Issue 58: Goin’ Across the River to KTAI

Somehow, this just doesn’t feel right…  I mean, this IS a “kiting” event, right? And for me that normally means one or two days of packing and a day on the road, then the combined delight of staying somewhere “temporary” and the event itself, all followed by the return trip and the unpack and doing laundry…

Lemme see now. KTAI stands for Kite Trade Association International, and with “Kite” being the first word, that means this is a “kite” function, right? So how can this be a “kiting” event if it’s no more than an hour from my bed – and that includes grabbing a shower, a quick breakfast, and the 4-mile drive?  I’m traveling all the way from Vancouver Washington – directly across the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon? Nope – somehow this just ain’t right!

Still, I swallow my preconceived notions and head out on my short trek on a wet and sloppy Tuesday morning, January 8th – which turns out to be KTAI’s “Check In and Set-Up” day… So since there’s no room “Check-In” for me, I head off to the Red Lion by the River’s Grand Ballroom, check in Registration with Maggie Vohs and Billy Jones from Cameo Management who run the convention, meet the crew from iQuad, and pick up my Press pass!  And – since I’m in ahead of many of the incoming crews, it’s time to scope the whole deal out!  It was either that – or go to a morning seminar on kite shop loss prevention, supposedly how to prevent shoplifting, which I thought sounded pretty lame for me to attend. And I wasn’t overly thrilled with the afternoon seminar, which was a round-table on displaying store product effectively to optimize for profitability, either! Anyway, I had anticipating this whole “set-up” effort being about as exciting as a snail race, but believe it or not it turned out to actually be kinda interesting!

First off, iQuad was probably the first “team” with a completed, functional booth. On the other hand, how much time does it take to hang a few posters, set up a couple kites, erect a single lawn chair, lay out some pre-printed materials, and connect up a Television and a DVD player?  Still, there were other oddities in the offing in other booths, so maybe a sedate “wander” was in order.

New Tech had the envied “front door” spot, so I wandered over there first.  Sure enough, there was Chris Shultz, the CEO, down on his hands and knees, unpacking kites.  Dodd Gross was busy hanging stuff up on the booth backdrop, and Rob Cembalest was busy IRONING KITES!  Say WHAT??? Well – think about it…  New Tech wants their products to look good for the show, and the kites have been scrunched up in the box for shipping, so…  But it certainly would never have occurred to me to do that to kites!

And Premier, just around the corner, was busy doing much the same thing (except no ironing…). Val Dale, Premier’s General Manager was busy pulling stuff out of cartons and Jim Cosca, Sales Manager, was busy placing and hanging, and Susan Lennon, the Art Director, was doing bits and pieces of everything – assembling kites and talking with the “office” on the phone, and trying to track down which box held which kites, etc…

And about the same thing – in various stages – was occurring nearly everywhere, EXCEPT for Revolution (their plane’s due on the ground momentarily), and Go Fly A Kite.  And you’d think Go Fly had sent out a Survey Team or something, because they were marking off space on the carpet with removable tape and laying out some kind of structure, which was soon to follow.  But everywhere you looked, people were building kite display structures (Grown Ups – playing with giant Tinker Toys?), and then filling them with kites.  HQ, in from the East Coast, and Into The Wind from Colorado. In The Breeze, and Prism Designs, and the Gombergs, and Flying Wings, and the AKA (of course).

And, as soon as someone decreed “Our Booth Is DONE!,” everyone from that company cleaned up and exited the ballroom – until the only ones left were Go Fly A Kite, and Prism Designs…  Yes, Go Fly WAS building a mammoth structure, with separate rooms for different kinds of kites, including one for their new “Star Wars” collection, which they were quite excited about.  And then there were Sandy Morioka and Justin Edwards from Prism… who’d built an absolutely gorgeous booth, and were just waiting around for their kites to arrive from Seattle (already on their way, so the box should be soon… and it was!).

So – one-by-one – crews adjourned to the Red Lion’s lounge to share some camaraderie with fellow vendors and convention participants. So I hooked up with Theresa of The Kite Shoppe and we shared an hour or so with other kite folks, made sure Cory Jensen didn’t run out of Bushmills, and generally enjoyed ourselves a bit before heading for the barn.  Theresa did mention, however, that the seminar she’d attended on loss prevention was well done and quite worthwhile, and would have been more relevant if she had any walk-in traffic in her store at all (She doesn’t!).  Then it was a 15 minute drive back home, a bite to eat, and into bed soon thereafter.

Well, so the first day was in the bag, and I would normally begin the chronicle of the second day of any kite event with a little “weather snippet.”  Ok, Wednesday’s weather broke the same way most of the days do in Winter in the Northwest – wet, sloppy, low overcast, about 5 MPH breezes from variable compass points, and mid-40s for temps.  It would stay that way until all conventioneers left town, whereupon it would clear slightly – enough so that we’d get occasional “sun breaks.” Yeah – ugly, but it sure beats SNOW!

Inside, it was “choices” time for me again, and again I opted for the display floor in the Ballroom and let Theresa attend this morning’s seminar – a moderated discussion on how to get the most out of this Trade Show.  For what it’s worth, I will report here and now that Theresa attended ALL four convention seminars and she felt them all to be well organized, quite productive, and very well led / moderated.

So, back out onto the floor again – this time with the camera as a constant companion.  Time to get some shots of “the action.” This time, the doors opened at 10:30 AM, and if not exactly an overwhelming rush of people, I’d say that the crowd was “steady” and careful.  And, to begin with at least, everyone wanted to play “Lookie-Lou” for a while before setting down to write their orders! So the morning, and even into the afternoon consisted of shop owners wandering, asking questions, checking figures against their budgets, and trying to scope out which products would sell well in their marketplace and give them the most bang for their kite bucks.  Because – make no bones about it – these shop owners where here to buy, and the vendors were here to sell!

Well, from an itinerant “kite aficionado” viewpoint (mine) there wasn’t a whole lot to excite me. Yes, there were some changes to product lines.

I wasn’t much interested in Go Fly a Kite’s “Star Wars” new kite line since I’ve no intention of flying a kite that looks like a “Tie-Fighter” but I’ll imagine that some folks in attendance found those kites to be pretty interesting.

Premier dropped production on one of my personal favorites – that gorgeous, over-built “Red Oval Roller” from Carsten Domann.  So I tracked down a retailer that had a couple in stock back in the store, and bought ‘em.  BUT – Premier is also offering a new, larger Roller built along the “Stieff Roller” design out of the late 1800s, so it will be interesting to see how that one flies – and how it sells! Other changes have more to do with re-arranged sail patterns, with things like the popular Domann Canards now having colored sails (Blue and Red) with “edge tinting” to mimic light/shadow coloring.  Again, it will be interesting…

New Tech has three new kites by Robert Brasington in their line this year, including a long, skinny “toothpick” of a kite called the “Phoenix Rising” that I’m much taken with – and even more taken with it having a retail price perhaps in the “under $50” range?  We shall see!

And the Gombergs have some new “Faces” on some of their smaller kites too, along with most of their other old favorites, so Dave and Susie are keeping pace, as always. Yep, I DID see a Wilson Wing in their booth too, so that one is back again as well.

And so it goes, down the line…  HQ Invento had a whole series of Sport kites lined up against the windows overlooking the Columbia River, including a rather unique-looking quad-line kite. Are they new and wondrous and going to set the Sport Kite world afire? I haven’t a clue. I suspect the “new” part is correct, however – at least for some of these kites. New Tech has some new Dodd models as well. And Flying Wings also has some new Sport Kite offerings this year. Four Winds also had a small space, so for those who want flyable Sport Kites without the “big names” behind them, there were other alternatives available. And Revolution has new kite patterns available, and new spars too. As do several other firms, of course.

But for many of the Sport Kite pilots, pretty sails, fancy spars, and new bridles either may or may not be worth their consideration – but many of them will certainly want to fly before they buy. Presumably, the retailers who purchased upper-end Sport Kites also factored in an extra kite as a “demo” machine…

A quick search as I write this (Jan 13th), shows that several of the manufacturers have NOT yet updated their websites, so – assuming you’re able to do an internet search right along with accessing Kitelife, you may or may not find the new stuff out there online.  If it isn’t there when you read this, my best advice is just to keep on looking and the new stuff will be out there shortly.  Best bet, however, is to check with your favorite kite seller if you have any spare money burning a hole in your pocket and either Sport Kites and / or Single Line kites call to you.

But, I’m ahead of myself, here.  When last we left the display floor, we mostly had buyers milling and searching and asking questions. But toward the end of Wednesday afternoon, the order takers began to sit down with sharpened pencils and order blanks, and a few folks began placing their first orders. But they got cut off pretty quickly if they were running late.

The folks from Cameo Management came around and helped to enforce the 5:00 PM closing time, because the KTAI Annual Business Meeting was slated for a 5:30 PM start-time.  Grab a chance to wash your face and don a clean shirt, or get a quick drink in the lounge.  Mr. Prez tries his level best to get going on time, and out on time too!  So at 5:30, with the vast majority of those conventioneers in attendance, Mr. Gomberg got the thing underway!

We got our few announcements out of the way early.  Then Dave ran through a list of all of the past Presidents of KTA, including a little history about how it evolved from KTA into KTAI (adding the word “International” to recognize that the “trade” actually crossed international boundaries). And we nominated and elected three new KTAI Board Members to fill vacant positions. We were about to begin those tedious “Officer Reports” we all dread when Gomberg turned that whole process off, saying “We’re all still here, there’s money in the bank, and the annual convention just about pays the Association’s annual costs.  Anyone need all the details?”   No response…

So David continued. “What I’d like to do instead is moderate a discussion.  Do we need further words about whether we’re going to remain our own Association or fold in with the AKA or the Toy Association?”   Either the attendees were all brain-dead or the resounding silence indicated acceptance of the Status Quo…

Gomberg continued… “Ok, we have some time…  How would you like to see KTAI evolve?”  Well, gosh…  You’d have thought someone offered “Free Money” to the crowd or something.  EVERYBODY had an idea about THAT!  And we were off and running…  And believe it or not, it was all done very responsibly, with courtesy, and without the first word of rancor from anyone…

There initially seemed to be a few words about “warmer climate” for the Annual Meeting venue, so Mr. Gomberg noted that the two contenders for location next year were both in Florida – which seemed to shut down the whiners fairly quickly. And there was a bit of talk about Convention dates and so forth, but that was handled by peer pressure pretty well. The “plus” comment, however, was that places like the Red Lion where all the services were under a single roof were greatly appreciated by those members present.

And then, the whole discussion began to point toward things like growing the association, and making the association more attractive, and creating “value” in KTAI so those who were not members might find their way to join or re-join. Much good information flowed, and people were constructive and complimentary, and the whole topic was discussed and evaluated by all concerned. Even though most people did not comment or offer ideas, everyone appeared interested and involved… It was like these people were being offered a chance to grab “their” KTAI back, and they were by-golly gonna do it…

Before you knew it, a super-productive hour had passed, so Mr. Gomberg called a halt to the meeting, intending to stick to the schedule.  There’s no doubt that much remains to be done. Indeed, the discussion only scratched the tip of the proverbial iceberg. But, as a result, there was renewed energy in the room and there were smiles all around.

It was probably the MOST fascinating and productive “Association” meeting I’ve ever witnessed.  It almost made me want to join KTAI, in spite of the fact that I’m neither a kite manufacturer not retailer.  Good on you, KTAI, and “Thank You” David Gomberg…  NICE JOB, all around!

So Theresa and I went out and had a meal and made out way home – well satisfied with the way the day had gone!

And, if there was a “Big Story” coming out of the 20Th Annual KTAI Convention and Trade Meeting this year, the continuation of the Association and the joint efforts work to improve and “Add Value” to this organization is IT, in my mind – not who offered the newest, hottest, or “Best” kites.  But I digress…

And as expected, Thursday morning broke wet, cold, and decidedly Ugly…  Nothing new there.  Welcome to Winter along the Columbia River!  But it was shower, eat, and go anyway, and nothing new in that, either.

Back at the Red Lion by the River, things were back to semi-normal.  And, by that, I mean that folks were still going through the motions and taking care of business.  Today’s “skipped” seminar was all about “Buried Treasure,” if I read my program correctly.  Theresa said this one was worthwhile too, and I gotta trust her judgment on stuff like that (Either that or I have to start attending these things. Yuk!).

Meanwhile, back on the Ballroom floor, things were heating up nicely.  Most buyers could see the end of the proverbial tunnel staring them in the face, and were reluctant to head home with incomplete orders and unspent funds in the bank account, apparently.  And there was a whole host of vendors more than happy to relieve the buyers of their burden – real or imagined. I don’t want to say that orders were coming in hot and heavy, but there certainly were people willing to get down to the nitty-gritty points of hard bargaining – some being more effective than others, of course.

And at nearby Delta Park, it was “Demo Time!”  Well, it was supposed to be Demo Time anyway – except the only ones who showed up were those fellows from iQuad!  They’d gone to the field to fly, and to help demo any products others wanted to consider buying. And that was all well and good – except they ended up being the only ones at the field…  Well, shucks!  If nobody’s here for a demo – LET’S PRACTICE, so that’s what they did.

And they did so until a freak (well, a VERY unusual) storm blew through that area.  Pelting icy-rain is one thing and they could probably live with that, but when there were three lightening strikes within close proximity, the iQuad folks decided to let discretion become the better part of valor, so they packed it in.  And, of course, you have to know that they ran into another bunch from the KTAI pull into the parking lot just as they were piling into the car to head back to the Red Lion.  But iQuad explained the circumstances, and the other demo group completely understood, so everyone headed back to the hotel together.  It was only much later in the afternoon that we discovered from TV reports that a tornado had passed a couple of miles away with severe damage to a few buildings…

Anyway, back at the Red Lion, the KTAI Trade Show was finally in full swing, with buyers vying amongst themselves for some help from their vendors. Both New Tech and Premier had all available staff out writing orders, and the other vendors were equally pressed for help.  It was the afternoon of the “selling,” with all parties wanting to make the most of it, and if you aren’t a part of the action – just stand back and do NOT get in the way!  It’ll be over soon enough.  And – it was, too!  Somehow, this group has it down to a fine science…

At 4:00 PM, it was all over…  And I don’t mean anyone lagged on until 4:05 either! Because the vendors were all old pros at this business, and they knew that everything in their booth had to be packed up and GONE quickly… in TWO HOURS!  So everyone – buyers and sellers alike – fell too and filed all the paperwork, and broke down kites and accessories and stuffed them into boxes and crates, and disassembled display racks, and “cleaned up!”  And when they were done, most of  ‘em helped their neighbors too! I put the camera down and disassembled kites I’d never handled before and threw them into piles and let other people figure out which boxes they’d occupy. And, believe it or not, it was all done in well under two hours – whereupon everyone adjourned to the lounge again – this time for a “We DONE It!” drink…

Oh, some took time out to grab a quick shower and a clean shirt, but more than a few were content to keep “talking kites” and thanking and congratulating each other.  It was “all over but the shouting” as they say, and everyone had good reason to feel proud.  It really had been a helluva show, after all…

Eventually, the “other bar” opened at 6:00 PM, downstairs where the KTAI Banquet would be held.   So folks began gathering again, some fresh from the Trade Show floor, and others fresh from a refreshing shower.  Time for a cocktail or a glass of wine or a beer, some chit-chat among kite-friends, and then a decent banquet meal, cafeteria style.  Get in line, grab a plate and load up – so we did!

And about the time everyone was reaching for the carafe to refill their coffee cups and the waiters were pulling the last of the dessert plates, President Gomberg took to the podium again (Were you born for that position, David?), and began the “Wrap-Up!” And rather than go into any lengthy discussion, I’ll just give you the “Awards Summary” this time.  And since there were no writers picketing anywhere nearby, all but one recipient was there to pick up their accolades… (The exception was the fellow from the William Mark Corporation – who was already catching a flight to his next Trade Show.)

And the winners were:

  1. The Retailer of the Year Award went to Unique Flying Objects
  2. The Best Retail Promotional Effort went to John Barresi & Team iQuad
  3. The Wholesaler of the Year Award  went to Premier Kites, Inc.
  4. The Best Booth Award went to In The Breeze
  5. The Award for the Best New Kite went to B-Series, Revolution Enterprises
  6. The Award for the Best New Product-Not a Kite went to 5 O’clock Somewhere Spinner – Premier Kites, Inc.
  7. The Award for the Best New Product Introduced At the Show went to UFO, William Mark Corporation
  8. The Award for the Best Wholesale Promotional Effort went to, Premier Kites
  9. The Award for the Outstanding Kite Festival went to MIKE (Maryland International Kite Extravaganza), Ocean City, Maryland

… and finally the David Checkley Lifetime Achievement Award went to George Emmons, from Into The Wind!

Well Deserved, George!

All right.  Time for a little “Summing Up!”  And time to give you a little “Perspective,” too…

This event happens every year, and it used play host from a fair number of Eurpopean kite-makers.  It was “THE Place” to introduce your “new” kite… Shucks, Kitelife used to do “Daily Updates” at KTAI!  Well, that was “then,” but this KTAI session happened this year – not in the past!

If we’ve got to put it into words, there were two distinct messages coming out of this event:

  1. The 2008 version of KTAI was small to be sure, but the “quality” was still there, and firms are still making and selling kites – and retailers are buying them, too.  KTAI is the “life blood” of the kiting industry in the USA, and the kite business is alive, well, and getting stronger again!
  1. And, as a commitment to that concept, KTAI as an organization – in their Annual Business Meeting – specifically focused on “Growing Kiting,” and on “Growing their Association” as well…

Indeed, the signs of it were everywhere – in the daily seminars, out on the Trade Show floor, and in conversations over dinners and drinks.  Yes, the “Buzz” was all about “continuation” and “growth” in KTAI and in Kiting, wherever you went.

To give you just one example, those who were manning the AKA Booth at KTAI decided on the spot to raffle off a ticket for the AKA Convention in Gettysburg next fall, which was won by Todd Rudolph from iQuad (This reporter apparently came in a distant “second” – good only for paying my own way!).  Well, AKA didn’t have to do that.  It wasn’t any planned event. It was a “spur of the moment” thing, with any excess raffle funds going straight to the KTAI coffers. The AKA felt KTAI’s commitment to kiting as being alive and well – and jumped in to help, all on their own!  So major Kudos to Marla Miller and Mel Hickman and Kay Buesing representing the AKA – and there for KTAI…

Finally, enough can’t be said about the organization itself and those who hold it together and make it work!  Bless you, Mr. G – for stepping up (one more time) and shouldering the load.  Accolades to all those who serve on the KTAI Board, too – be they brand new (three elected this time) or continuing, or retiring (Chris Shultz, CEO of New Tech – retired, finally, after SIX YEARS on the Board).  Congratulations to those who organized and presented the Seminars this year.  The KTAI (and kiting) would be poorer without your efforts. And – do NOT forget – Ms. Maggie Vohs of Cameo Management, the KTAI Executive Director, and pal Billy Jones, who plan, organize, and direct these conventions.

It might seem like these folks – KTAI – are just another business association, holding a convention in some out-of-the-way place.  But if you’re involved in Kiting in the USA – AT ALL – these are the “providers” behind our Sport, and the suppliers of our FUN!  If you get a chance, you maybe want to THANK them the next time you run into one!

Until next time,

Dave “Geezer” Shattuck