Industry greats come to tackle the Bigfoot and the Pacific NW’s 1st Industry Expo.
The Tacoma Convention Center came alive this past weekend as the first-ever Northwest Shooting Sports Expo 2016 quietly, and confidently welcomed shooting sports enthusiasts from all around the country. Rainier Arms CEO John Hwang implemented an idea to create the first-ever PacNW Expo with the following concept of operation: bring together some of the industry’s best companies and manufacturers, maintain an intimate and genuine atmosphere, and make it open to the public.
This concept, put into action and implemented by the amazing team from Rainier Arms, made for a unique weekend of events, and the greater industry should definitely take notice. There were over 80 companies and manufacturers represented throughout the weekend, and in many cases, the owners of the companies were manning the tables. The event itself was not only open to the general public, but FREE for participants.
Aside from some traffic delays along I-5 South and an unexpected marathon on Day 1, parking for the event was straightforward and simple with several easily-accessible lots around the Tacoma Convention Center. My buddy Steve Coulston and I rolled in about 1130 hours or so, and there were already 700+ participants inside – not too bad at all for a first-time premiere event. By the end of the day, that number easily doubled, however the feel of the event was relaxed, unpressured, and intimate.
For those of you that follow our work at Guns & Tactics, you know that Steve and I, as well as several other G&T writers, cover SHOT Show and other shooting sports events around the country. For this excursion, I planned a little differently; I wanted to participate in the event simply as an attendee for the first day, and save the photos, interviews, and networking for Day 2. I’m glad I did.
With industry leader names such as Daniel Defense, FN Herstal, Sig Sauer, Leupold, Mega Arms, Noveske, Fortis Manufacturing,Falkor Defense, CMC Triggers, Bobro Engineering, Tactical Tailor, Lantac USA, Battle Arms Development, Cross Machine Tool, Agency Arms, S3F Solutions, Kinetic Development Group, and many, many more, it was very apparent that NWSSE brought out the heavy hitters. The presence of such industry greats would be good enough for any attendee, but what many didn’t know was that not only were some of the industry leaders in attendance, but the booths were in many cases staffed by the owners of the companies themselves. Power couple Jason and Melinda Sonju were at the Falkor Defense booth all weekend, as were Jeff and Bernadette Cross of Cross Machine Tool. Jason Curns brought out his team from Mega Arms, Andrew Bobro and his nephew represented Bobro Engineering as did many others.
To have such access to top tier company owners for an event open to the general public is unprecedented. The fact that the event was free to visitors made it even more special.
From my perspective, Day 1 was a complete success. With a modest 69 vendor booths, there was plenty of time to see everything, and actually take the time to inspect accessories and firearms and have real discussions with the staff, who again, were not just knowledgeable about their product, but were the creators themselves in many cases. Usually in trade shows such as these, you get a quick 30 second overview of products seen, maybe business cards exchange hands, and everyone moves on anxious to capture or see as much as possible before time runs out.
Not at NWSSE.
My first stop was to visit Jason Curns and the crew at Mega Arms. Mega is a household name out here on the West Coast, and they have an outstanding reputation for churning out exquisite receivers, components, barrels and rails. They also have one of the sweetest anodizing finishes in the industry for their black rifle components. They introduced some amazing rifles at SHOT Show 2016, specifically their small frame SF-MATEN .308, which was a showstopper in Vegas. I again had an opportunity to handle that beauty, which did nothing but rekindle my desire to build out a .308.
I also made certain to see the CMC Triggers family, positioned right next door. If you saw some of Steve Coulston’s work from SHOT Show 2016, you might remember that CMC Triggers has created an AK Trigger system that is simply magical. Tunable, and with three different trigger profile options, I think that their AK trigger is absolutely worth the cost. After a round of hugs, I pretty much just brought anyone over that I could to try the trigger out. Some guys from my department were at the event as well, and although they were not thrilled at the prospect of trying out a “commie gun” as one of my friends sarcastically put it, his face lit up when he had a chance to check out the CMC Triggers creamy reset and break.
I would say, however, that the Belle of the Ball Award definitely went to Cross Machine Tool and their new ARmini 9mm PDW. A from-the-ground-up PDW platform, the ARmini is built around the familiar AR platform and can use standards AR trigger groups and controls, however it is dimensionally smaller than standard AR receivers and built to accept Glock magazines. Complete with a non-reciprocating charging handle and an ingenious swing-arm stock that doubles as a pistol grip while in its collapsed configuration, the ARmini has already generated quite a buzz on various internet forums and websites, and I hope to see it in its out-of-the-box form in the near future.
It would take too much time for me to write-up every encounter I had at each booth that I visited (all of them), but suffice it to say I heard nothing but positive comments regarding the size, pacing, and scope of the weekend.
An Evening with Heroes
As Day 1 wound down, those that paid for VIP Tickets went on to the next phase of the evening. Many participants relocated to Virtual Sports in Tukwila, for An Evening With Heroes, with proceeds going to The Darby Project. The Darby Project is a consortium of networks that are committed to assist US Army Rangers transition from active military duty back into civilian life.
If you think that on-site hand-rolled cigars, local whiskey, Laser Tag, a bunch of vets and civilians engaging in “friendly” rounds of dodgeball, and thousands of dollars in raffles is a good time, then this event was for you. Again, like during Day 1 at the Convention Center, nothing compared to be able to have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with company owners over whiskey, have a cigar with Clint Walker and hear about his around-the-world experiences, or see Rainier Arms CEO John Hwang eliminate S3F Solution’s Chris Naganuma in dodgeball (sorry, Chris).
The raffles. In typical me fashion, I won nothing, but it was wonderful to see so many companies step up and donate quality products for such a worthy cause. Raffle prizes ranged from Gemtech suppressors to complete rifles from prominent companies such as Troy Industries, and by the end of the night, according to final tallies from McGabin Media, weekend fundraising totals showed $17,766 raised for The Darby Project.
Day 2 was much more relaxed and open than Day 1; but the afternoon filled up a bit more as church services let out and participants were ready to enjoy their afternoon. I informally polled different vendors, and universally they all reported that the feel and atmosphere of the event was top-notch. I think both vendors and participants alike felt that the Expo was much more relaxed, intimate, and the conversations and dialogue were much more meaningful than a typical convention.
Vendors conducted Expo-priced sales as well, and there definitely were some deals to be had, and I noticed that more than one vendor had new, soon-to-be-released items or just-released items to showcase at the event.
Once the day was wrapped up, I had the good fortune to have dinner with John Hwang and several other industry folks photographers. We all agreed that John and the Rainier Arms crew were onto something big, and we were all excited at the prospect of what next year would bring.
John stated his intent was to double the number of vendors there, but that was about as far as he would expand the Expo – meaning that unlike a general gun show or trade show, vendor space would be capped at about 150. Quality over quantity. This is a great idea, in that it guarantees that the vendors that DO get selected are going to be Tier 1 companies and already have a reputation or have worked hard to cement a reputation for high quality components and gear. No fly-by-night companies, no kitsch or second-rate products to be seen.
An approach like this will not only drive competition, but ensure that the Northwest Shooting Sports Expo will remain a coveted destination to exhibit at, and that attendees will be exposed to only the best the industry has to offer.
Additionally, an added benefit to next year’s Expo is that exhibitors will use the NWSSE to launch and announce their new products for the following year – meaning new products that deserve attention won’t get lost in the cacophony that is SHOT Show, and attendees will have a chance to see these products earlier on, and in a more intimate setting – and in some cases, presented by the owners or creator themselves.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s event, and I hope to see you all there. Please stay tuned to Guns & Tactics as well as my other outlets for updates, and until then, stay safe.
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