At Outdoor Retailer show, pressure is on for businesses
August 5, 2016
It was the first morning of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market and Paul Kirwin was feeling the pressure.
Kirwin, a longtime Parkite and founder of Channel Signal, a company that collects and analyzes online product reviews for other companies, had come to the show because it represents one of the biggest business opportunities of the year. To make it matter, though, he and the four employees accompanying him needed to capitalize.
"It's all hands on deck," he said.
The reason for the urgency was clear. The event is the largest summer outdoor trade show in the world, gathering hundreds of the most influential brands in the industry under one roof at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. For Kirwin and other entrepreneurs in Park City, getting enough business done at the show can be the difference between a great year and not good enough.
"That's the reason why we're all here," he said.
Kirwin started Channel Signal in 2011 and has built up a client list that includes brands such as Skullcandy, Patagonia and CamelBak. At Outdoor Retailer, he had his sights set on the next goal: quickly scaling the company. He wanted to leave the show having laid the groundwork for signing six to eight more customers in the next few months in the outdoor space, an important industry in which Kirwin is seeking a foothold.
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Anything less, he said, would be a waste of a unique opportunity — one that could cost the company.
"This week is huge," he said. "I have an opportunity to speak with the CEOs and the senior vice presidents of marketing. My sales people have an opportunity to speak to the middle managers who will actually execute our product review program. So the fact is we can't leave this show without a lot of cards and a lot of contacts and a lot of follow-up. We can't. There's just no way. If we did, we'd have to go back and reevaluate what we're doing wrong."
The situation isn't quite as make-or-break for Jack Walzer, general manager of the outdoor gear retailer Jans Mountain Outfitters. The company does the bulk of its business at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and the SnowSports Industries America Snow Show in Denver, but it was still critical to buy the right products at the Summer Market to stock the shelves next April through August.
Walzer's team of buyers set up meetings with companies weeks in advance, and they spent the show trying to identify the trends that will dominate the market next spring. If they choose the wrong products to buy, though, the bottom line could be damaged.
That makes getting it right when they have the chance crucial. Fortunately for Jans, Walzer was confident his team would.
"That's where you rely on the experience of your buyers," he said. "They have a pretty good idea. To hit everything 100 percent all the time is (impossible), I don't care who you are. … But our buyers are very experienced and we typically don't have that problem."
Kirwin, too, expressed faith in his team, but he also acknowledged the task it faced. Each of Kirwin's employees was set to meet with dozens of companies during the show — "it's wall-to-wall" — to convince them to hear a full presentation in the coming months.
At the Outdoor Retailer, where each company Channel Signal approaches has its own tight schedule and plenty of its own business to conclude, getting that far can be harder than it sounds. Kirwin's team gets only a few minutes of facetime with each company, meaning the pitches have to be effective — and fast.
That is why Kirwin calls the show "pressure packed."
"You really get about five to 10 minutes with these people, so you need to have an elevator pitch," he said. "And if they want to see something, you've got to show them something quickly that's very powerful. You need to be able to get their card and pique their interest so they'll take your call."
When the show ends, everything for Walzer returns to normal. He'll get back to the day-to-day business of running Jans. For Kirwin, though, the week at Outdoor Retailer is only the beginning. He rarely makes deals at the show, so the next step is following up with the contacts his team made, gauging their interest level and identifying what kind of budget they have for Channel Signal's services.
From there, Kirwin hopes to make 15 to 20 trips around the country to deliver full presentations. If those don't result in clients signing on the dotted line, the company's preparations for Outdoor retailer, and the foundations it built during the show, would be for naught.
"If you slack off after the show, you're going to waste that opportunity," he said. "And the opportunity is literally second to none. All of the decision makers are in one place in Utah."
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