simply the love of our industry/sport that serves as a bond among those in attendance -- it is a life experience.

The SHOT Show is the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show. In order to attend, a person must show affiliation with the firearms industry in some way, or be a guest of someone who can. The Sands Expo Convention Center has been booked for the next two years as host for the SHOT Show. For more information regarding upcoming events, you can visit the National Shooting Sports Foundation website: http://www.nssf.org/ or http://www.shotshow.org/

Aaron Kirkingburg is a region Leader with Buckeye Firearms Association, as well as an NRA Instructor and Recruiter, NRA Endowment Member, Ohio Hunters Ed Instructor, Eagle Scout, and NSSF Member. William Harn is a NRA Life Member, Certified Range Safety Officer, and NSSF Member.

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