Having sample snowboards stolen can put a damper on a company’s selling season. What happened to Spun Snowboards at the SIA show in Vegas was nothing short of disaster. While owner Will Rells, Jr. stayed behind at the factory in San Diego a few extra days to continue production, four Spun reps headed out early to Vegas with boards and booth in tow. They set up Thursday before the show, leaving the empty board-display rack in the booth overnight. Friday morning, they arrived with the snowboard product-line to find the display rack gone. After a lengthy delay, security responded, and three of the reps left to file a report. The one rep left behind to watch the booth wandered down the aisle to visit with neighboring companies, and when he returned¿you guessed it¿all seven of the sample boards were gone.

While admittedly the Spun crew could have exercised more caution, knowing that these thefts were likely committed from within the industry is rather distressing. Not to mention that Spun is a small, but growing, company in its first year¿the sort least able to weather big financial setbacks.

“What did I pay 3,000 dollars for?” Rells asks. “It was a complete waste. The lack of boards made our booth look like a joke, like we were just screwing around.” Spun managed to scrounge up a couple of their own personal-use boards to display, leaning them against the walls of the booth. “I only did five to ten percent of what I expected in sales, and believe me, I didn’t have unreal expectations. I’m surprised anyone showed interest at all.”

While recognizing that theft is always a part of the Vegas show, SIA President David Ingemie was distressed to hear of Spun’s misfortune. A number of booths suffered losses this year, and “last year an entire room of Head clothing was stolen!” he says. Security is a big concern, and SIA refines security measures every year, evaluating feedback and information from a variety of sources in a series of meetings held after the show. SIA even goes so far as attemping to recover stolen goods by dispatching security people at likely flea markets and swap meets. Ingemie continues, “We used video surveillance this year for the first time, and changed security firms. We have a three- to four-person plain-clothes security force, show security, and rent-a-cops. We spent 100,000 dollars on security.”

The SIA exhibitor service manual is very clear regarding security¿while assuring exhibitors that every reasonable effort is being made for their protection, it advises: “Each exhibitor must take responsibility for all of the items in his display … Never leave your booth unattended during the move-in … or during take down. This is when the hall is least secure.”

David Ingemie is aware that badge-checking at the show is inconsistent¿Will Rells says he entered the show a total of six times without ever showing a badge. Rells even suspected that security in S2, the “alternative” or “overflow” snowboard hall where Spun had its booth, was less strict. “How can we be more secure without going totally Gestapo?” Ingemie asks. “Don’t forget the union people involved as well¿it’s a union hall¿teamsters, electricians, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised to find they are part of the problem.”

The bottom line on this situation is be careful. Exhibitors almost need to operate as though there is no security other than themselves. Design the booth so that product is difficult to walk away with. Make sure you have sufficient staff to keep an eye on things. Look for trouble spots and anticipate them. You may want to join the growing number of exhibitors who pay SIA an additional fee for providing overnight security¿a guard to literally sit in your booth all night.

In spite of all his troubles this year, Will Rells plans to be at SIA Vegas in ’96: “Of course, in this business you have to!” But you can bet he’ll be handling security a little differently.

¿Sharon Harrison