How It All Began: SHOT Show at 35

It’s hard to believe for those that have been there from the beginning, but 2013 will mark the 35th SHOT Show. Starting today and continuing up until the show, we’ll look back at the show’s history, from its inception in 1978 and its official opening in 1979, up to where it stands today as one of the largest and most vibrant trade shows in the world.

How It All Began

For many years prior to the SHOT Show, NSSF and industry companies were exhibitors at the National Sporting Goods Association's trade show.

For many years before the formation of the SHOT Show, industry companies — from firearms and ammunition manufacturers to hunting and shooting sports accessory firms — had exhibited at the National Sporting Goods Association’s (NSGA) annual trade exposition, a show that encompassed a broad range of sporting equipment, from team sports to camping and fishing supplies.

In its heyday the NSGA show was considered a “mega show,” attracting close to 3,000 exhibitors and from a purely business perspective it was an attractive and successful venue for individual exhibitors in the shooting, hunting and outdoor industry.

During the mid-70s, the National Shooting Sports Foundation had developed major new programs and desired to continue to expand educational, safety and promotional efforts. This prompted NSSF and its Board of Governors to consider options for new funding sources.

Since its formation in 1961, NSSF’s sole funding — as with most industry associations — was from member dues. Some 15 years later, with essentially all the major companies in the industry as strong NSSF supporters, significant new income would have to be generated from a source other than membership.

Facing similar challenges, other industry associations had started their industry’s own trade show. Was it now NSSF’s turn? Was the firearms industry now ready to break away from the NSGA show and stand on its own two feet? The key question came down to this: Did the NSSF membership want to take a chance on a new venture that, if successful, would enable the Foundation to become a stronger and more capable entity that would better be able to meet the industry’s current and future challenges?

In the summer of 1977, NSSF mailed a questionnaire to hundreds of industry companies to gauge their interest in starting a separate trade show. When the responses were tallied, 81 percent of potential exhibitors voted “yes” for a new show.

With a green light from industry, NSSF formed a committee to direct the launch of the new trade show. The Charles Snitow Organization (later the Cahners Exposition Group and now part of Reed Exhibitions) was selected to manage the show. St. Louis was selected as the site for the inaugural event because of its central location.

Up Next: How the show got its name and preparations for the first SHOT Show.

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