Tired of the fluorescent lights and decidedly indoor tone of outdoor-industry trade shows, one organization is doing something different. We traveled to ‘The Outpost’ for a look inside the new kind of industry event.
A refrigerator in the desert stops me in my tracks. It’s a bright day for a trail run near Joshua Tree. The rocks and sand of southern California stretch to all compass points. The fridge is plugged in, powered by solar, and has cold beer inside.
This weird oasis is my welcome to The Outpost. Later, at night, I’d stumble on a cubic gazebo (photo above), a campfire and singers inside.
Launched late last year, The Outpost is a multi-day trade event that melds brands, culture, and the outdoors. It’s an experience that borrows as much from Burning Man as the aisles of REI.
“Trade shows all follow the same format — giant convention room or warehouse, fluorescent lighting, limited booth space, and forced interaction,” said Eric Bach, CEO of the San Fransisco-based company.
Bach said an epiphany came when the founders decided there was an opportunity to create something that provided brands with “more value than a trade show.” Something more intimate, more experiential. And something that actually takes place in the outdoors.
New Kind Of Trade Event
Trade shows are big business. Emerald Expositions, the parent company of the Outdoor Retailer convention, just set terms for a $295 million IPO this week.
Granted, Emerald operates more than 50 business-to-business shows in the U.S. alone. But its hefty valuation underscores the potential of the trade show business.
It’s no surprise that innovative thinkers are looking outside the convention center box. In Joshua Tree, about 40 companies reserved tables or made their products available to attendees. A mini trade show ensued adjacent to a tent village.
The Outpost organizers did not divulge specific costs brands paid to attend the event. But they did address the financial underpinnings that would make the show sustainable.
“Since The Outpost is a place of experimentation for large and small brands to push out their new perspectives, pricing is dependent on the amount of resources you require from our team,” Bach said. “This can range from a few thousand dollars for a basic partnership, up to six-figure opportunities.”
Title sponsors at Joshua Tree included Teva, Bulleit Bourbon, Hydro Flask, Goal Zero, Airstream, B&O Play, Barebones Living, and Revive Kombucha. (See the full list of participating brands below.)
An Experiential Trade Show
During my weekend at The Outpost, much of the interaction with participants and brands was driven by a series of mini events — bouldering, yoga, a night photography class, and even a cocktail tutorial from Bulliet Bourbon, a brand that showed up with a towable camper bar.
This trade show was geared toward press and social media influencers, not so much designers, shop owners, or other industry people who populate shows like Outdoor Retailer, SIA, and Interbike.
Bach noted about 50% of participants are from the brands and 20% from media, 20% social influencers, and about 10% are buyers. “However, we allow participating bands and artists to hang out for the weekend, which adds to the good vibes,” he said.
More than 200 people came to Joshua Tree. The attendees interacted with the companies, sampling energy bars or beer, hiking, exploring, and testing gear and products along the way.
Meals were hosted outdoors, cafeteria-style and prepared by chefs. Evenings brought film screenings and bands who rocked deep into the night. It was a tight crowd, an invite-only experience for media, “influencers,” and the brands. Much like other outdoor-industry trade events, The Outpost is not open to the public.
As an editor, I paid for my airfare but was given a pass for the weekend, all activities, room, and board included. I slept in a Barebones Living wall-tent and hiked and climbed rocks during the day.
The Outpost, hosted on a desert ranch March 31 – April 2, was a retreat, an excuse to unplug and meet new people, try new things. Gear tests, interviews with company reps, kombucha drinking, yoga, photography, and, later, campground partying as the sun set.
The trail runs stashed with refrigerated beer? A first for me, no doubt, but on par with the twist on normalcy and outdoors experience that The Outpost takes.
The Outpost is new; Joshua Tree was the second gathering. See below for a schedule of events this year.
The Outpost Event Calendar -- 2017
- March – Joshua Tree, CA
- June – Upstate NY: June 23 – 25
- July – Utah: July 27 – 28
- September – Northern CA: September 8 – 10
- Full info / Event Dates
An Interview With The Outpost Organizers
Back home after the event, I contacted a few of the organizers — Eric Bach, Evan Dudley, Jeff Wolfe, Caleb Morairty — to get their take on the Joshua Tree event and The Outpost events for 2017 still to come.
Joshua Tree was a wild weekend. Thanks for hosting! What was the original inspiration for The Outpost?
The members of our team have a diverse background, including music, culture marketing, and event production. We’ve all found ourselves at trade shows over the years, and they all have the same template. One night, Evan and Jeff from our team were having beers and decided there was an opportunity to create something new.
Were there events you looked at for a template?
We always like to say The Outpost lives somewhere between Burning Man and SXSW. With SXSW, it’s because we offer an alternative platform for brands to showcase their culture. And Burning Man because we work with vast, wide open spaces that provide a different opportunity for brands to paint their picture.
How do you describe The Outpost in 10 words or less?
An immersive outdoor trade retreat full of authentic brand experiences.
What are your goals with the event?
To build a community of people that cherish the outdoors and can benefit from building relationships outside, regardless of what industry they are in. We want to expand the definition of the “outdoor industry” to include other industries that appeal to a younger, modern demographic, who care about protecting the lands we play in.
What is the toughest part in organizing The Outpost?
We think that developing real experiences that shed light into a brand’s culture is a must. But many brands have an old-world mentality and tend to move like dinosaurs. We’re young, nimble, and are constantly trying to think of innovative ways to share stories in impactful ways.
What is the most rewarding part of your job and this event?
Seeing it all come together and seeing the relationships that come out of it. I truly think we’re building a community of people who “get it.” One of our attendees of the last event said it best with “I kept describing it like fishing a stocked pond, everywhere I threw out a line I caught a great conversation with a new person.”
Do you hope to grow the size, or keep these events somewhat intimate?
We hope to grow our flagship events in size, but there will always be a sense of intimacy; it’s all in the design. Our regional events will always be smaller and more accessible, both from a location and financial standpoint. We want Outpost to be for brands of all shapes and sizes.
If participants have one big takeaway from the weekend, what would you want that to be?
Great connections, new friends, a broader sense of community, and an experience that they will always remember.
–See more about The Outpost, including an upcoming calendar of events.