At Last! Fantasy Season!

It was one of those way-off-Reecer Creek meetings of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association. A couple displaced homeys and I were wandering the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show at the Portland Expo. At one point, the conversation drifted to the seasons around which our lives have long unfolded. In short order, we identified the seasons of fishing, gardening, crabbing, summer camping, hiking, mushrooms, huckleberries, harvest and hunting, preparing and preserving, and the holidays. “And let’s not forget this one,” I suggested, “the time of these outdoor and sportsmen’s shows – our Fantasy Season!”

As you are quite aware, I’ve been following these shows for decades. I know that somewhere in each show is the answer to just about any outdoor fantasy I ever had – somewhere down one or another aisle is something to make my life complete. You gotta love this season and the outdoor shows where we celebrate it.

How owners and managers keep the shows evolving and interesting – thus keeping us coming back – has long intrigued me. Of course, I want to know what’s new and exciting in our outdoor avocations, and how we are recruiting future generations, but I am always interested in asking exhibitors about which of the many dozens of shows across the country they follow – or don’t – and why.

Among the exhibitors at the Puyallup and Portlland shows over the last few weeks, four western shows (among several across the country) were consistently on “We’re probably not going back…” lists. Those were in Denver, Sacramento, Salt Lake, and Phoenix. Reasons given for slumping interest in those shows range from poor maintenance and management, unbalanced mixes of booth offerings, and falling attendance. In a couple eastern U.S. shows many spaces were empty this year, and half or more of the booths were from Africa. The number of sold booths at a couple shows has fallen so far that reps from only-weeks-away shows were on the floor of the Portland Expo last week trying to get exhibitors to shift their remaining schedules around. A balance of outfitters, retailers, manufacturers, education and entertainment is critical for a successful show for both exhibitors and attendees

Admittedly, the two shows I’ve recently poked around have been O’Laughlin productions. Still, I have yet to hear a grumble from an exhibitor, and I consistently hear their shows – and those smaller regional shows in Central Washington and rural Oregon – described as well-managed, well-planned, well promoted and “always fresh, with a smart diversity of exhibitors.” So, how is it that we here in Washington live amidst several of the freshest and best “sportsman” shows in the country?

I asked Trey Carskadon, PR Director and mouthpiece for the O’Laughlin Trade Shows, for the secret. He just smiled and started rattling off his “here’s what works” list.

“It starts with our O’Laughlin show staff – we are all lifelong outdoor nuts, living our fishing and hunting dreams and carefully tracking attendees and their interests. We try new things and keep improving them – like our live kokanee tank. We start marketing and brainstorming in April, reviewing possible new speakers and approaches discovered by staff or attendees – like these youthful speakers who just blew people away this year. We’re finding women leaders to help us support the growing desire for women to take their places outdoors. We work on new sponsorships conttantly – new things and ideas. Certain things are in all our shows, of course, but we take several unique approaches to each community.

”At Puyallup this year, for example, we moved access around to more easily open up parts of the show. Our new kayak fishing pavilion was very popular in the area, and our big outdoor cooking competition drew popular pros from across North America – it went viral!

“This Portland show features a big new walleye tank, with our “Walleye Alley” and is stirring even more local excitement than we expected. We cranked up our Backcountry Hunting Area of preparation and displays, with the “Born and Raised Outdoors” section. Here, at this Portland venue, we really feature Leupold Optics and Gerber Knives – we have them in other shows, of course, but each has a unique mix of retailers and manufacturers.

“All these things are at the heart of successful long-term relationships among outdoor exhibitors, speakers, and our communities. We all love this outdoor expo business and we work to have it here for those who come after us!”

I can say that, so far this year, I have seen more youngsters and more groups of young women wandering the shows than in years past. I’m feeling ever more optimistic about our outdoor future.

The Shuylers keep our Central Washington Sportsmen Show in Yakima fresh and fun, too. It kicks off Friday afternoon and runs through Sunday. See you at the SunDome.

It’s Fantasy Season.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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