Salt Lake City—With thousands of buyers and some of the biggest names in the business, launching a product at the Outdoor Retailer trade show seems like a no-brainer—but there are challenges, too.
At this year’s show, Missouri-based Number 6 Brands was unveiling Cauldryn, a water-bottle that heats its contents using a battery. Jack Ganahl of Number 6 Brands said the self-heating bottle is a true child of OR.
“The product was born here last year, walking around and seeing that everybody had water bottles, and they were all the same—a different color, a different shape, a different cap, but there was nothing that really set anybody apart from the crowd,” he said. “What that told me was that there’s a huge market opportunity. It’s such a big category, but we had to find something different.”
They started looking at making a module-based water bottle, with parts that could be attached and removed for various uses, but the concept of the heated element was an early favorite. Manufacturers and consulted industry pros said it couldn’t be done, Ganahl said, but they found a viable means.
Getting it to OR, though, came right down to the wire.
“One of our guys left the bottle factory at midnight, drove five hours to the electronics and assembly factory to get them there. They assembled them and did a quick round of testing, then he drove all the way back to get them shipped so we’d have samples to show here,” he said, noting that the very morning they left for Salt Lake City, they picked up a final box. “These aren’t actually finished products—we still have to do a lot of fine-tuning—but it shows it works. We’ve got a great concept, and we’ve had wonderful feedback. People are really interested in them, so it looks like we might have kicked the right stone.”
Getting the attention of buyers and distributors is the goal of launching Cauldryn at OR, but the ideas and comments from passersby are also important as the company refines its process.
“We’re going to tweak it a little more. The customers here will give us the best feedback about if there’s anything else we need to do. We’re going to sit down at the end of the show, put our notes together, make all the final revisions, and start production. We’re ready to go,” he said. “This can be a huge, mainstream product. It can appeal to a lot of people. It’s really exciting. Some of the stuff we do is really niche-y, and it does very strong in the niche, but it’s a small niche. This can go much wider. … It has potential to appeal to a wide range of customers, and it also has potential to develop into a whole family of products—not just one.”
Mindy Moger, founder of Maryland-based Durango Dog Company, found the feedback similarly helpful as she launched her product at last year’s summer show. The Roving Watering Bowl is a USA-made fanny pack-sized bag attached to a strap that can be unhooked and used as a leash in an emergency. It also has pockets and pouches for waste bags and necessities like an owner’s phone, keys, cards or flashlight. Necessity was indeed the mother of invention for Moger, who owns two large, rambunctious Labrador Retrievers, and her manufacturer suggested OR might be a good fit.
But when she set up shop last year, she found her vision and product didn’t necessarily translate in a way other attendees understood.
“I think the biggest thing is I learned I had to market it in a different way. I had to present it in a different way. I had to use different words. It’s completely helped since I learned that, and learned what was working and what wasn’t. Here, you’ve got outdoor people, and if they don’t know what it is, you’ve got a problem, because most people are with their dogs,” she said.
In the past year, Moger has done some redesigning of the pack, as well as found better ways to display and explain it to help her message resonate with her target audience. She also found that some people like using it simply as a day pack, she said.
“This year I feel more prepared, and I know people here, which is really nice. I can make connections with them, as well. I feel more confident about my product, as well, because I think it’s really fantastic the way it is now, and I brought my two dogs, so that’s going to help,” she said. “They’re the ones that made me invent it, and they’re going to help me sell it.”
Altra Running also debuted their products—and company—at OR, said Brian Beckstead, president and co-founder of the company. Six and a half years ago, the company was three guys showing off their new kind of shoe in a five-foot by 10-foot booth. Today, their display is big and bright, with a steady flow of people coming in and out, a testament to how far they’ve come.
“We’ve been coming every time, and each time we come, we’re getting bigger and have a bigger space,” Beckstead said. “We were a tiny little afterthought booth, and now here we are in a 20 [foot] by 80 [foot booth].”