Attending my fourth trade show in as many years, this is always one of my personal favorites to attend and a high priority for the Kitelife travel schedule. In my experience, the trade show provides completely different look at the industry and kiting community, compared to simply seeing the “front end” at festivals, fun flies, competitions, etc through the course of a year… Here, more so than anywhere else in the community, the ebb and flow of our economy and ever-changing culture seems to be illustrated with regard to the kiting industry, as retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers might very well feel impact most prominantly by way of annual sales and product trends.
Exhibitors came to display their wares from 10 US states, including:
- American Kitefliers Association (AKA)
- Arrowcopter, Hollister, CA
- Cohasset Imports, Lakewood, WA
- Dyna Kite, North Charleston, SC
- Flying Wings Kites, San Jose, CA
- Go Fly A Kite, Walnut, CA
- Gomberg Kite Productions, Neotsu, OR
- HQ Kites & Designs USA, Chesapeake, VA
- In The Breeze, Bend, OR
- International Connections, Santa Barbara, CA
- Into The Wind, Boulder, CO
- Kitelife Magazine, Portland, OR
- Liston Concepts, Salt Lake City, UT
- New Tech Kites, Austin, TX
- Premier Kites, Hyattsville, MD
- Prism Designs, Seattle, WA
- Revolution Enterprises, Poway, CA
- Skydogs Kites, Colchester, CT
- William Mark Corp, Claremont, CA
Indeed, it’s true, this is a few less exhibitors than last year in Portland (OR), while the KTAI had over 220 members in 1996, now down to 96 members as of the 2009 trade show, it’s clearly a reflection of the economy and general state of kiting at the moment… With that being said however, to anyone who attending this years trade show in Destin, it’s pretty self-evident that the KTAI has gotten a handle on the climate it’s members are contending with, having simplified the overall trade show, moving into smaller showrooms, and generally streamlining to match the actual size of the organization rather than continuing to work under a model that was tailored for the KTAI’s busier years.
Based on my observations and in the discussions I’ve had with other trade show attendees, KTAI board members and many of the longtime industry leaders, the reasons for reduced attendance and membership don’t lie directly with the KTAI, but primarily with the economy (clearly reflected by the actual sales and traffic seen both in the US and abroad) at a time when everyone is conserving, limiting travel for both business and private citizens, especially in the coming year, well demonstrated by smaller audiences even at kite festivals nationwide over the past couple of years at least… It seems the general consensus is that 2009 is a being approached in measured fashion by nearly everyone, looking and hoping to 2010 and onward for an improved economy, which will naturaly increase the number of people traveling and spending, all of which influences the kiting industry on the business side.
In addition to the organic reasons I’ve commented on, some of the KTAI’s apparent shrinkage also stems from consolidation and changes in partnership… As an example, in 1996, the organization had individual members such as Randy Tom, Dodd Gross, Joel Sholtz, and others who went on to be employed by larger companies such as Go Fly A Kite, all of whom who were also members in 1996.
Monday – January 12th
Primarily dedicated to exhibitor set up and introductory or pre-event functions, including participant registration and check in, a KTAI board meeting, an afternoon seminar to educate attendees how to best maximize their trade show experience with regard to retail / wholesale interaction, taking in manufacturer ideas for promoting and marketing products, show specials and discounts exclusively for attendees, product testing opportunities, relationship building and networking, overview of trade show seminars and how participants can make the most of their whole trip to Florida above and beyond the trade show.
A small handful of retailers and exhibitors rotated through the product demonstration field, taking full advantage of the clear skies and beautifully manicured lawn… Yes indeed, without being limited to set time slots, manufacturers were encouraged to make good use of the space by taking existing and potential clients out to actually get hands-on experience with the kites and accessories that are being displayed and sold at the trade show.
After the daytime engagements, attendees gathered for the evening Open Reception, reconnecting with old friends and associates, making new ones and catching up with recent changes in partnerships… Although attendance continues to be down compared to years past, the dynamic of KTAI successfully gave this reception an intimate and well connected feeling as opposed to the larger, less personal and more contentious conventions we’ve seen at times.
Tuesday – January 13th
Sharing a room my ever-charming but dearly-loved friend Ben D’Antonio from Revolution Kites, we grumbled awake and meandered down for breakfast and coffee at the hotel restaurant (The Broken Egg)… Afterward, Ben went back to work in the room while I went to observe the morning seminar and assist with capturing it on video for the KTAI’s ever-growing archive of online resources the organization is making available to it’s members.
8:00am seminar by Ann Lofgren, “The Art of Giving Great Customer Service”:
Hop aboard the ZingTrain! This is the first of two amazingly effective and equally fun workshops designed to help you get the most out of your store’s bottom line. Everyone talks about great customer service these days – we really put it into practice! Over the years we’ve worked out ways to take service beyond beyond one more nice but nebulous idea (as it is in many organizations) and converted it into something really tangible you can teach, live, measure and reward. Perhaps most importantly we’ve developed a recipe that works equally well for 16-year-old sales clerks to 60+ year-old store owners! It’s just the thing for large and small business organizations. If being successful is part of your plan, you’ll want to attend this one! You’ll leave loaded not just with ideas, but handouts to help implement what has just been presented. Now that’s customer service!
As the description implies, this workshop focused on customer service philosophies, roleplay training with employees, ways to engage customers, how to welcome them to your place of business, benefiting products and problem solving with resolution steps, insight into potential customer experiences, and how to identify directly, striving to deliver a rewarding experience as opposed to simply trying to make a sale. After the seminar, our first day on trade show floor saw attending retailers doing their intial walk-throughs, checking out new products, gathering literature, greeting more old friends and making new ones who they might not have met at the reception on Monday night… Personally, I dashed around most of the morning doing the same and snapping photographs for this report, as well as assisting Ben and Lolly in the Revolution booth.
Held in a Florida resort, the trade show grounds also held a sprawling golf course which was closed for the season, allowing us to utilize one of the beautifully manicured grass areas for our product demos… Unlike years previous where manufacturers and retailers had a specific time frame in which to show and test products, this year the area was immediately next door to the show room, allowing those who had an interest to simply come and go as they wish for a quick fly now and then, or to bring out specific clients if they wanted to test fly or see a kite in the air. Great spot for Revs to be sure, as the flying area was accessible by foot bridge only, surrounded by water traps, making for some pretty wicked tip drags over the water, supported by average 3-8 mph winds for the whole week.
Tuesday evening saw attendees gather for the annual KTAI business meeting where nominations and elections were held for the 2009 board of directors, goals and agendas were discussed, the KTAI’s stable finanical state, observations on the state of kiting and our organization, as well as prospective sites for the 2010 trade show… Our KTAI President and serving officer for a combined 10 years, David Gomberg commented on more than one occasion about the cooperative, task-oriented and united board of directors who served in 2008, referring to a non-contentious, essentially united and effective group effort on behalf of the organization.
Whereas there had pretty much always been contention on various topics in years past, the business meeting this year reflected what seemed to be a basically united front within the attending KTAI members. It seemed to be general consensus that 2009 is indeed a year to get through with a measure of foresight and care, working towards revitalization in the coming years… The only topic that saw any clear division in opinion was the potential sites for our 2010 trade show, which is only natural due to the geographic diversity of our membership.
Another hot topic was the new federal regulations going into effect in February which require products designed for children to be tested for lead content by an independent laboratory before being approved for import. The rule was implemented less than six months ago and no one knows what the standards are, who can do the testing, or how the government (Customs and Consumer Product Safety) will implement it. The KTAI board of directors is currently looking into how they can assist those in our industry to handle these new changes.
Mary Ann McVay
Mary Ann McVay**
* Appointed to fill vacancy in 2008
** Continuing elected term
Wednesday – January 14th
8:00am seminar by Erica Perreault, “Award Winning Merchandizing”:
This one is a real Zinger! We have 25 years of hands-on experience figuring out how to sell a lot of great food that, quite honestly, hardly anyone ever heard of before we told them about it. And we do it in a small town of 100,000 in the middle of the American Midwest, out of a retail space that’s no more than a few thousand square feet with practically no parking, in a hard-to-find location. What more can we say to sell you on coming to this seminar? This is the hands-on “secret” approach to marketing and merchandising that’s gotten Zingerman’s recognition in everything from Inc. to Saveur to Gourmet Retailer. It’s down-to-earth stuff that can realy help you make your sales go up without spending a lot of money.
While there was not lack of enthusiasm at any time during the show, I felt that there was an excellent energy in the room during these seminars, a lot of levity and genuine hunger for the tools and information being provided by Zingerman’s… Indeed, these presentations were a direct answer from the KTAI board of directors after receiving a large number of requests for enhanced educational programs at last years trade show in Portland.
The last day of the trade show… After doing their share of research and negotiating with exhibitors, retailers hustled to get their orders in before the showroom doors closed, made easier by the fair discounts and flexible terms that are made available only to trade show attendees, versus those who simply contact the manufacturers directly over the course of any given year.
While the show primarily offered most of the same companies we’ve seen before, this year ushered in a new player on the kite manufacturing scene… Skydog Kites held what appeared to be the largest booth space and certainly the most polished display of product. This, coupled with the fact their booth was staffed by some very familiar faces, who when combined, have more than 100 years in the kite industry… A steady stream of visitors kept Jim Christianson (Skydog owner, formerly of Go Fly A Kite), Jim Cosca (formerly with Premier) and Dodd Gross (formerly with New Tech Kites) very busy and upbeat, all the while supported by other veteran team members. In a reduced market compared to years previous, it will be very interesting to see what effect the addition of a powerhouse team like this has on the overall industry.
The evening’s banquet and awards ceremony was unusually playful and lighthearted, which I attribute directly to an increased sense of unity and hope among the attendees… Our new President elect, Elaine Leitner from Second Wind announced that the KTAI would be looking at Primm (NV) and other possible venues for our 2010 trade show location, while David Gomberg (now Past President) facilitated the 2009 KTAI special awards with help from each of the board members.
David Checkley Lifetime Achievement Award
Bill Dual & Debbie Schomberg
In The Breeze
Retailer of the Year
Into The Wind
Best New Kite
HQ Kites & Designs
Best New Product
Introduced At the Show
William Mark Corp.
Wholesaler of the Year
Best New Product
Not a Kite
My Mystery UFO
William Mark Corp.
Into The Wind Catalog
Into The Wind
Outstanding Kite Festival
In short, my word for this years trade show is intimate, and please don’t mistake this, I’m not applying “spin” here or using it as a fancy word for small, although the show was lean compared to years ago… What I clearly saw this year was a show with the same core attendees we’ve had for many years now, the stores and manufacturers who are stable enough to continue through these lean times and continue supporting the KTAI, not only out of loyalty, but for the benefits they continue to find as ongoing members.
While there were perhaps a dozen less retailers attending in Destin compared to last years show in Portland, this strongly reflects the actual number of retailers in the area… With roughly 30 stores within driving distance of Portland, there is only a quarter of that (or less) in the Destin area, possibly in the whole state of Florida.
The KTAI organization is now effectively economized, scaled to more realistically reflect the actual membership base and market needs in this economy… The KTAI board of directors has done a great deal in the last year to offset negative trends, including the hiring of top notch business consultants to present educational programs to attendees, significantly lowered registration fees, as well as an far more aggressive and effective campaign of invitations, reminders, mailers, phone calls, and an enhanced marketing effort toward potential new members outside the industry.
While the 2009 trade show actually generated a financial loss for the organization, it was anticipated well in advance, and the decision to still hold a trade show was essentially viewed by board members as a stimulus plan, measured against the solid financial status of the KTAI (well in the black), with no immediate danger of expiration and some very financially reasonable options for the 2010 trade show.
In closing, I encourage all of you to support your legitimate retailers, get viable and sensible feedback to your manufacturers, play a role in defining the market and supporting companies who represent what you believe in for the kiting industry, get out there and fly… Keep on spreading the juju that we all so dearly love, simple joy and peace of mind on a string.