Grassroots Connect retailers and vendors embrace ‘sales over style’ trade show approach

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE -- With more than 1,000 attendees from independent speciality outdoor retailers and premier national vendors, it was easy to compare this month’s Grassroots Connect to other trade shows.

But after walking a show that’s packed with crowded booths yet pin-drop quiet, after witnessing a show calendar in which the number of pre-booked meetings -- not aisle traffic -- is the measure of success, and after hearing both retailers and vendors praise Grassroots Connect’s sales-over-style approach, it was even easier to recognize that this twice-a-year buying show is truly unique.

“I would call Connect the ‘Zen Trade Show.’ Everything is so calm, productive, organized, and efficient. It puts us in such a calm space, and is such a stark contrast to other events where we actually get more uptight the longer we're there. Connect is the model trade show,” said Brian Sweet, owner of Cascades Outdoor Store in Winthrop, Wash.

Hosted by Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, the national organization dedicated to the health and growth of independent specialty outdoor retail, Grassroots Connect was held June 14-17, 2018, at the Knoxville Convention Center. The show included an Education Day, an award dinner, and four full days of ultra-efficient and streamlined buying meetings.

“There’s a broad list of benefits that businesses can gain by attending trade shows. At Connect, we’ve simply narrowed our focus around the needs of the retail buyer, and committed to executing that slice of the trade show experience at a really high level,” said Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.

Appointments for all attendees were scheduled in advance by show organizers, group meals and all-show happy hours brought attendees together, and by the end of the busy week both retailers and vendors applauded the overall operational efficiency.

“Connect is the most productive show in the industry. Having the appointments pre-scheduled for the amount of time we need for our buying team, not what a brand would like to spend, makes for strategic line showings and allows us to politely stick to our schedule, to stay on track, and to focus on our goals and objectives,” said Betsy Bertram of Townsend Bertram & Co of Carrboro, N.C.

“The efficiency of Connect is great, particularly the pre-scheduling of appointments. It removes the hassle of a critical process that can easily consume a lot of bandwidth,” said Kelly Nester, president of Farm to Feet. “We’re big fans.”

“Grassroots Connect is one of the most productive and well organized shows we attend. We will always make this show a priority due to the efficacy of our time and investment,” said Nathan Dopp, president of Fjallraven North America.

Last week’s Connect show marked the 28th gathering of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance retailers and vendors, dating back to the founding event in Lake Tahoe in 1999. But while products and technologies have evolved rapidly in the last two decades, the original commitment of Grassroots Connect to operational ease was stronger than ever, as some vendors travelled with their entire booth display ... in their luggage.

"We decided to do Grassroots Connect like a field marketing event,” said Travis Merrigan, Grayl co-founder and COO. “We shipped in some product and everything else fit in one big and one medium duffel. Set-up and take-down were a breeze and we didn't spend thousands shipping a crate. Our retailers were impressed with our minimalist vibe."

In addition to being efficient and focused from an operational standpoint, the show prompted numerous comments from attendees on the tangible optimism and upbeat tone of sales conversations.

“What was particularly inspiring to our team was the level of optimism and retailer engagement in the line reviews and business meetings. The show has come a long way these last 20+ years,” said Gordon Seabury, CEO of Toad & Co.

The high level of positivity began during the Education Day and extended throughout the four days of Grassroots Connect appointments -- even through the final moments of booth removal.

“The unique sign of a smooth and successful show is everyone’s positive attitude during booth breakdown. Perhaps the catered beers and rocking playlist help, and yet again, only Connect focuses on every single detail down the the playlist for breakdown,” said Todd Givnish, Smartwool sales and marketing manager.

ABOUT GRASSROOTS OUTDOOR ALLIANCE: Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is an active, independent network of 65 independent retailers working together for the health and growth of specialty outdoor retail. With 132 storefronts across 37 states, Grassroots member retailers currently total approximately $325 million in annual sales. Through data collection and analysis, direct member support, specialty events and deep vendor partnerships, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is creating both a vision and roadmap for the long-term success of independent specialty retail. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is also recognized as a catalyst for the success of its retailers and vendor partners; an advocate for specialty independent retail; a promoter of education and community within the specialty channel; and a key influencer of the national outdoor industry. For more information on Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, please go to

ABOUT GRASSROOTS CONNECT: Efficient, affordable and effective for every attendee, Grassroots

Outdoor Alliance Connect is the only national show designed specifically to improve retail buying results. Scheduled as early as possible in the buying cycle, the growing Grassroots Connect show is now in its 20th year, and attracts nearly 1,000 independent specialty retailers, vendor brands, media, and members of the outdoor industry community to each show. Connect provides a highly efficient opportunity for retailers, reps and vendors to present, discuss, plan and collect pre-season orders. Cost-effective and simple, Connect is both an incubator and testing ground for the greater outdoor industry. Invited retailers receive a per attendee reimbursement to offset their travel costs. Future dates for Connect include Denver, Colorado (Nov. 4-7, 2018) and Knoxville, Tennessee (June 10-13, 2019). For more information on Grassroots Connect, please go to

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