Outdoor Retailer

Top Tips from Outdoor Retailer Buyers

— Alicia MacLeay, Trailspace (LINK)

Connecting with buyers is the key goal of brands at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow. But building productive relationships in a frenetic four days is challenging. So what advice do experienced retail buyers offer other buyers and outdoor brands to make it a success?

In this first in a MOB series of tips for Outdoor Retailer attendees, we asked Mike Gawtry and Scot Balentine of L.L.Bean to share their buyer insights before this summer’s July 23-26 OR show.Mike: Before even hitting the floor create a plan that prioritizes the most critical meetings and interactions that will lead to business growth. Going in and winging it can work, but it’s like playing the lottery. Maybe you get lucky and find the next great product, material, or concept, but if a person has taken the time to nail down concrete meeting times, lunches, coffee chats, dinners, or just quick drive-bys with key business partners, the likelihood that you can grow your business and find the next big innovation goes up immensely.

At the very least, by attending the show a buyer should have found enough opportunities to cover the trip costs and to position their business for success.Scot: Download the show app in advance; cell and wireless signal in the show can be very slow. I always carry a printed backup of my schedule. Remember to account for the time zone change. Add booth numbers to your schedule in advance and review the floor plan; attempt to schedule meetings in a logical pattern and reduce transit time.

If you haven’t attended a show in Denver yet pay attention to the suffix after the booth number. LL is lower level and UL is upper level. You can lose a lot of time changing levels on crowded stairways. I like to keep a list in the Notes app on my phone of brands and booth numbers to circle back to later in the show.


Scot: Resist the temptation to book every time slot. Allow two to three hours to walk the entire show uninterrupted with your head up, versus scrambling appointment to appointment.

Go to the back corners and off the Main Street booth areas first to see new to show exhibitors. Look for curated sections, such as Venture Out, where there is a high concentration of new products and brands in a small footprint. Scot: I highly recommend the Demo Experience (Sunday, July 22, at Confluence and Commons Park in downtown Denver), not only to try product, but also to gather market data. If you arrive on Sunday and don’t attend the demo, at least stop by and grab your attendee badge at the Colorado Convention Center. This will save you from the long lines on Day 1.Scot: The OIA Industry Breakfast (Monday, July 23), NPD Trend Breakfast (Tuesday, July 24), and Conservation Alliance Breakfast (Tuesday, July 24) are usually all worth attending. Check the show website the week before to see who is presenting events.

If you’re not a breakfast person find a brand that will meet with you at 8 or 8:30 a.m. to get in the show early with their exhibitor badge. This can help free up time to walk the show later in the day and find the next amazing product or component. Scot: Review the show website, online Show Daily, and SNEWS prior to the show and each day for product reviews, news, and events.


The Dailies https://www.outdoorretailer.com/resources/dailies/

Even Schedule https://www.outdoorretailer.com/events-education/events/

Scot: Bring lots of business cards, your most comfortable shoes, and if you can’t resist show swag a backpack with well-padded straps. Also, bring water and snacks!

]Mike: An important piece of work that supports a prioritized meeting schedule is upfront research on sales numbers. Brands can quickly tell how serious a buyer is about doing business if that person has a strong command of sales information down to style, color, and size.

If a buyer brings solid retail intel to a meeting and can enlighten brands on their customers’ behavior, that person quickly becomes a valued resource and business partner. Scot: Utilize your co-workers and industry contacts for what they are seeing new at the show. We have a group meeting for an hour at the end of Day 2 to discuss what we are all seeing. Mike: Meeting documentation and trip reports are critical to success. Both the Chief Merchandising Officer at L.L.Bean and the CEO at Orvis required some form of trip and meeting report, identifying opportunities, risks, and trends that were discovered or confirmed at the shows. With the ability to take notes on phones today, plus document with photography, it’s easier than ever to build reports in real time on the floor.

While there is immediate short-term value in documenting a trip, the real value is reviewing a prior report. You will be surprised at some of the market or business partner opportunities that were documented but forgotten. Mike: Outdoor brands can make some easy moves to help build up a relationship as well. Buyers quickly learn that a brand that can provide quotes, samples, specifications, lead times, minimums, and accommodate packaging requirements is rare. The best brands or brand reps are the ones that make buyers look good.

If you can help an often over-worked, over-burdened buyer look good by providing solid industry and market data, accurate specifications, and color/size correct samples in the seasonal timelines required for inclusion in marketing efforts, you will have effectively given yourself the best chance of gaining a long-term customer. Scot: Many buyers work, and make buying decisions, on the crowded plane ride home. Being able to provide catalogs, sell sheets, and price sheets in print or digital formats at the show can be very helpful. Scot: Most of us are in this industry because we have a passion for being outdoors, and we want to share it with other people. This makes for a pretty cool tradeshow. Have fun!

Thank you, Scot and Mike, for sharing your extensive OR and buying experience!

Stay tuned for MOB’s next article in this series, “Top Tips from Outdoor Retailer Media and PR.”

Scot Balentine is Senior Product Developer for Equipment at L.L.Bean and has attended approximately 48 Outdoor Retailer shows since 1993. In this role he creates fun new gear that helps people  enjoy their time outdoors. Scot is a Registered Maine Guide,  Wilderness First Responder and a former Baxter State Park Ranger.  Scot has led paddling, backpacking and backcountry ski trips all over North America.  A Maine native he enjoys exploring remote corners of the state with his wife Kristel Hayes and son Sam Balentine.  One of his most successful efforts to get people outside was to convince 99 other Bean employees to join him in paddling a 407 foot long kayak in a celebration of the companies 100th Anniversary.  Scot also serves on the Steering Committee for the Maine Outdoor Coalition , Winterkid’s Board of Directors and the  Allagash Wilderness Waterway Foundation Board of Directors .

Mike Gawtry is Director of Sporting Equipment, Travel, Field-Testing and Innovation at L.L.Bean.