Outdoor University makes a splash in the Southeast

Retailers sloshed through rain-soaked fields at the first Southeastern Outdoor University held April 25-27 in Black Mountain, N.C., but despite the weather, the retail education program likely secured a good foothold in the South with this successful event.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Retailers sloshed through rain-soaked fields at the first Southeastern Outdoor University held April 25-27 in Black Mountain, N.C., but despite the weather, the retail education program likely secured a good foothold in the South with this successful event.

In January 2006, Outdoor Industry Association acquired the five-year-old Outdoor University program, then expanded it beyond Wisconsin to included events in North Carolina and Massachusetts. (Click here to read the SNEWS® article, "OIA acquires Outdoor University education program.")

Held at Camp Rockmont near Asheville, N.C., the Southeastern Outdoor University drew a respectable number of retail attendees and vendors for a first-time event. Ninety-nine retailers pre-registered, and 90 actually attended, while reps from 50 companies offered 400 hours of instruction on everything from Nordic trekking poles to tents.

Granted, the event has a ways to go before it matches the success of the Midwest Outdoor University, which drew 277 retailers and 70 vendors last year. Still, Ken Barmore, the organizer of Outdoor University, said he is optimistic about the event's future. "We had three more people than we had at the first Midwestern event," he said. "From reading the retailers' surveys, we're on the same path and learning curve."

One thing the North Carolina event has going for it is a convenient and attractive location. Rockmont is an idyllic boys summer camp, with a small lake surrounded by lush mountains. Reps pitched their tents in a grass field near the lake, and attendees camped out in a soccer field on the mountain flanks, just below a beautiful ridge. If there is any drawback, it's the spring weather -- locals say that most days begin with a 30-percent to 40-percent chance of rain, and it came down in buckets this year. But that's why we invented tents and rain gear, right?

Another challenge is that Asheville is a long haul for employees of some major Southeastern retailers, and we didn't see folks from key stores in Mississippi and Tennessee. But we did catch up with three employees from Alabama Outdoors who squeezed into a Honda and drove seven hours, arriving at Camp Rockmont at 6 a.m. on the first day of the event. "As for a major outdoor industry event, that was my first rodeo, and it was very helpful," said Matt Bruce who works in the Florence, Ala., store.

Of course, the main draw of Outdoor University is that it provides retail employees with knowledge and experience they might not get otherwise. "I'm so glad I came to this!" Nancy Armstrong remarked during a GPS clinic at the Garmin booth. Armstrong, who works for Townsend Bertram & Company, a specialty retailer near Chapel Hill, N.C., said Garmin reps do not visit the store often, and she attended Outdoor University in part to beef up her GPS knowledge. Garmin reps not only conducted clinics in their tent, but also took retailers on walks for hands-on training.

While Garmin was doing a good job of taking its training beyond the tent, the majority of clinics were not field exercises. Whether by design or due to weather, most clinics were confined to tents. Not that this was necessarily bad. Atop a wooden tower overlooking the lake, we joined three employees of Jesse Brown's Outdoors for a clinic in the Northwest River Supplies tent. A new whitewater park is about to open near three Jesse Brown's shops in Charlotte, N.C., and the store is bringing in NRS product. So, staff members Karey Digh, Rob Patton and Matt Long were getting a detailed look at apparel and accessories. The session was focused, and Long said, "The great thing about this is I don't have to jump up and go help a customer."

Perhaps the most interesting seminar concerned salesmanship. On the second day, we joined 12 retailers in a tent at 8:30 a.m. for a surprisingly lively session on sales techniques -- the type of basic training sorely lacking in the outdoor industry.

The instructor, Tom Richard, trains salespeople in many markets, including the fitness industry. "I'm not going to tell you the normal steps to selling because it's dry and you've heard it all before," he said. Instead, he talked more about building confidence, understanding your role as a salesperson and interacting with customers to get them out of a defensive mode and into a positive "buying" mode. The seminar included frequent (and great) exchanges between Richard and the retailers as they explored the psychology behind why a person says, "I'm just looking."

At the sales training seminar, we caught up with Brenda Binning and Chris Hayes who were doing a recon of Outdoor University for Mast General Store. "Mast does its own training program, and we're trying to see how this might fit into that," said Binning.

SNEWS View®: Mast General is an extremely squared-away operation with a handful of top-notch stores in the Carolinas. Its participation would help the Southeastern Outdoor University plant strong roots. And looking ahead, the success of the Asheville event over the next couple of years could indicate whether the Outdoor University concept can truly spread and grow.

Related

Outdoor University® Makes a Splash in North Carolina.

Attendees put raingear to the ultimate test at the first Southeastern Outdoor University held April 25-27 in Black Mountain, N.C., but despite the weather, the retail education program secured a bright future in the South with this successful event. “We all enjoyed our time at ...read more

Midwest Outdoor University hitting stride, inspiring retailers

South-central Wisconsin played host to the Outdoor University on the shores of Devils Lake for three days of hands-on specialty product training from May 18 through 20. In its third year, event organizers were pleased with the turn out of reps, manufacturers and retailers ...read more

OIA acquires Outdoor University education program

Outdoor Industry Association announced Jan. 13 that it acquired the 5-year-old Outdoor University program, which brings together retailers, reps and manufacturers for seminars and outdoor activities that educate retail staff members. OIA acquired Outdoor University from Ken ...read more

Outdoor University attracts a crowd and benefits BCM

The second annual Midwest Outdoor University (OU) held May 20-22 at Devil's Lake State Park, just north of Madison, Wis., attracted 70 manufacturers, up from 40 companies last year, and 208 retailers, up slighly from 198 last year. Event Director Ken Barmore underscored the ...read more

Outdoor University 2003 to benefit BCM

Building on the success of last year's inaugural Outdoor University, event organizer Ken Barmore is sure this year's May 20-22 rendezvous of vendors and dealers will be bigger, better, more educational and more fun -- if that's possible. Located at Devil's Lake State Park, near ...read more

OU2010PromoBox.jpg

OIA Outdoor University: Converting to a new POS system

Juggling new products, pricing changes, promotional programs and inventory shifts can be a daunting challenge for small shops or mega-retailers alike, and changing POS systems or updating tools to keep up is complicated. Is it worth it to change your POS system? How can you be ...read more

SNEWS® Live: Outdoor University 2006 wraps up, positioned for future expansion

This edition of SNEWS® Live is brought to you by The Outdoor Industry Association A SNEWS® Live exclusive -- It was a milestone year for Outdoor University -- its first under the direction and ownership of the Outdoor Industry Association. The expansion of the program included ...read more

OU2010PromoBox.jpg

OIA Outdoor University: Listen to ‘Growing Outdoor Participation...and Your Customer Base’

Mark McKinght, e-commerce and marketing director for specialty outdoor retailer Rock/Creek, hosted a webinar classroom, “Growing Outdoor Participation...and Your Customer Base,” on May 12, 2010, at 2 p.m. MST. The Outdoor University is an affiliate of the SNEWS® Retail College, ...read more

Outdoor Industry Association® Acquires Outdoor University

BOULDER, CO (March 15, 2006) – Frank Hugelmeyer, President of Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), announces the incorporation of Outdoor University into its portfolio of educational events. Outdoor University provides experiential outdoor training events to outdoor industry ...read more