Ah, the wide-open spaces! It’s what we dream of when stuffed in overheated offices and traffic jams. Well, the Outdoor Trade Show made every effort to create a feeling of space – both outdoors and in – at their annual event, this year at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire.
Outside probably 3 acres of canvas-to-awning tents, and indoors another half acre of stands almost completely uninterrupted by nuisance customers 😉. Chirpy inventors stood alongside stoic distributors with the occasional retailer adding colour. A great place to look for partners and inspiration!
Bushcraft – gifts for survival
Poor attendance typifies outdoor exhibitions these days. It’s part of the reason businesses like BCB Adventure (a bushcraft specialist) – and SplashMaps – now major at the gift fairs instead. The greater diversity of buyers and the overall size of the gift market (vs. the outdoor market) has led to innovation for George who leads the business. “We look for combinations of products from our existing portfolio that we can package together as survival kits, then target them at specific gift segments” he told me. He showed me his tobacco sized tins whose bright labelling “Student Survival kit” (hangover cures alongside potato peelers and condoms I guess…) and “My First Survival kit” are all targeted not to be bought by anyone for use, but to provide instead as a gift for someone else. Genius.
An unusual journey
It was a nice day, so I decided to use the bike/ train combination. A series of firsts began! I booked my bike on the 9:32 from Winchester to Leamington using Twitter (very sharp @CrossCountry, very swift!) then the train ticket for me via the trainline app. This gave me a phone based ticket readable at both ends and caused two guards to take curious jabs at the phone along the way. As I didn’t get fined and arrived on time, it all seemed to work. The only down side was the dullness of the Leamington Spa to Stoneleigh road by bike – no provision for bikes whatsoever and the usual 4 x 4 dominance of the road and abuse of the speed limits by BMW drivers made it just unpleasant (despite the sun).
The freedom of not having a stand!
I fret when I have stands at shows. ‘Is everyone on the stand happy’, ‘are they briefed’, ‘did he just say that to a customer?’ are all the internal voices that gang-up on me. Traveling light and alone with a few samples and catalogues means I can learn a lot more about others in the industry and still squeeze in a little marketing myself.
Gone to the dogs!
It was great to meet Sam on the Ruff Wear stand at the show. He gestured to a simple harness and pointed out that this pooch accessory sold 40 000 units last year! I scratched his dog, Smudge, between the ears and we talked about this market. Ruff Wear are a US business that seem to have the edge on the market and are growing over here. But, talking with a number of “human” apparel businesses, they are also targeting dogs. Buff, Regatta and Trespass all recognise the trend of accessorising your dog in the UK and have put out products to suit. At Buff the first prototype was from a sample off-cut wrapped around a bone-shaped card. The Spanish owners couldn’t believe the success that then ensued as the doggy version of some product lines matched the volume sales for people!
Wearing the right kit
I will always claim, you’re never fully dressed without a map. And one day you’ll agree. I arrived with one map tied cowboy style around my neck, the other as a helmet-hair preventative under my Bell Helmet (just love the way that sounds 😉). But, better than that I landed next to Chris from Decathlon and Guillaume from Decathlon’s own-brand, Quechua. Bizarrely I had a new pair of shoes from Quechua bought at the Southampton Decathlon just days before. I didn’t want the trendy pumps cool Dads go for. I’m a camper, a runner, cyclist and walker. And on holiday I never know which I’ll do next, so need a shoe that covers them all! Literally, among the hundreds of pumps and cross trainers I’d considered that day, only the Quechua Cross shoes fitted the bill! Great to share that with the guys who ultimately designed them and sold them to me as a consumer.
It was great also to get on the Trespass stand and meet Ross, their business development manager who’s jacket was a spontaneous buy on my way to Yorkshire this year. Stretch and weatherproofness worked amazingly in the constant 3 hours of rain on the 3 Peaks.
Okay, my guerrilla marketing did go a little further than being pleasant to people on the stands and wearing a very distinctive mountain biking spec map around my neck. I made sure the display of Walk, Outdoor Enthusiast and Active Traveller magazines were all open on the SplashMaps pages (of course they are all running stories and ads right now). But I then got pounced on as I helpfully compounded the message by adding my leaflet to each magazine bin. From that point I just stuck to social media.
And what about Ethics and recycling?
At SplashMaps we are soon to launch a new series of products based on recycled fabrics entirely printed on fabric created in the EU. Printing and manufacturing on this kind of ethical material still seems pretty rare in the industry. A number of tent and apparel manufacturers informed me that customers are too price conscious to consider ethics when buying. Perhaps they’re right. What do you look for? The industry (in my poll of businesses at the show) think there can only be 3 or 4 variables in the products desirability before your customer’s brain gets frazzled. For technical fabrics (say in a tent or rain jacket) your outdoors person is looking for waterproofness, breathability and perhaps some wicking properties. So, if people don’t consider ethics in their purchasing decision making, why should the manufacture consider ethics in manufacture? It’s not to say that ethics don’t take a part, there are plenty of blue labels and recycle marques around. Recycled fabrics are made almost exclusively in China. China’s legislative regime is not famed for control of pollutants, and in the absence of controls
One manufacturer stood out, with a sustainability ethic at its core, placing a priority on using recycled polyester. Royal Robbins’ foundation in the sustainable climbing world has stood them in good stead.
Should Maps repel insects?
An American customer asked if we would make our latest Toob headwear “mosquito repellent” so I used my time to find out more about this and other attributes one could give to a cloth product at various stages in manufacture. I spoke with mosquito repeller, Julian from Stepping out on the Care Plus stand. There are 3 main repellents of which only Deet appears to be universally effective. The downsides? It’s harmful to skin and harmful to many clothes too! I hated this stuff when travelling. I’d noticed that Buff were using Premethrin and talking with the guys at their stand, it’s proving popular in the USA. Impregnated at the yarn stage of manufacture, the properties persist, they say for numerous washes (I have seen a claim of 70 washes!). But this comes at a cost. Premethrin is a nasty chemical when it gets into the water system, harmful to fish and any insect life, so it could be difficult to assure the eco-friendliness of the entire production chain and get the “bluesign” certification (for example) if using this product.
Rainproof and recycled?
I’m still not clear if this is anywhere near realistic.
Our Pro fabric SplashMaps are already rain resistant (liquids just bead-up and roll-off), but this is largely due to the fineness of the yarn and the tightness and uniformity of the weave. Recycled fabrics, like those we use in our City map-wraps as yet, don’t have the same properties. The less uniform structure means they are more adsorbent. But can you provide these properties post treatmet? Experts were on hand from Granger’s to help with their knowledge and I left with some great advice and a bunch of samples to try out at the SplashMaps labs.
Cool looking boots and ultra-high-visibility jackets (I loved Regatta’s new designs) were among those products entered in the in the UK Outdoors Industry Awards. The awards are a good addition to the show and with a connection to a more continental prize next year, there are bigger things afoot from the exposure these products will get. Perhaps I goofed by not getting SplashMaps in there, but it was great to see maps on fabrics represented as Lifeventure entered their quick drying towel featuring a blown up OS image of Scaffell Pike.
I loved the travel washing machine and the storage solutions for triathletes. But the flying tent by Backpacker caught my attention. Anyone that’s been plagued by insects at night or has slept on the ground among the creepy crawlies will love the idea of a tent suspended from the trees. Perhaps one that’s light-weight and even doubles up as a waterproof poncho. It’s an ingenious design and deserves the recognition the prize will afford. I’ve already been recommending it to friends in the military.
Tried and Trusted
Perry McGee is a SplashMaps friend and on a days tracking training for my team he described his love of this brand. SnugPak sleeping bags and clothes are loved by the military for both their rugged design and their comfort in the most extreme circumstances. It was great to discuss our mutual friend with Darren Burrell, Snugpak’s Sales Director, and the basis of our business with its original birthplace as WW2 escape and evasion maps.
The prize for best Freebies?
This prize has to go to Celestron, a manufacturer of amazing telescopes. I met Paul Clarke to discuss our Star Map made by world famous star mapper, Wil Tirion. Many of their range are developed for people to pack up and take into “dark skies” areas, where dew and rain can be an issue and where our maps come into their own! I left with collapsable binoculars and a massive magnifying glass! Hugely useful and easy on the backpack ;-).
Okay, the train option cost 3 times the car hire I did last week to visit partners, Modern Souvenir in Bath, and almost as much as a recent flight to Edinburgh. But the bike/ train combo gave a sort of independence I enjoyed, if not the trilling ride I’d normally like. Trains are great! I meet great people on them, do my best work on them and it gives me time to catch-up.
Perhaps the nicest thing about a return home is seeing the familiar. On a bike you feel and adsorb it too. Sustrans’ Route 23 was a treat to sweep into in my race against the darkening skies. A familiar trail over viaducts and past ancient buildings and the ancient hill fort at St Catherine’s Hill. By the end the journey I’d travelled 232 miles, 26 of those on the bike. A memorable day with insights gained, new friends made and new paths opening-up. Not the liveliest of events, but perhaps the right environment for starting something new.