Call me an optimist. If there’s a glass half full, I’m not going to wonder whether it’s actually half empty. I’m just going to drink it.
The American Equestrian Trade Association trade show is happening this weekend, August 11-13. It’s a show where equestrian manufacturers, retailers, buyers, sales reps, and media working in the horse industry assemble to discover the latest innovations, trends and fashion collections. The event itself takes place in a nondescript building in an industrial park in King of Prussia, Pa. – not the sexiest of locations by any means. Despite attempts to make it more inviting, the place looks stuck in a pre-internet era – and sometimes, the industry as a whole seems to be as well. While some businesses are very innovative, many are struggling to adapt to the digital age. But to the optimist, there is hope.
How to combat this? Education. In an industry famous for tradition, the key to survival is knowledge – how to stay ahead of the curve. Some tough love: if you’re still learning 101-level social media skills, you are very, very behind. The good news is that there’s are many resources available and ways you can learn – take a class, watch online tutorials, subscribe to our Move Up newsletter and read the marketing articles every week. While the tools are different today, the basic marketing principles haven’t changed. The way to reach your target market today might be through a digital platform, but it all starts with creating a strong brand and a solid marketing strategy.
I haven’t yet answered the question of why I’m going to AETA. I believe this will be my sixth or seventh consecutive attendance. While there have been many changes to the management of the show and attempts to make it more vibrant, getting buyers – and vendors, I’m sure – to attend remains a struggle. If the buyers don’t show up, the vendors won’t be writing as many orders or developing new business, and the three-day event becomes harder to justify financially. Without a successful weekend, brands won’t return and soon, no one is going.
There are other international equestrian industry events in the U.K. and Germany, but I think it would be a shame to not be able to run a successful one in North America. The board at AETA has been invested in improving the show each year, and we partnered with them in 2016 to help produce some fresh ideas for growth. One of our suggestions, an incubator section which groups new businesses and start-ups in one area with smaller, more affordable stands, was implemented with success and is now a recurring feature of each show.
What makes a show successful? The people. You can have the best building, the best food, foot massages and free ice cream in every corner – if the industry leaders and the movers and shakers of the horse world don’t show up, you don’t have a show. There is power in numbers and great minds coming together. Imagine the change and shift that could come from North America when we can all feed off of each other’s energy to continue to move our sport and its trends forward.
Making this event one we can be proud of can have an enormous impact on the equestrian industry and the trends we see in the sport. Having the growing support of the industry can lead to further improvements – improving the location, offering more amenities. But first, we need to show up. That’s why I’m going.