FlyFishing Retailer to leave Denver?

Editor's note: Please see the comments section for notes and clarifications.

What were the highlights from FlyFishing Retailer 2009?

1. Deneki Outdoors "from the floor" blog posts
2. The self-sacrificing mosquito testers in the Simms booth.
3. The Drake Fly Fishing Movie Awards
4. Leaving Denver.

There's a lot of optimism at the 2010 Fly Fishing Retailer show. Unfortunately for Denver, that optimism is going to Salt Lake City.

The announcement came yesterday morning at the AFFTA breakfast prior to the show opening. It was based on the recommendation of the AFFTA board, which at this point is practically the whole exhibitor list for the show. The phrase "the industry is at a crossroad" came up a couple times, and I suppose that's true if you consider a four-way stop with two dead ends a crossroad.

There's good energy at FFR, don't get me wrong. But that good energy is coming from the same place as always: from a handful of fired-up exhibitors, from a few outfitters who don't just love to fish, and from Tom Bie. Other than that, the show is a graveyard.

There's a lot of cement showing at the FFR show this year, due to shrinking exhibitor numbers as well as shrinking booth space. Thank God for casting ponds.

There are also a lot of curtains, which can be directly attributed to the conspicuous absence of Orvis (allegedly, they were planning to exhibit in a hotel ballroom across the street ... and allegedly, they moved into a convention center conference room in half-hearted last minute show of industry "solidarity").

But according to the powers that be, FFR attendance figures are approximately the same as last year ... and the year before, and the year before ... an unarguable fact that isn't necessarily good news.

The current plan is to fold FFR into the Outdoor Retailer show, which is a worthy goal. Even though Kenji (the show director for both FFR and OR) raised his eyebrows and tried to convince me that it'll be a challenge to fold the fly world into the Salt Palace, I'm not convinced it'll be that hard. Not just because of the recent exodus of paddlesports companies from OR, but because the tiny FFR roster could legitimately fit in the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express.

Which brings up a decent point ... instead of trying to make the fly fishing industry bigger ... why not make it smaller? Why not make it an elite few instead of a straggly crowd? Why not take it to a new town every year, showcasing the industry's finest in fish-crazy places like Bozeman or Portland or Burlington?

Don't get me wrong, I'm in favor of the fly show leaving Denver behind. I think blending with some new faces will do good things for specialty fly business. And I think that Denver never really provided enough sizzle to motivate the industry.

So ... what we have is a tiny, aging group of passionate sporting enthusiasts who have come to a consensus that Denver is a poor choice for their trade show.

Just in time


  1. A couple of comments:

    I was at FFR last year doing some snooping around. I talked to the editor of one of the trade rags -- I think it was Fly FisherMAN. I asked what percentage of fly fishing participants were women. He said it was about 6 or 7 percent, he couldn't remember. Worse yet, he seemed to thank that was okay, and that they really weren't all that interested in the sport. Perfect.

    Paddlesports did not "exodus" from the OR show, a few vocal folks threw a tantrum. Paddlesports was down about 20 manufacturers, some of which are out of business. The majority of people who were not there last year are already talking about coming back, even with smaller footprint, which made sense anyway. Some of them were in huge booths with a lot of empty space.

    The folks who ran weekend events of their own were all disappointed by the results - low attendance (like I have five weekends to see each boat vendor).

    I feel SLC is a much better venue (fly fishing demo an hour away on a really nice stretch of the Provo River, etc.) and I also believe that we can integrate FF into ORSM without too much trouble, even if it means moving some of the knock-off folks to a hotel room in Ogden.

    Great news, I think, all in all. DB

  2. I feel that the move to SLC and integration with OR is long overdue. There will an adaptation period but it will be beneficial even in the short run for the fly fishing industry (products, sophistication, timelines, etc.). I also agree that the idea about the fly fishing industry needing to be bigger is flawed. In it's current state it might serve itself well to consider shrinking to health...but thats not really a capitalist concept now is it?

  3. Anonymous5:28 AM

    From a purely selfish perspective...I would be bummed if FFR and OR combine. My dirty secret is that during OR NO ONE fly fishes and I have the rivers to myself.

    Seriously though, it would make sense to combine the shows and I do love the energy and the crowd at OR. There are also many companies that crossover and do both shows, so I am sure that many exhibitors will be thrilled to cover both markets with a single show.

    Oh, and Kenji, remember that when you give all of us exhibitors the audited attendance records, that you report apples to apples. Just would not be fittin' to send out press releases touting huge increases in attendance when all you did was take from one to feed the other.

  4. Anonymous9:55 AM

    Feel free to bring it up to Canada

  5. OK, time to set the record straight. Moving from Denver is not a done deal; we are working with AFFTA's Board, key industry leaders even if they aren't members of AFFTA, and especially bombastic bloggers (numerous in the FF world :-}) on determining the right direction for the show, and will have an announcement by October 15. The announcement at the breakfast was that we are actively exploring options, and the three below were all shared openly:

    Staying in Denver is still a live option, and lots of exhibitors had surprisingly busy shows, saw the right buyers, and have verbally committed to returning, expanding and recommitting (ExO and Orvis notably).

    Moving to SLC (slightly less expensive venue/travel) is another option, stand-alone.

    Taking the FFR footprint and dropping into OR is a third.

    The 'exodus' of paddle brands (8 significant brands, actually, out of 66 at ORSM09) leaves nowhere near enough room for FFR even w/o casting ponds, and we'll likely have them back anyway with some changes to the show that paddlesports is asking for. The hundreds of conversations I'll have to have (IF it comes to OR) about why companies can't get their expansion or can't come to the 'main floor' from the ballroom gives me a headache. The luxury of corners and islands and endcaps and room to move and get creative is absolutely absent in SLC at OR Summer; that layout is 'challenging' in it's inflexibility, and it's hard work to jigsaw everyone into positions and shared walls they don't really want. Next time you are down in the OC I'll show you how the floorplan process works. Any of you, really, it's quite the puzzle game. And there is good Mexican food.

    'Huge increases in attendance'? One can dream... Getting fly shops to attend OR in August will possibly be the biggest hurdle to get over in this entire discussion... but I promise to communicate the hugeness with some context, if and when it happens.

  6. Oh and just to get all 'apples to apples' on you, the FFR09 footprint is 150 companies (197 in 2008). In total the paddlesports 'exodus' was 27. IF they don't return (and the 10 new paddle exhibitors blow it off for the adventure in MN), that leaves well over 100 OR brands to be moved out/around to make room for Fly. Orvis alone would match Johnson's space, Simms would triple Werners, ...
    the bottom line is that the cross-pollination potential for fly, like paddle, is increasingly important for specialty retailers to be exposed to, and the sector itself, if they are to expand in reach and influence. If all the media at OR is exposed to FF, then there is more chance of exposure to the consumer audience, and (again like paddle) the opportunity for growth, partnership, strategic alliance and discovery expands geometrically. And, as we discussed live, it'll save you an extra trip out west, Drew.

  7. OK, last one I promise. I think it's a fatal flaw of the trade show industry to tout numbers as a meaningful measure of how strong a show was for the market. Reporting huge increases one year only sets you up for disappointment the next year, and in the end isn't even important. The right people are the key, in B2B. Not the quantity... see?

  8. Yep. What he said.

    And two points can create a line, but not a trend.

    I like the idea of FFR with ORSM because I think the energy of the OI Biz might wake up some of the sleepy FF vendors.

    Casting ponds can go in the lobby where OIA is. Just use barbless hooks.


  9. When it comes to the fly fishing industry, bloggers are in no way the only ones marked by or given to bombast.

  10. Matt, Drew,
    Loved your accurate and honest take on the show. I'm excited about a possible move to SLC. Regarding the final salvo, "So ... what we have is a tiny, aging group of passionate sporting enthusiasts who have come to a consensus that Denver is a poor choice for their trade show," I take slight offense.

    There are young people involved in this industry and they are just as opinionated and boisterous as anyone else about what's good for the future of fly fishing and fly fishing business. Most of our meetings are held in smoky dens, peering across the table at each other through a heap of empty PBR's. Many of us, including Kirk Deeter and Tim Romano, Andrew Bennett and Jim Klug, Will Casella and Bruce Chard, among many others, see a new wave of up-and-comers and a solid youthful bent to fly fishing. Accurate or percieved? I'm not sure. It's just a feeling, a sense that's out there and I hope it's real. Yes, the show, as always, didn't offer a real wild or fun vibe. There's improvement to be made and I hope that I, through Angler's Tonic, can assist in that element next year, wherever the show might be held. Salt Lake City; a new venue and a new vibe I'm all for. Thanks again for your take.

    Greg Thomas

  11. FTR, OIA Board voted to accept FFR into OR should AFFTA decide they want to join us. I love the idea of the casting ponds in the paddle tank.

  12. I'd have to say that if they plan to leave the area, then they leave. No big deal. If this is their final decision, then perhaps the Denver residents who are fishing enthusiasts can always go to the place where FFR will be holding their events.