A sportsmen’s show organizer whose company pulled off the first large-scale consumer events in the Northwest during the pandemic reports good business and few compliance issues at two held in Oregon last month.
“Several companies reported record sales; the best they’ve ever had,” said Bill O’Loughlin, president of Beaverton-based O’Loughlin Trade Shows, in a press release about the events on March 11-14 in Redmond and March 24-28 in Portland.
“Even though attendance was off our previous year’s mark, the volume of hunting gear, rods, apparel, boats, guide and outfitter trips, rifle scopes, fishing tackle, coolers and ATV’s that was sold at the show was incredible. And there will be lots more sold following the show. We warned exhibitors to expect quite a bit of pent-up demand, but no one could have predicted how good it was going to be,” he added.
Safety protocols included controlling attendee numbers through timed ticketing, “obsessive sanitation,” wider aisles and mandatory masks for everyone.
“We had a few exceptions that resulted in us having to ask a couple exhibitors to leave the Portland show and a couple of attendees as well … but that was it,” O’Loughlin said. “In all cases, those asked to leave didn’t want to wear face protection which was a condition of entry into the event. We were upfront with everyone from the very beginning that mask wear was going to be a requirement.”
Since mid-March 2020 almost all of the region’s winter-spring sportsmen’s and boat shows have been postponed or held digitally instead due to Covid-19, leaving an empty place in the fishing and hunting year and sporting community.
In that same time, there have been 22,033 Covid-related hospitalizations and 5,462 deaths in Washington and 10,040 hospitalizations and 2,488 deaths in Oregon, with 573,000 deaths in the U.S. and 3.1 million worldwide, leaving empty places for millions of families and friends.
O’Loughlin termed the state of Oregon reclassifying trade shows as retail “a game-changer.”
“We were allowed to operate at the same level as any of the big box stores. In the end we didn’t; we ran our shows at a significantly lower threshold than what was allowed. We knew that if we ran at the higher percentage of capacity we would have crowding problems so we chose not to. In 20/20 hindsight we were right to make that choice,” he said.
He expressed gratefulness to the state, Deschutes County and operators of the Expo Center for allowing the company to hold the two shows.
“None of these shows would have happened had we not pressed as hard as we did for as long as we did and had the backing of the facilities … Our bottom line goal was not only to hold these shows but to do it right and do it safely. That means they needed to be productive and COVID-free. We have every reason to believe that we met both objectives,” O’Loughlin said.
By contrast, Washington officials “wouldn’t budge” off state guidelines limiting “indoor entertainment” shows to a maximum of 200 people at a given time, forcing O’Loughlin to cancel the Puyallup and other events as they weren’t viable at that level of attendance, he said.
Meanwhile, the company has already scheduled 2022’s Puyallup and Portland shows back in their regular time slots, late January and early February.