At its height, SHOPA was probably the most powerful trade association in the OP industry, with an annual event attracting over 10,000 visitors, a turnover of tens of millions of dollars and around 40 staff on the payroll.
Now, after several months of undergoing a "restructuring process", SHOPA’s fate is set to be decided soon. It seems that the board may have little alternative but to wind up the association.
No staff are currently employed by SHOPA, basic business operations are being outsourced, its building in Dayton, Ohio, has been put up for sale, while interim president Al Arends has been working recently on a voluntary basis.
"The whole infrastructure of the association was built around the SHOPA show," said Arends. "Once this income generator ceased to exist, the business model was just no longer sustainable."
SHOPA attempted to maintain a revenue stream with its SBTS matchmaking events, but despite some success with this and the expansion of the initiative outside the US, these events could not generate nearly as much cash as the SHOPA show. After the departure of long-time president Steve Jacober and many other key staff members in the middle of 2007, it became clear that the association was in serious difficulty.
With hindsight, a major reassessment of the structure and the goals of SHOPA at the end of 2004 following the decision to abandon the trade show could have saved the association, albeit in a more streamlined form. Discontinuing the show was obviously the right move, given the subsequent failure of Paperworld USA.
However, SHOPA was still a valuable source of market information through its research activities and was also doing a great job with its charitable initiatives such as The Kids in Need Foundation which, thankfully, has been saved and is now being run as a separate organisation.
A focus on these aspects, arguably the main raison d’être for any such association, instead of embarking on the business-orientated SBTS route, may well have been more prudent.
Will the void left by SHOPA be filled? According to Arends, there is still a desire within the US OP industry to have some kind of association encompassing all supplier and reseller channels. "We surveyed SHOPA members in October and 60 percent said that they did want a trade association," he said.
Arends added that, according to his own calculations, a sustainable business model for the association without the show is possible. "Based on feedback, I would envisage an association based around business services and research. The expertise remains in the industry and we would look to tap straight into that."
And with a number of industry veterans considering starting a new association once SHOPA’s fate has officially been announced, that has to be good news for the US OP industry.