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A Look Inside the New Age of Outdoor Trade Shows

Gear wasn’t meant for convention centers.

How do you know if a kayak floats when you’re looking at it inside of a convention center? Great question. Fluorescent lighting and central A/C doesn’t really make an ideal atmosphere to experience products meant for the outdoors, and yet that’s long been the norm for trade shows.

But at the New Age trade show, the focus is experiential. And it’s more inclusive; there’s less of a barrier to entry for consumers, which expands the network from the typical press and buyers to include creatives and brand-aligned makers. People stick around the event long enough to make some worthwhile impact.

Still in its infancy, Outpost is one of a number of days-long events where the overall experience is the focus. On June 23–25, founders Jeff Wolfe, Evan Dudley and Caleb Morairty, along with CEO Eric Bach, hosted the third edition in Upstate New York, where brands like Hydro Flask, Goal Zero, United by Blue, Teva and Oru Kayaks spent the weekend introducing key industry players to their products and culture. There were iron cooking workshops with Barebones Living and cocktail tutorials with Bulleit whiskey — not to mention, the primarily urbanite crowd from NYC had their night’s rest bunked on a Disc-O-Bed.

Outpost isn’t totally alone in this space: Summit, which has events in the mountains, at sea and in places like Downtown LA, draws names like Jeff Bezos, Kobe Bryant and Marie Kondo in an invite-only TED-like (but hipper) arena. And in a similar vein, newcomer Farm+Land will be inviting city dwellers who dream of a life outdoors to weekend retreats to get back to the land, learn a bit of farming and wilderness survival and sleep in tiny houses, starting September.

As Outpost gears up for its larger flagship event in Mendocino this September, it’s already clear that these experience-first events are onto something; successful past events in Joshua Tree and Bodega Bay are testament enough. We chatted with Dudley about the run of the show and why getting people outside to test gear is better for brands.

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The Outpost Founders (left to right): Evan Dudley, Eric Bach, Jeff Wolfe, and Caleb Morairty

Q. What motivated you to start Outpost?
A. It began like most inventions: frustration with the current system and knowing that there was a better way. Five-minute meetings in a concrete-floored convention center under fluorescent lighting does no one’s brand any good.

We knew that if we invited out the right people to hang out in the woods, brought products that worked there and then tied it together with music and activities, we’d have a memorable experience that would stay with all attendees for years to come. Overall, it would make a greater impact for all involved, providing more value than the thousands of dollars spent on any other traditional trade show.

Q. How do you determine the run of show?
A. We work with our partners closely to bring to life activations that represent their culture and work into the event seamlessly. For example, United By Blue cleans up rivers and streams as part of their mission – that’s an easy fit for our New York event where 29 people cleaned up 210 pounds of trash Saturday morning. As marketing relies less on digital advertising and begins a deep dive into experiences and events, we see Outpost as an invaluable place for brands to work out what they may want to try out there in the real world.

Q. What do you hope people will get from the weekend?
A. Most importantly, we think people walk away with ideas and connections that will improve their business, or a new perspective that will stay with them and inform their decision-making. There are people they just met who hail from various industries, who share some similar interests, and have the potential to expand their businesses. They are going to walk away with some unforgettable memories, like riding a Ural motorcycle in Joshua Tree or trying surfing for the first time in Bodega Bay. Then there are the gift bags of amazing products from our partners that will now become part of people’s lives back at home. Real experiences with products is the key to Outpost’s vision of the way business should be done.

Learn More: Here

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