for the outdoor active lifestyle

The National Outdoor Expo: we went and would recommend it!
by <a href="" target="_self">Stephanie Briggs</a>

by Stephanie Briggs

10 April, 2024

We’ve just got back from The National Outdoor Expo in Birmingham. What a refreshing experience.  Now in its third year, the show isn’t showing any signs of fatigue. We should know, we’re practiced show/conference goers.  Eurobike, Interbike, Outdoor Show, Ski Show, all the ISPOs, OutDoor, OTS, Outdoor Retailer, OIA Conference, A+A, you name it, we’ve probably been there.  Trade, and consumer, have all been visited, assessed, critiqued, recommended (or not) and post-show reviewed.  We’ve witnessed the highs and the lows. We’ve watched shows go from raging success stories to loss-making entities. 

What are the numbers?

The team behind The National Outdoor Expo has seen visitor numbers jump. From 14,000 in 2021 to 21,352 in 2024: it was evident to us that this is a show on an upward trajectory.  Great news.  But wasn’t there another Outdoor Show, a few years before, that was very definitely not headed for the stars?  What is Raccoon Media, the team behind the show, doing differently? 

Show visitors fill the exhibition hall aisles at the National Outdoor Expo.

First impressions

One distinct difference we clocked straight away was that brands there were authentically selling.  We’ve witnessed, first hand, previous show incarnations fall foul of discounters. The very nature of selling off obsolete stock has a direct effect on the quality of visitors. We thought activations were well thought through too.  Highlights for us included the ThruDark Fireside Chat which was packed.  A sprinkling of famous faces was an undisputed lure. The questions for TV’s SAS TV personalities Foxy and Ollie Ollerton and ambassador Ness Knight were handled with candid honesty.

It was evident that the quality of the visitors was high, they were eager to learn, touch, and feel new outdoor trends and innovations.  Tom Willmington, International Sales Manager at Alliance Consumer Group International told us “NEBO attended the National Outdoor Expo in Birmingham with our Distribution partner Dalesman Ltd.  There was a real excitement to the outdoor and adventure sectors, which bodes well ahead of this summer”.

Reasons why face-to-face consumer shows work

We’ve pulled together a list of five compelling reasons why face-to-face consumer shows such as The National Outdoor Expo are still relevant if the format is right:

Hands-on Experience

In-person events allow consumers to interact directly with products, try them out, and experience them firsthand. This tactile experience can be crucial, especially for our outdoor industry. 

Zoe Hewitt, Head of Marketing and Communications at Nikwax told us, “There was a real buzz about the place. This is surely a reflection that, despite the cost of living crisis, people are continuing to get outdoors. They want to stay active and enjoy what nature has to offer. Visitors to our stand were keen to understand which aftercare products to use on their outdoor gear. They wanted to learn how to help their outdoor clothing last longer,” Other brands answered questions like how does a wrapper-less snack work?  Check out One Good Thing Bars who were on hand to give you the low down.  Whether it was trying on the latest sustainable apparel from the likes of Páramo or fact-finding for your next big purchase, there were qualified brand representatives on hand to help.

Zoe Hewitt and Ian White represented Nikwax at the show. They enjoyed the chance to highlight the key benefits of how Nikwax can save you money by helping your outdoor gear last longer.

Networking Opportunities

Consumer shows provide opportunities for networking among industry professionals, vendors, and consumers. Building connections and partnerships in person can often be more effective than through virtual means.  We met with several brands, charities, and adventure groups with which we felt we could collaborate.  One of those adventure groups, Outdoor Adventure Girls, was happy with the interest they saw on their stand and think enquiries will continue to trickle through as the month progresses.  Sophie Davis said, “We have seen an increase in bookings/interest/followers. We had various goals for the event. We think it will be more apparent in the coming month for us, as people don’t always book straight away”. 

Brand Visibility and Marketing

Participating in consumer shows can enhance brand visibility.  Chris King, Head of Sales, and Marketing at Ardblair, LEKI distributors were there supporting key retailer, Hiking Highs.  He told us, “It’s an essential way to add value to our relationship. Hiking Highs’ expertise married to LEKI’s brand presence means we have reason to attend and mutually project our brands into the marketplace. Having banter and conversations with customers puts a human face on the LEKI brand and we get to learn from feedback too.”

Consumer Engagement

Face-to-face interactions allow for deeper engagement with consumers, fostering trust and loyalty. Louis Tostevin, surfer, and Director at White Water Robes explained, “It’s the first show we’ve done. We got the opportunity to speak to our target audience first-hand and understand what they liked about our range. This knowledge is invaluable and will help us streamline our marketing and sales strategy, now that we have a very good idea of the USPs that appeal to our customers. The event was also great for brand awareness, and we got the chance to connect with lots of outdoor enthusiasts, which was amazing!”

Louis Tostevin, Director of White Water Robes at his first consumer show. Louis relished the chance to meet the brand’s target audience face-to-face.

Tostevin wasn’t the only one benefitting from customer engagement.  Samantha Theron, Head of Marketing and Communications at Páramo Clothing says, “Raccoon Events provided an excellent event for collaboration, a fully immersive experience for all customers.  We exceeded the target and got to spend two incredible days connecting with our customers both current and new”.

Entertainment and Experience

Consumer shows often incorporate entertainment and experiential elements to attract attendees. Kayaking sponsored by BOTE kayaks, queue giveaways, show offers, notable speakers, and interactive exhibits created memorable experiences that resonated with Expo consumers.  Sock brand Darn Tough Vermont brought its popular Prize Wheel to the event.  The on-stand competition certainly drew in the crowds with its win rate of 1 in 4.  Chris Davidson, CDA Ltd and Darn Tough UK Distributor said: “The Prize Wheel pays back dividends.  We had people on the stand who had won socks at the Run Show coming back to buy hike versions.  The lifetime warranty was a great selling point too and we spoke to customers who had claimed and were delighted, astonished, and impressed in equal measure when they got a brand-new pair … it creates Darn Tough fans for life!”

The Darn Tough Vermont team was on hand to talk about the brand’s unconditional lifetime guarantee at this year’s National Outdoor Expo.

To conclude

Exhibitor Tom Willmington sums the event up nicely when he says: “The event was packed full of passionate speakers, brilliant brands, and exhibitors, but made even better by the number of excited and engaged visitors. The event balanced education and commercial enterprise well, alongside lots of competitions and charitable activities which are crucial to the industry. We have re-booked with Dalesman for next year’s show and are looking forward to making it even bigger and better than this year!”  He’s not the only one to rebook, Theron told us “Páramo Clothing loved the Outdoor Expo!  We have already booked for 2025“.

Keep up the good work Raccoon Media.


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