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An Interesting Marketing Lesson Taken From a Day at a Sporting Goods Tradeshow

by: Geoff Ficke

My consulting firm specializes in marketing and developing consumer products. Currently we are preparing a hunting product for launch at a major outdoor products tradeshow. This week I took the opportunity to attend the largest expo targeting the archery/bow hunting product industry to scout trends and network for my hunting product client. It was revealing and a valuable lesson was strongly reinforced.

In every industry, and especially on display at tradeshows, there are mammoth players that dominate their category. These leading brands are the stars of the trade and are immediately recognized as such by competitors and consumers. Their products typically are well established, their distribution channels fulsome, the marketing strategies are dominant and awareness of their products nearly universal to their targeted consumers.

The bow hunting industry show I spent a day visiting this week was like most of the hundreds of other trade shows I have attended over many years. The largest, loudest, most active booths were populated by the biggest archery product marketers. The vast majority of the stands in the show, however, were small, independently owned businesses, featuring more targeted product offerings. The opportunity to participate commercially in an industry, in this case for avid bow and arrow hunters, where the entrepreneur shares a passion for the sport with the pursuit of profit is a strong lure for the driven creator.

As I walked the show, I was able to meet and chat with a range of small business owners who love hunting with bow and arrow and relish the opportunity to earn their living in the archery/bow hunting industry. They have created products that fill needs they have identified from their field experiences. These people were virtually all passionate, positive and proud of the many items and specialty products they were showing.

Consider the simple hunting arrow. We all, even if we have never hunted in the wild, have shot or held an arrow, certainly as kids playing cowboys and Indians. We know there is a tip, a bow shaft and feathers built into an arrows assemblage of parts. At the trade show there were numerous purveyors of all types of arrows. Interestingly, there were also numerous vendors offering only tips, or shafts, or feathers, in a stunning range colors and styles. The specialization of these products, their artisan nature and the small, even seemingly tiny, niches they occupy were testament to the idea that building a better mousetrap will be profitable.

I left the show re-energized. The lesson I relearned for the thousandth time is this: If you have passion for something, and can identify a way to improve the experience, you can profit and enjoy earning a living doing what you love most. Many people do exactly this. They earn a good living from commercializing their hobby, craft or favorite pastime. It takes a bit of vision and a bunch of courage to successfully take the leap from employee to entrepreneur, but it is being done every day.