January 09, 2024
This week’s cry in the bowhunting world is a different refrain of sorts, the admonition to “Meet me in St. Louis!”
While that might have been the title for a long ago movie, it's now the idea this week for thousands of archery vendors, shop owners, and media descending upon the city for the Archery Trade Association’s 2024 version of the annual ATA Trade Show.
While many traveling eyes are on an increasingly winterlike weather forecast this week as two storms and an arctic air mass threaten to envelop much of the nation’s heartland, for now, it appears that attendees to this year’s gathering — the 26th such show since the AMO Archery Trade Show was held in Louisville in 1997 — drawing more than 6,000+ attendees — won't have too many problems getting into and out of the city for the Jan. 11-13, 2024 show at America's Center exposition venue.
While travel doesn’t look too bad at the moment, there’s still a bit of uncertainty for many attending the show since the early 2024 visit marks the first time that the ATA Show has ever visited St. Louis. It’s also the furthest point west that the show has ever ventured, something that seems appropriate given the fact that the Missouri city sits on the banks of the Mississippi River and served as the gateway to Lewis and Clark’s famed 19th century exploration expedition that headed into the American West.
Previously, the ATA Show has been a staple back east — particularly in the Indianapolis area where the 2023 show was held — a gathering that marked the 12th time the ATA Show had visited there. Other cities to host the ATA Show down through the years have included Louisville, Columbus, Nashville, and Atlanta.
But this week, it’s time for St. Louis to enter the mix as the show looks forward to three-days of business and the ATA’s Industry Celebration, presented by Mossy Oak for the second consecutive year. With the latter being a night of networking and music by country musician Jon Langston — who released his full-length debut album, Heart on Ice in September — the celebration begins at 6 p.m. on Jan. 11 in the America’s Center Ballroom.
Familiar industry icon Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, senior vice president at Mossy Oak, will serve as the event’s host. Strickland, of course, is no stranger to Outdoor Sportsman Group fans, having been on numerous Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel, and MOTV shows down through the years since joining Toxey Haas’ Mossy Oak Camo back in 1988 and serving as its unofficial face and voice ever since. More on all of this in a moment.
This year’s show, held in the shadow of St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch continues the show’s push to pre-pandemic normalcy.
If you’ve forgotten, the 2021 ATA Show — which was to be the show’s 25th gathering — was cancelled in the fall of 2020 cancellation as concerns about the COVID-19 virus and its variants continued to dominate world headlines.
After the unwanted year off, the ATA Show resumed in January 2022 with the 25th show in Louisville, Ky., a gathering that was greeted by the Kentucky Derby bugler and a considerably smaller footprint and crowd. Partly due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, partly due to a fierce snowstorm in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee that interrupted inbound traffic, and partly due to the new realization that business could be conducted in the virtual world, the 2022 show drew 4,302 individuals and 450 exhibitors, a precipitous drop from numbers the previous year (pre-pandemic in January 2020) when 8,557 people attended and there were 591 exhibitors.
Those 2022 ATA Show numbers were certainly a far cry from the hey-day in the previous decade, including a show attendance high of 9,950 attendees and 631 exhibitors in 2016. In fact, there were more than 9,000+ attendees and more than 600 exhibitors five times from 2015 through 2019 according to data from the ATA itself.
But post-pandemic, it's been a bit of a struggle for the numbers to rebound fully. While most concerns about the pandemic are over, the launching pad that the show once seemed to be seems reduced. That’s due to a trend in recent years for major companies to one-up their competitors with autumn releases and social media splashes prior to Thanksgiving’s Black Friday and December’s Christmas shopping season rush.
Add in the shift to online business presentations and there's certainly been a big shift in what the ATA Show is presently versus what it once was.
Will the show ever recover fully and approach the figures seen almost yearly from 2011-20? That remains to be seen, but last year's gathering in downtown Indy was definitely a step forward in the right direction as more than 5,300+ attendees and 460+ were reported by different media outlets and ATA officials note that the show grew by some 21-percent from the previous year.
What will 2024 bring for those heading for St. Louis? It's too early to tell, as pre-show social media whispers and Internet rumors flow, but show officials have indicated in the lead-up to the event that numbers continue to outpace last year's figure so far.
To ATA's credit, the organization hasn't dodged some of the tough questions post-pandemic, instead trying to educate attendees on why the show still delivers a punch for both manufacturers.
Plenty of archery shop owners like Orvie Cantrell, Jr. of Big O’s Archery in Sherman continue to believe in that idea and have made plans to attend. For Cantrell, who has operated his North Texas shop since the 1980s, the show remains a must-attend event, something he has done for every show held except the 2022 show.
Why the loyalty and attendance from industry regulars like Cantrell? For one reason, there's the usual business-to-business networking opportunities, the chance for manufacturers to shine and win awards in the New Product Showcase, and educational opportunities like Masterclass certifications including one this year from former Hoyt Archery president Randy Walk, who will discuss turning a passion into a profit.
As noted above, there will also be a return to the star power of some of the past events, including the 1,000-watt star-power of the Buck Commander crew at the Industry Celebration that will include the likes of country musician superstars Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, the famous beard wearing Willie Robertson of Duck Commander and Duck Dynasty fame, and more.
“We’re excited to have Jon, Cuz and Mossy Oak join us for this year’s event as we celebrate the industry’s accomplishments,” said Jeff Poole, ATA’s president and CEO, in a news release. “This is sure to be a can’t-miss event, and we look forward to seeing all our friends for an evening of fun, food and entertainment.”
The “Buckmen,” including the likes of Tyler Farr, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Langerhans and Tom “Tombo” Martin, will be participating in the show as business partners to help unveil some new technology being launched at the show by Buck Commander.
“We can’t wait for everyone to see the all-new product line Buck Commander is launching at the 2024 ATA Show in St. Louis,” said Ryan Busbice, co-owner of Buck Commander and owner of Barnett Crossbows. “The entire Buck Commander crew is going to be there.”
Such new products continue to be the lifeblood of the ATA Show. And while it’s true that some companies have released new gear in the months leading up to the show, it's also true that the ATA Show remains an exclusive first-look for hundreds of new products.
Just last year, ATA exhibitors launched over 120 new items in the show’s New Product Launch Showcase, and ATA officials are anticipating similar numbers this year.
One of the company’s debuting at this year's show is a familiar one to backyard bow-shooting enthusiasts. Morrell Targets, makers of foam and bag targets like the Yellow Jacket series, will bring some new gear up from their Arkansas headquarters.
“All of our staff here at Morrell Targets are greatly anticipating the coming ATA Show in St. Louis,” said Tanner Morrell, marketing director at Morrell Targets, in a news release. “We have two new exciting products that have never been seen before and unique attractions that will thrill any member in attendance. It will be a one-of-a-kind experience ATA members will remember!”
All of the products in the 2024 New Product Launch Showcase are eligible to win a gold, silver or bronze award through the ATA's awards program this week, as well as several new award category presentations this year. Stay tuned to Bowhunter for the latest announcements about this year's new products, as well as best of show winners!
In short, as the St. Louis show prepares to open, that it’s a return to the regular business of bowhunting and archery in ways that haven’t been seen since prior to the pandemic. As such, the ATA Show remains must-attend territory in the industry according to Brian Bychowski, president of Pine Ridge Archery, who believes the ATA Show remains as important and vital to business now as it was when the first event was held a generation ago in 1997.
“Some retailers come to us wanting to order wrenches and that’s it, but while they’re (at our booth), they’re physically touching samples and listening to our sales reps mention complementary products,” said Bychowski, who has attended ATA Shows each year since his first one back in 2002. “They walk away with an order of 15 SKUs that they needed but would’ve overlooked in a product catalog.
“Retailers can look at you from across the table and know if you’re genuine or throwing BS. You can’t get any of that from a phone call.” And that’s why Bychowski and thousands of others are responding to the bowhunting industry’s call to “Meet me in St. Louis!”