The NRA Convention… first timer… awesome time! If I did not want to impress you with my writing skills, then that could be my article. That said, I guess I will just have to write more! Suffice it to say, I will be repeating this trip again next year.
I arrived in Atlanta on Friday, April 27th after a full week of my “day job” business travel on the West Coast, already a bit weary from my travels all week. I grabbed a taxi from the airport to my hotel, unbeknownst to me that President Trump had come into town that day. As we approached closer to Peachtree Street, where I was staying at the wonderful Indigo Hotel, the reality of the President’s visit became very apparent.
After several attempts to get closer to the hotel, my taxi driver had to give-in. He indicated that I would have to get out and walk 3 blocks to my hotel due to the fact that the roadblocks prevented him from getting any closer to the hotel. With my luggage (a full week of it) in tow, I headed up the hill to my hotel.
Literally 1 block from my hotel, the street (including the sidewalk) was completely blocked. No joy! I could see my hotel, but I could not get there! There I stood, having just come from Seattle, dressed for 40 degree weather and standing in the streets of Atlanta in nearly-90-degree-100-percent-humidity weather. I thought I could stand there, wait and possibly get to see the President’s motorcade, but after 30 minutes I had to punt.
One of the police officers mentioned that I could go down one block and then come back up, so down I headed. When I reached the same road (as blocked off before but a block away), it was blocked by a motorcycle escort of officers. I stood there for another 20 minutes thinking the motorcade must be imminent since the engines of the motorcycles were running.
No joy again!
So, down I walked another block – this time I could cross! I did have to travel 2 blocks beyond my hotel and then walk back up 3 blocks (that I had traveled getting around the roadblocks) that was straight up a steep hill (who knew Atlanta had such hills!). I arrived at my hotel, hot, steamy, sweating and tired (oh, I forgot to mention that due to West->East Coast airline schedules, I had only nabbed 3 hours of sleep).
The cool air of my room was invigorating.
I checked the NRA Convention schedule and I had about 3 hours before the convention would close for the day. Should I or shouldn’t I? I was about as tired as I could be, but I decided to take a cold shower and see how I felt.
The cold shower gave me back some travel super powers, so I decided to go check out the convention. Checking in with the concierge, I received directions to the convention and headed out.
My first thought on arriving at the World Congress Center was, “This is a 1st class show”. From the entry point, all the way to the exhibitor floor, there was nothing but USDA Prime Grade! Entering the exhibitor space was awe-inspiring… acres and acres of exhibition space. I mean A C R E S!
I realized it was too much to accomplish anything useful in the 2 hours I had left in the day to peruse. Tonight was going to be reconnaissance. Tonight my mission was to learn where everyone “was” and obtain the information I needed in order to plan the next day’s goals.
I cut through the middle and then headed toward the center, main aisle covering it from end to end – to get the lay of the land. Good idea, and if you ever attend, I would make my first pass the same. Most of the main manufacturers/vendors have their spaces adjacent to or where you can see them from the main middle aisle. More so, you can figure out where the secondary vendors are located since the side rows tend to share themes.
Most of the major gun and optic vendors were located near or off of the main middle aisle. I noted the order and locations and made some mental notes on what vendor I wanted to “hit” first, etc. Passing by the Vortex booth, I saw Jerry Miculek shaking the hands of customers and “fans”. I almost stopped, but there was a large group surrounding him – I was slightly awed by the guy!
Let me say… the booths of all of the vendors were awesome. They were filled with their products and nearly all booths were “hands-on” where you could touch and feel at will. This is how gun shops should run their shows!
Upon leaving the exhibition floor, I realized that I should have signed up for press credentials. On my way out, I asked about where the press room was located to see if I could get my own press credentials. Unfortunately, the press room was closed for the evening.
Note to self… show up early and get my press credentials!
Full Day – Saturday
Rise and shine came early after my week-long travels and my tiring Friday in hot and steamy Atlanta. My enthusiasm washed away my travel weariness and I knew it was going to be an awesome day! I headed off to the convention about an hour early to await the opening of the press room doors.
I had my press credentials in hand and headed towards the exhibition floor, wanting to get there early before the masses arrived. I took advantage of the early access to hit up several vendors. Once the doors opened, it quickly became really busy.
My first surprise was how nice and accommodating the vendors were, even to small press guys like myself. Major vendor after major vendor’s senior marketing, product or communications persons talked extensively to me about their company and the industry – well, let me say nearly every vendor (I won’t mention any names <cough, cough> Benelli and Winchester!!). I was pleasantly surprised as big names such as Trijicon, Springfield Armory, Vortex, Glock, Mossberg, and Leupold all spent decent amounts of their time discussing the industry and even showing me their products in detail. I was impressed at how ammunition, brass and bullet companies such as Nosler, Lehigh, Starline and Hornady spent copious amounts of time sharing views on ballistics, bullet technology and where things were going in the industry.
This didn’t stop with the big guys. In spite of smaller booths and staffing, even the smaller vendors took time to talk with me.
Bottom line – great job!
For an industry newbie like myself, I felt like I was warmly welcomed.
Leave it to me to make a dufus move, though. Of course, many pros were at the convention and most wore their “pro shirts”. Walking across the convention, I saw a woman out of the corner of my eye pass me and her shirt looked pro-ish, but it did not have the typical sponsor logos on the back – so I thought it might be one for sale (non-pro). It looked nice with a bit of a patriotic color pattern, so I touched her arm and proceeded to ask her where she got it. As she turned around and began to speak, she began telling me its origin to be from the 2010 Olympic Games. The patch on the front of her chest made me realize how big of a dufus I really was – there I was talking to Lanny Barnes, 3x Olympic Biathlete!
Thank you Lanny for being so kind and not making me feel more like the idiot I was feeling like. Also, thank you for taking a picture and talking with me.
That attitude was present throughout the conference. For the most part, whether it was an executive at a big vendor, a circuit pro or pro-staff, the people at the NRA Convention had outstanding attitudes. Even Anthony Imperato, the president of Henry Repeating Arms, talked to me for 15 minutes.
Some vendor takeaways:
- All vendors voiced a cmmon theme about how traditional media (print, tv, etc.) are no longer the way to communicate their stories to the public – the independent Internet “press” was where the consumer was now turning for information.
- Most gun vendors expressed the flattening of some markets such as AR-15s and AKs.
- Leupold and some other vendors (but remarkably Leupold) noted they had to improve the ease of the use of their online presence (it was too confusing).o
- Trijicon showed me some pretty striking features and small format thermal scopes (I am hoping to get to review them in the near future).
- Nosler’s focus on making the best terminal ballistics bullets was clear and unwavering.
- Lehigh Defense impressed me with their ability to create custom bullets and to be able to turn them around in small time frames.
- Glock, Glock, Glock… what can I say, the 800 pistol gorilla in the room was one of the most cordial and forthright vendor. You really need to check out their GSSF program, especially if you are not LE or a Glock authorized reseller and want to do some of their armorer training.
Some industry takeaways:
- Optics vendors are refining quality and external features (throws, knobs, form factors) – glass is about “state-of-the-art” among the majors.
- Bullet vendors are, mostly, chasing the terminal ballistics improvements that Nosler started.
- AR manufacturers are trying to make solid, mid price range, quality guns vs. making low-cost entry guns.
- Everybody seems to be getting into the rifle business (principally high-grade entry bolt guns). Everybody from ammunition vendors, shotgun vendors, etc… you name it.
The NRA Convention 2018 will be in Dallas, TX. I will be there unless something stops me. I believe that this show is a great place for the “normal” gun guy to go – the pressures of the SHOT show are off, yet the newness of the “buzz” is still around. I highly recommend for everyone to attend, given the opportunity.