Wandering around the Winter Market Outdoor Retailer expo, it’s easy to get caught up in the grand, inventive displays from some of the biggest names in outdoor recreation.
Just across the aisle or hall from miniature climbing walls or mock Tibetan temples, though, are some up-and-coming businesses worth a closer look.
Take Kora, a company that uses yak wool to craft moisture-wicking, quick-drying base layers. The Hong Kong-based company’s founder, Michael Kleinwort, regularly treks to towns in the Himalayas to purchase the raw material at fair trade prices, helping to support those villagers, said Shannan Hansen, spokesperson for Kora.
The material, available in shirts, hats and gaiters, is warmer and more breathable than sheep’s wool because of the evolution of the yak itself, Hansen said.
“It performs very much like merino wool, if you’re familiar with it, but the story is so different with the yaks. I love our presentation—the reason why the yak wool is so different is evolutionary. They just live at a higher elevation and they’ve had to develop their wool a different way than a sheep has had to,” she said.
In Kora’s first year at the OR expo, Hansen, a Salt Lake native, said the company’s 10×10 booth was getting a fair amount of traffic and interest from passersby and other exhibitors.
“It’s a little overwhelming the first go-around, especially upstairs. You walk in and it’s so chaotic. And there’s so many people that are hopeful. Everybody here is hoping to get their story told and their product out. It’s a fun energy to be a part of that,” she said.
Power Practical engineer Paul Slusser said this year’s show has been good for his company, which considers both OR expos its “bread and butter” shows for its line of thermoelectric pots, batteries and battery-powered lights.
“We’re rooted in the outdoors. It’s where we started. It’s what differentiates us in the electronics space. If you’re just selling batteries, everyone does that. But the PowerPot is kind of a crossover between these two categories,” he said. “Half of our team is at [Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas] right now.”
Salt Lake-based Power Practical was founded in 2010 but got a boost after being invited to appear on Shark Tank and getting a deal from investor Mark Cuban in 2012, Slusser said. It has made regular appearances at both summer and winter OR expos for the last four years.
“Winter is usually a slower show than summer. It’s not as thumping. But it’s been a really good show,” he said. “There are still a lot of people who haven’t heard of [our products], so it means we still have a lot of work and can go further with that. Lots of opportunities, lots of good things happening.”
That exposure is all the makers of Honey Stinger says it needs to get new customers. The company has had a booth at both seasonal expos for the last 12 years, but still sets up shop in a small space.
“I think it would be cool to have [a big display], but in all reality, we don’t need that. We need to get people to try our product. We have instant customers the second we get people to try it,” says sales manager Nate Bird.
Honey Stinger, based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, was founded on the idea of using honey as a natural source of energy for active snacks. From an initial line of energy gels, which were predominantly made out of honey, the company has grown to offer energy chews, protein chews, protein bars and thin waffles, based on a Dutch treat called a stroopwafel. Bird said the honey waffle and fruit smoothie protein chews are the most popular items, and the new line of gluten-free waffles have gotten a lot of attention, but most of the products have a loyal fan club.
“Our experience, personally, has been fantastic. We’ve been so busy, nobody’s really gotten to walk around at all. Of course, it makes it easier when you’ve got yummy treats for everybody. It’s been a good booth, lots of high energy, lots of high traffic,” he said. “We like [having a booth] where we can get everybody passing by here. Being close to the bathrooms and the concession stands always helps. It’s always positive. We always get really positive feedback and lots of brand exposure.”