What it’s like to exhibit at the Outdoor Retailer Show

I don’t know about you but I love reviews of trade shows from an exhibitor’s perspective. In that vein, we have a report from April Femrite who recently exhibited her line Naturally Bamboo at the Outdoor Retailer Show. If you’re producing items for the active or outdoor market, this show is a must. This report is even more valuable because it’s her second show there. She’d written a report for us last year about her launch and likely incorporated what she’d learned from her previous experience. In addition, OR has two shows yearly and you never really get a complete picture of the market until you’ve been to both because one is usually smaller than the other. Thanks April!

Outdoor Retailer Show – Round #2
This was my second trip out to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. It was held last month at the Salt Palace Convention Center. They do 2 markets a year, one in the winter and one in the summer and feature all sorts of outdoor gear and clothing. You will find things from snowshoeing to camping to ice climbing as well as apparel brands in both the active and lifestyle markets such as Patagonia, Horny Toad, Mission Playground, Gramicci, PrAna, Smartwool, Icebreaker, Aventura, etc.

Last time my sister and former sales person came with me, but this time I was lucky to have Aimee and Katia help me out. They are both design students at Colorado State and Aimee was one of the 5 finalists at Project OR last summer (that’s how we met). The winter show was definitely much slower than the summer show – partly due to economy and it’s just a smaller show overall.

I decided to get my name in the OR Daily (a free show guide for buyers) by giving away 200 bamboo beanies (stocking hats) made from leftover fabric I had from last season. We did get good traffic in our booth and even wrote a few orders. Although I wish we did more business, it was better than how I did at the summer show, so hopefully things will keep improving as I build my brand and buyers see that I’m sticking around. The buyers at OR are very brand loyal and many other exhibitors say that it takes years of seeing a certain brand at a show before they commit to placing an order.

I had a 10 x 10 booth like last time but I’ve decided to get a 10 x 20 for the summer 2009 show. I felt way too crowded in my booth and I want a more open atmosphere for buyers next time around, plus I feel it will project an aura of a growing brand. I am going to have a new exhibit designed to be lightweight and packable in small boxes so I can just ship it through Fed Ex next time. Besides saving money, it will reduce my carbon footprint as well.

The best part of the show is that I found a husband and wife sales team for the Northeast coast. I am very excited to have them on board and am wishing them luck showing my line for the first time at a large trade show in Pennsylvania this week. These are my first real, professional sales reps in my industry although I also have 2 showroom reps at the Minneapolis and Columbus gift marts. Speaking of which, I think the Columbus rep may have just taken off somewhere with my samples because I have emailed and called her and she hasn’t returned any of my messages. Hmmmm… I may have gotten burned on that one.

Other positives from the show:

  • I have a possible manufacturing contract with the State of Utah
  • I got some gear reviews coming on BackpackGearTest.org
  • A guy who wanted to buy lots of beanies to sell on amazon.com

…and overall just a really fun time hanging out with this crowd. Of course there is always a downside – and that’s how much money you have to spend on a trade show. I look at it as a long term investment. I don’t expect to get my money back from a trade show for the first, second or even third time. Especially in this economic climate, buyers don’t want to risk trying out a new(er) line, so they stick with what they know sells. I am aware of this and have come up with a new buyer incentive program which I hope will lure buyers into trying my product. My incentive plan consists of:

  1. Low minimums – $250 and 4 pieces per style
  2. Free shipping on orders over $500
  3. Free POP display: a poster inside a reclaimed wood frame from Ecowood Displays, highlighting features of bamboo and facts about our company.
  4. Extended terms (increased from 30 to 60 days)
  5. No questions asked return policy up to 60 days (items must be returned with tags in original condition)

So far the feedback has been positive. Of course I already cut off order deadlines for Spring 09 and 2 stores have called me this week wanting to get their order in for an April 1st ship date. I can do CMT in a month so it’s not that big of a deal, but would have been nice if they would have contacted me earlier.

I can’t think of anything else right now, but email me if you are interested in exhibiting at this show and I can give you more details.

April Femrite
President
Naturally Bamboo

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8 comments

  1. Anne says:

    Thanks for the report, April! Congrats on the positive outcomes, especially on the sales reps. I’m encouraged to hear when people are doing better now, even in this economy, than they did last season. (Oh, and I’m in Columbus, so if you need help tracking down your rep, let me know…)

  2. Ha, Anne! I just may have you do that. Let me call her a few more times and if she doesn’t respond, I’ll leave her a message that I have an “insider” watching her every move….

    Thanks for reading!
    April

  3. I wish more exhibitors would review Trade Shows – so us manufacturers could get the real story. Ussually all I hear about is how great it was and how crowded – yet I get this information from the people selling booths. And I also find lots of exhibitors do not want to give an honest assessment (good and bad) because they are are afraid of offending someone.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I wish more exhibitors would review Trade Shows – so us manufacturers could get the real story.

    You can find a huge long list of trade show reviews -okay, still not all of them, but a very long list of the las vegas trade shows including reports from exhibitors here.

  5. colleen says:

    Thanks, April, Is it too intrusive to ask how much it cost to exhibit? Yes, yes, I know, I need to join the Forum! I am working on it, believe me.

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