When we first became aware of Sara Lingafelter, she was a “recovering lawyer” still duking it out in private practice in Seattle. It was no secret to anybody that Sara was looking for a way out of that rat-race and into #OIBIZ. She came into her first OR show not only with strong relationships via her social media presence, but also with a kick-ass plan and some good old-fashioned tradeshow skills. We’ve never seen anyone work the show better than Sara, and good thing: Recently, she was hired as a Social Media Specialist with REI’s Digital Engagement Team. What is that, exactly? Well, in her words: “I honestly feel like I’ve finally found a spot where I get to bring my whole self to work every day; where they hired me to be me for a living!” How cool is that? Thinking of getting into the Outdoor Industry, or – at least – of attending OR for the first time? Well, here’s how it’s done…
Welcome to your first Outdoor Retailer show.
I will never forget walking into the Salt Palace for the first time during the summer show in 2009. It was overwhelming; so much noise, so many lights, such huge booths. So many people moving briskly, with a mission, through the aisles of the show floor. My first day there, on my own media badge with my own little blog — rockclimbergirl.com — I honestly wasn’t quite sure what I was doing there. So, I made it up as I went. I met people; I looked at product; I asked questions; I made connections. At times, I stood on the sidelines and just watched it all happen in front of me. And at some point during that first morning, I noticed that all around me, in the midst of all the busy-ness and business, there were people greeting each other with hugs. The outdoor industry, it turns out, can be quite a hug-filled place.
I knew, then and there, that I’d found the industry I wanted to make my career in.
But this story is about you. So, it’s your first Outdoor Retailer. At some point, you (or your employer) decided to go to the show. Now, the Big Show is around a week away, and you know you have your plane tickets and a hotel room, but don’t know much else.
We’ve all been there.
The show does have information infrastructure: There is a website and during the show, OR generates a Show Daily with news, events, and show highlights. Twitter has a standard hashtag of #orshow (although, it can sometimes be overrun with noise at times during the show season.) Planning your show, even with those resources, can feel a bit like you’re holding a coconut to your ear and everybody else has a can with a string.
Don’t sweat it. It gets better.
Someone usually puts together a “nightlife” schedule, but I haven’t seen a definitive one yet and am too busy writing this post to make one myself. Although, speaking of the OR website… this page is a pretty good summary of the events I usually only hear about once I arrive in SLC!
Just trust: There will be nightlife. Happy hours happen at booths all over the show floor, each evening; you’ll hear about those if you keep your ears open during the day. Some other nightlife highlights: The Industry Party and Fashion Show is Thursday night. And since I’m on the board of the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition, I’d strongly encourage you to pencil in Friday night’s OIWC Bowl-a-rama and the subsequent OIWC Party with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (and say hi, I’ll be at both!) Saturday night brings the All Star Industry Jam, starting at 9pm, and we’re still planning on a Tweetup at 8am that night — location TBD, so if you’re interested, keep an eye on #orshow #tweetup on Twitter and I’ll post an update if we’re able to secure a location; and an update about where to mob at 8pm if we’re not. Also, just yesterday the fine ladies of @UnderSolen posted their nightlife calendar: Check it out.
Now that the really important stuff is out of the way, here are a few more thoughts.
When planning your show schedule:
- Know and love the show floor map, when you plan your meeting schedule. Try to group your meetings “geographically” so that you don’t have to put on extra miles running from one of the Salt Palace to the other between every meeting (though sometimes it’s unavoidable.)
- Try to plan your half hour meetings with a half hour free in between. In all likelhood, those extra half-hours will be filled by the time you get to the show; but if you make an effort to keep some time free, you’ll wind up double booked less often. Half hour meetings at the show tend to start late and run late, so these “cushion” periods help you stay on time even if everyone else runs late.
- Keep some chunks of time open for walking the show floor. Some companies get meeting requests out early; many don’t, and some of the most fond connections I’ve made at the show have happened while I walked the floor during my breaks. I’ve discovered people, products and brands that I never would have known about if I’d relied on pre-show meeting requests.
- Don’t underestimate Sunday. A lot of people skip out of the show after the Saturday festivities; I’ve found Sunday (especially, Sunday afternoon just prior to takedown) to be one of the most valuable days of the show. Sunday gives me time to circle back to vendors and people I’ve met in more hurried situations earlier in the show, and gives me time to follow-up with people I’d like to connect with in a more detailed fashion. I leave Sunday as unscheduled as possible, to allow myself as much open time as possible to decide what to do with during the show. I have friends who do the bulk of their gear shopping on Sunday of the show; bring cash for deals. I personally try to leave the show with as little additional “stuff” as possible, so I’m not an expert at that — but I can point you toward the experts if that’s your game.
- Plan for post-show play, if possible. You will make friends at the show. You will have invitations to play the few days after the show (your OR Badge gets you a discount at some local ski areas through the 26th, and believe me — that discount gets USED). If possible, give yourself a little bit of breathing room after the show to enjoy some of the new friendships and connections you’ve made in person, and to play outside. There are public transportation options for the ski areas; hotel rooms (and sofas to crash on) tend to be easier to find and less expensive post-show than during the show; and you will work your butt off while you’re at the show (which spans a weekend) so there’s nothing wrong with planning yourself a weekend during the week after the show itself.
Once you’re in Salt Lake City:
- Attend the open air demo, if at all possible. It helps you meet and connect with people in a less hurried, more relaxed setting than the show floor, and it’s also just plain fun to play outside (isn’t that why we’re all here, after all?) and try out new gear. During my first Outdoor Retailer in Summer of 2009, I went to the open air demo thinking I’d try kayaking. When I walked up to the event venue, I saw a lake covered with stand-up paddleboarders, which I’d never even heard of. I spent the whole day on different SUP setups and had an absolute blast — I never set foot in a kayak!
- Eat food and drink water. That seems like stupid advice, but I’m serious. When I arrive at the Salt Palace, I find the Odwalla booth and other snack booths that can be sources of run-by snacks when a meal isn’t possible. Take advantage of one of the free water bottle offers to carry water with you and stay hydrated. Beware of unproven (to you) samples: I once sampled a caffienated snack which nearly sent me into heart palpitations. Eat lunch, if you can manage it.
- Be prepared for your body to rebel. I’m a rock climber, mountaineer, and I love winter camping. But even my body is unable to cope with the lights, noise, and intensity of the show floor. At this point, I have gotten my migraines about 90% under control. And yet, there are areas on the show floor that seem to be sure-fire triggers. If you’re migraine prone or have other health concerns, plan ahead. I pack sunglasses (and use them in certain areas of the Salt Palace) and migraine meds just in case. If I feel one coming on, I’ve been known to find somewhere to hide for 15 minutes (one time, it was under a tableclothed table) to decompress.
- Have fun. Really, that’s why we’re all at the show. I mean — I guess we’re all there to work, too. But, you’ll never have another first Outdoor Retailer show, so make the most of the time you have. Meet and connect with people. See what you want to see on the floor. Appreciate that you’re surrounded by other people who are enthusiastic and passionate about the way we all work and play, and bask in the energy of the place. The show is a lot of work; but it’s also a lot of fun. Have some of it, yourself.
- Keep your ears open and your schedule flexible to opportunities that arise. A lot of the coolest things about the show, you won’t hear about until you land in SLC. My first show, I stood in line at the Petzl booth for a slice of Miguel’s Pizza. For a climber, a slice of Miguel’s isn’t just a slice of pizza — it’s a connection with our larger spirit of climbing family. It may sound crazy, but I still think quite fondly on that moment; and I still look forward to visiting Miguel’s in person some day. And I think of Petzl with great fondness for sharing that link with my climberness in such a unique and wonderful way.
- Sleep, as best you can. Some of my most valuable show moments have been 3am conversations about the state of the industry with my roommates — but to the degree it’s possible to extract yourself from the nightlife and late night conversations, get yourself some sleep. Respect your roommates’ schedules, too — we all need all the sleep we can get while we’re there.
- Do wear comfortable shoes, and don’t carry the kitchen sink. I try to carry as little as possible on the show floor. Wallet, room key, water bottle, badge, and granola bars. I tend not to carry my laptop if I can avoid it; and I rely heavily on my cell phone camera and Flip video to keep the electronics small. I carry a small notebook for tucking cards into with my notes. And — I’m serious: Wear comfortable shoes. The show floor is cement. You will walk ten plus miles a day on that floor. Your feet need a little TLC, and comfortable, sensible footwear is an easy step in the right direction. Plus, we all work in sports and outdoor. I mean, really — are any of us hurting for comfortable footwear?
- Connect. Where else can you chat up the person in line at the coffee bar (which — every show I’ve been to, has had cool Liquid Solutions mugs for the first so-many cups of coffee at the start of the show) and find out you’ve just met an executive with your favorite brand? The show is about a lot of things. It’s about product and exhibit space and the Show Daily and what’s happening on Twitter and about sales and marketing and all of that is important. The show is also about people. It’s about people you can help, and people who can help you. Connect. Swap contact info. SMS text is a standard on the show floor for making plans and spreading information; I haven’t had any luck, myself, with the WiFi, so I swap cell phone numbers like it’s going out of style. Chat people up that you see in the hallways or meet in line at lunch. Ask for help. Give help when someone needs it. Follow up, after the show. Keep in touch. Turn connections into relationships. If you doubt me now, just do it, and you can thank me later.
What have I missed? Share your own tips for first-timers in the comments, below!
Sara Lingafelter plays outside and writes about her adventures. She’s the writer behind rockclimbergirl.com and is TheClimberGirl on Twitter. When she’s not outside she works in marketing and customer engagement in the outdoor industry and serves as the Secretary of the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition. Sara will be speaking at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, so mark your calendar. For more information, visit saralingafelter.com.