Saturday, July 5

Outdoors Lifestyle Show 2008

Well. What to say about a new outdoors show, rare as they are down south, without unintentionally coming across as elitist or dismissive because its not all backpacks, lightweight tents & trail shoes?

So a cautionary tone to this piece bearing in mind I’d felt I’d definitely covered the whole event in less than a couple of hours. And that mostly due to an obligation on my part to try to see everything as due acknowledgement of a All-Areas Press Pass. For as a paying punter there would have been many stands that I'd have skipped as irrelevant to my own pursuits.

Despite much publicity on the local TV and Radio stations I first spotted this event on-line a couple of weeks before it was to be held. Billed as
"the South's Biggest Outdoor Activity and leisure event" the publicity seemed to have worked well as when I mentioned it to friends beforehand they were already aware of it. An interesting comparison to the flagship NEC Outdoors Show which typically remains largely low profile to those outside of the Outdoor communities.

The show runs from Friday to Sunday over this weekend, three very long days (open to 10pm) I wandered up to the Canford Park Arena (on the Bournemouth/Wimborne border) on the Friday afternoon, working on the assumption that it would give me more of a chance to follow up anything I spotted.

As an inaugural event the Show Guide explains its intention is "to expose the visitor to the wealth of outdoor activities, experiences and pursuits that exists in this beautiful area" Due acknowledgement is also given to "practical environmental solutions" and "Lifetime Firsts…..personal feel good factor" So hats off to any new initiative intended to promote awareness and interest in Outdoor Activity amongst the public at large.

It turned out to be quite a mix. Some walking/camping stuff; Oodles of green/alternative offerings; A smattering of eco-outdoor furniture/BBQs; However it felt to me that the biggest stands were those of the car/motorcycle brands. That always unsettles me a little. Land Rover/4x4 (and Lotus Cars?) are not what enjoying the outdoors is about for this particular visitor. But hey - different strokes etc….

There were a number of specialist shopping areas laid out, a good idea. But as a walker/camper I found the stands that took my interest were spread liberally around the site, so I suspect the cost/stand size may have had more bearing on how successfully similar exhibitors were grouped together.

One thing this event was very big on was demonstrations and try-it-out activities. I did hear it whispered by a couple of stands that there was an expectation from the organisers for exhibitors to get involved with this aspect of the show. That's ok if you have the financial clout to spare a few staff to join in, and hopefully promote your interest/product, but a bit of a pressure possibly for some of the smaller stands?

Many of the activities had a cost, naturally. But perhaps set a little high for the family day out?

Briefly flicking over the Show Guide I could have picked from amongst Climbing Wall, Paintball, Archery, Quad Biking, Zorbing (look it up!), Nordic Walking, Bungee Trampolining, Laser Clay Shooting, Mountain Biking, Hovercraft Ride, Scuba, and a selection of car/off road try-outs. And thats just the bigger items. Most averaging £5-£10 per time. A good idea if you've one or two interests in mind, but quickly mounting up to a costly affair if turning up with a couple of kids eager to try our all the flashy stuff. Oops - did I forget to mention the Bouncy Castle as well?

The Shoot A child Into Space Competition?

Of those activities available I’d already tried many in the past. So despite a tempting offer to give-it-a-go I opted to tour the stands looking for content rather than that feed the adrenalin junkie. And to be frank this turned out to be hard work. I parted with cash for 1 plastic spork (you can never have enough sporks) and 1 cheap mini multi-tool, a lighter weight fall back to my Min Leatherman. Total expenditure less than £10. Hardly supportative of the stand costs I suspect.

Highlights for me, in no particular order:

  • The swag/bivvy bags of The Aussie Shop

  • The SheeWee toilets! Not too sure whether this was just a sponsorship deal, or a true stand-up affair. I did consider checking but erred on the side of tact thinking of the likely shrieks from its female occupants. (I was told there is now another competitor marketing a similar idea, so it looks like the initial curiosity value of the idea has a serious consumer base)
  • Try before your buy?

  • Barkers of Ringwood & the lads from Leki demonstrating Nordic Walking. A chance to say hi to Steve and his crew and look over the new ultra ultra ultra lightweight daysack.

  • But as to my general feelings on the show? There was little gear available for the punter to actually purchase. Most exhibitors seemed to be attending to advertise their presence - a marketing opportunity rather than a chance for sales. Which meant very few show offers as a result, one thing I like to find at such gatherings to make the entrance cost worth while. But the car park was FREE - a nice change!

    Kites for sale

    As for the show format? There had been a couple of guarded hints dropped suggesting that if feedback proved positive this type of event may appear at other locations during the year. A marketplace for outdoor related businesses in those particular areas. So in that regard the organisers are be applauded for their forward looking approach, especially at this time of recessional doom and gloom elsewhere in the media.

    Whilst I may have found my own outdoor interests under represented, I can see how the try/buy format could be very attractive to the general public at large. Assuming the cost to the show attendee is kept affordable, and the outdoor interests relevant.

    But if it maintains that feeling of 'marketing' I'm not sure how that will continue to attract the paying punter to repeat their visit in future.

    I counted approximately 100 cars in the car park as I left. The show itself was sparsely attended. But then it is spread over a larger area, and it was a Friday afternoon with the kids still at school. As an open air event, the weather will be the clincher on likely attendance. But despite forecasts of showers today (Sat) the weather has been mostly dry, warm and sunny despite the gusting wind. I’d be interested to hear whether the weekend crowds turned up in force (Any feedback from you out there in Blog Reader Land?)

    As I left I jotted down an overall impression - Aspirational; Lifestyle orientated;

    Lets see if that’s a keen enough argument to keep this show up and running. A lot of hard work has obviously been put in to get things off the ground. Early days as yet. An interesting approach.

    But please - ditch the 4x4s!


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    Versions of these broad-stroke outdoor activity/adventure consumer shows (as opposed to trade shows) have been tried in the US, not to great success. Hunters and fishermen (or those interested in learning more about these activities) go to hook-and-bullet shows. Skiwers and snowboarders go to snowports shows. Divers go to scuba shows. Etc. Mixing them together seems does not seem to have much appeal -- in the US, anyway. Having written that, I am glad that Nordic Walking has its place in the recreational pantheon.

    Claire @
    I'd support that view Claire, but there is a real scarcity of any real outdoor shows in the UK, which probably means they have a slightly hungrier audience here at the moment.
    Interesting blog BTW - I'll pass it on to the exhibitor concerned
    We hope that the show will be a great success. Please feel free to use our web pages for any future event.
    I think that we all hope that any show that motivates people to turn off the television, rise from the sofa and go outdoors to do SOMETHING will succeed, and perhaps the model for multi-activity outdoor shows will work better in the UK than it has here in the US. I look forward to reading about it afterwards.

    Claire @
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