There was little change to the number of exhibitors at the ninth edition of the Asia Outdoor trade show, held in Nanjing on July 26-29, although they occupied fewer halls. The number of participating firms was up slightly to 613 from 610 a year ago, as the organizers managed to attract a couple of internationally well-known brands to its new water sports and running sections.

The number of trade visitors was down to 17,298 from 18,563 last year. Some exhibitors observed that the decline was not surprising given the consolidation of the retail landscape, notably among the smaller physical stores, combined with an increased concentration in the number of online shops. Furthermore, even large outdoor retailers such as Sanfo said that the number of end customers had declined significantly in their stores over the past months. This trend did not have a substantial impact on Sanfo's turnover because of higher demand through its web shop along with a trend among the remaining customers to buy more than before.

A bunch of global players showed their offer in the running category at relatively small booths in the newly established “Running Village” at the fair, which was said to have lured some 10,000 visitors. The concept was adopted by top brands such as Asics, Tecnica, Columbia, The North Face, Suunto, Odlo, Skins and Salomon, among others. Some companies took stands in both the village and the main sections including Gore-Tex, Primaloft and Mountain Hardwear, which was appearing for the first time at Asia Outdoor. On the other hand, some local players were absent as the growing competition in the Chinese apparel sector has driven them out of business.

This year's edition of Asia Outdoor had to face a substantial reduction in floor space because of the Youth Olympic Games held in Nanjing this year. The event occupied two of the former Asia Outdoor halls, squeezing the trade show into only three halls. The drop in the gross exhibition space was generally welcomed as observers felt that it had spread out too much last year after the pullout of the Asia Bike show.

Naturally, one major topic for discussion in the halls was Messe München's recent announcement that it plans to organize Ispo Shanghai on July 2-4, 2015. Knut Jaeger, chief organizer of Asia Outdoor, reiterated his view that the Chinese outdoor market does not need a second summer show. He said the market will decide, but added that he could not imagine that the market would change a system that is running well.

The situation is, however, more complex. In Nanjing, we took the opportunity to question as many exhibitors as possible about the critical trade show issue. The executives we spoke to didn't want to be named, especially because many have yet to come to a definitive decision in favor of one show or the other. Still, the numerous talks revealed a few interesting points:

1. Brands whose collections fit into the assortment of generic sporting goods retailers are very interested in a show with a broader offer like Ispo Shanghai, which will host more categories than just outdoor. However, suppliers who concentrate on core outdoor shops, offering climbing equipment and other very technical items prefer to see things the way they are, with a show in Nanjing.

2. There is a general uncertainty in the local industry about the shape that the retail landscape is going to take in the future. For some suppliers, it would be easier to cast a vote in favor of Ispo Shanghai if they could count on a strong development of generalist sporting goods retailing in China. At this point, market observers believe that specialty outdoor retail is at a more advanced stage of development, and this plays in favor of the Nanjing event, at least for the time being.

3. For many brands, the early July dates of Ispo Shanghai are interesting because they coincide with the period when many Chinese retailers are ordering products for the next summer season. The Nanjing show at the end of July is closer to the end of the ordering season.

4. There is also a vast number of completely undecided companies. Some feel annoyed by all the discussion about trade shows and tend to follow the old business principle: “Go where your customers go.” When asked where they think the customers will go, a frequently given response was: “We don't have a clue.”

5. Geography is not really an issue. The distance between Nanjing and Shanghai is only 90-120 minutes on the bullet train. Executives of international brands may prefer Shanghai as it is a larger city with excellent connections to and from Pudong International Airport. As a relatively “small town” of just over six million inhabitants, Nanjing cannot compete. At the end of the day, the international brands will let their local representatives decide.

6. Cost considerations may be a factor in the final decision for the companies that already exhibit at Ispo Beijing, as they are being offered a discount for participation in Ispo Shanghai.

7. The European Outdoor Group is publicly supporting Ispo Shanghai instead of Asia Outdoor, although it owns the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen. Asia Outdoor is a joint venture between Messe Friedrichshafen and a company controlled by Jaeger and other partners.

The debate will keep the local and international industry busy over the next few months. We shall keep you updated on the directions that it is taking.