January 23, 2012

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A Seller’s Market

Festivals and Expos Help Businesses Take Their Show on the Road

Tom Haraldsen

January 23, 2012

In 1980, the owner of a Salt Lake City radio station developed a concept to attract business from a sector that wasn’t advertising—the health and fitness industry. From gymnasiums to sporting equipment retailers to health food stores, he wanted to lure their participation and make a few bucks on the side. He created the first, and as it turned out, only health and fitness fair sponsored by his station (which is now defunct). The show offered booth space in the gymnasium of a local high school and sold out quickly. It didn’t hurt that this expo ran concurrently with the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York, when American speed skater Eric Heiden won five gold medals and the U.S. hockey team made history by beating the heavily-favored Russians for the gold. Patriotism and interest in athletics were running high in the country at that time, and attendance at the expo was brisk. Though the expo was never held again, many of its exhibitors realized the power of taking their products out of store fronts and into the public—of taking their show on the road. And the concept has increased in popularity ever since. Each year, dozens of expos, festivals and other events are held in Utah. Some are as small as an arts festival in a local community, or as large as the Outdoor Retailer’s Market and ISE International Sportsmen’s Exposition, both held at the Salt Palace Convention Center. At every expo, the goal of participants is the same: exposure of products and services to a segment of the public that might not otherwise see them, and the chance to network with other entrepreneurs. Behind the Scenes Expo mechanics are fairly general from show-to-show. Retailers and manufacturers rent booth spaces bordered by pipe and drape, for anywhere from $200 to several thousand dollars, depending on the size of the booth and the show. Attendees circulate through various booths at the shows, where literature, samples, demonstrations and other information is available. For the exhibitor, additional costs include collateral materials, travel time, taking product or inventory off the sales floor for display, and, of course, manpower. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? The answer seems to be yes. “Oktoberfest at Snowbird is the best advertising we’ve ever done,” says Jeanette Wenzel, who along with her husband Helmut, owns the Edelweiss Gift Shop in Centerville. “We’ve done Oktoberfest for 18 to 20 years or so, and it’s a natural for us.” The Wenzels only sell European products—nutcrackers, crystal, Hummels, porcelain steins, Dutch bells and cuckoo clocks, for example. Wenzel says they also bring product brochures from their store, and the patrons they meet at Oktoberfest return to their store year round. Germany native Erika Williams, proprietor of Erika Chalet in St. George, has also put her knitted products on display at Oktoberfest for the past 15 years. “I love doing it, even though it’s a lot of work,” she says. “Many people who come up speak German as well, so that makes it extra fun for me. And I like being up in the mountains. The festival is very successful for me.” Snowbird’s Oktoberfest has become a Utah tradition. The Fall 2010 event runs weekends Aug. 21 through Oct. 10, including Labor Day and will mark the festival’s 38th anniversary. “It’s a great opportunity to take in the beauty of fall in the Wasatch and enjoy a very family friendly event,” says Jared Ishkanian, public relations director for Snowbird. “I think one reason we’ve become such a tradition is the timing of our event—the fall, when school is about to start or has started, when the mountains are alive with the colors of autumn, and because of the vast number of activities we have during Oktoberfest.” Oktoberfest has evolved to draw patrons of all ages and tastes. Music, dancing, 25 to 30 booths including arts and crafts exhibitors, a complete offering of the resort’s popular summer activities such as the Alpine Slide and Zip Line, and rides on the Snowbird tram are a part of the mix. “What makes us unique, I believe, are our surroundings,” Ishkanian says. “The mountains and the ambiance of the canyon.” Star Status In Provo Canyon, the Sundance Ski Resort, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this season, hosts four events that fit perfectly with its image as a nature, art and recreation resort: an Earth Fair in the spring, Children’s Festival in early summer, Food and Wine Festival each Labor Day weekend, and Harvest Market and Festival in the autumn. “Top local restaurants bring their items to the resort for the Food and Wine Festival, which helps build both their brand and ours,” says Missy Larsen, a spokesperson for the resort. “We’ve always been known for great food (Conde Nast Traveler's 15th Annual 2009 Gold List ranked Sundance second for the 2008 Gold List Best of Food), so the festival adds to that.” Larsen says the Harvest Market and Festival, generally held in mid- to late-September, attracts artisans from throughout the West, many who have benefitted from what she calls “the power of Timpanogos.” “A lot of local artists have had their businesses take flight as a result of the Harvest Festival,” she says. “It seems like the atmosphere here, in the shadows of Mount Timpanogos, somehow spurs a creative genius in every event we hold at the resort.” She points out the success of Sundance’s annual film and screenwriting laboratories as another example of the Timpanogos mystique. In January, the Sundance Film Festival attracts a different kind of vendor to Park City, as evidenced by the presence each year of companies like Juvenesse Spa and Skin Care out of Chicago. Skin Care owner, Jeanette Kravitz, finds the festival attracts a perfect audience for her line of skin care products. “We’ve come to Sundance and developed a great customer base from the contacts we’ve made there,” says Kravitz, who has a large e-mail list of customers she communicates with regularly. Manufacturers’ reps and local vendors often rent store fronts in Park City for the two weeks of the festival, frequented by festival goers. Rave Reviews For many years, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and several chambers on the south end of the Salt Lake Valley hosted Business to Business Expos. These shows have been held in large venues such as the Salt Palace and South Towne Expo Center. Vendors invite existing customers to the show (often incentives such as small giveaways or drawings for large prizes are offered) and potential new customers. The events give many businesses that don’t have storefronts an opportunity to strut their stuff. The Salt Lake Chamber modified its business expo program last year, changing the format to what it now calls the Expo Marketplace. It is now a one-day, four-hour event held twice a year, deliberately smaller in size and scope but with a stronger focus on networking. “We represent about 5,700 businesses in the metro area, and 80 percent of those are small businesses,” says Marty Carpenter, director of communication and marketing for the chamber. “Our goal was interaction, to create a symbiotic relationship between our members. We felt we could make these connections much stronger with a smaller show and more face-to-face contact.” He says unlike the business to business expos, there aren’t “any gimmicks such as big prize giveaways, business seminars or large audience demonstration classes” at the Expo Marketplace. “They’re more efficient and make better use of time, and this was strictly in reaction to what our membership wanted. There’s a better flow, as attendees come in and get what they want and then move on,” he says. The success of the 2009 fall expo held in a local hotel, where all 86 booths sold out and about 1,000 attended, has led to moving the event back to the Salt Palace this spring, though Carpenter says the expo will remain a four-hour event held from 3 to 7 p.m. on May 13. Major Blockbusters Two of Salt Lake’s largest shows, the ISE, scheduled March 18 to 21 this year, and the twice-yearly Outdoor Retailer’s Market in January and August, have been so successful that the Salt Palace Convention Center was enlarged a few years ago to accommodate the growth. More than 40,000 annually attend the Outdoor Retailer shows, visiting displays related to activities such as hiking, climbing, skiing, adventure travel, footwear, endurance sports and paddlesports. The ISE has produced regional shows for more than 30 years in Colorado, Arizona and California in addition to Utah. The expos are geared for the outdoorsman who is interested in fishing, hunting, boating and adventure travel. “In the 14 years I’ve been doing these shows, ISE has played a major part in my company’s growth from doing float trips to owning three lodges in Alaska,” says Brian Kraft, owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge. “The shows give us an opportunity to talk one-on-one with both potential and existing clients. After a time, people at the show recognize us, and that gives us credibility. I don’t think you can replace the sportsmen shows in your marketing plan. We’ve done as many as 15 shows in a year throughout the country, but we’ve narrowed our efforts to what we consider the best shows, and they are all ISE shows.” “Our ATV Jamboree comes after the ISE,” says Bart A. Whatcott, ATV Jamboree co-chairman out of Millard County. “Being at the show is efficient advertising to a large and diverse audience that's truly interested in the outdoors. And, with hundreds of other exhibitors in the same hall, we can learn how other businesses promote, then incorporate new ideas into our program." “I think that’s the major advantage to these expos,” Petersen adds. “While we’re there, we visit with other businesses to see what they’re doing. And we talk to our customers, but they also talk to us. They give us their testimonials that we can pass on to other potential advertisers. These shows get us in front of people who want to see what we’re all about. They are not what we call ‘trick-or-treaters’ simply looking for free giveaways. If you have a plan, execute it at the expo and follow up, these shows can be an amazing way to advertise and promote your products and services.”
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