Utah’s impressive natural landscapes attract and cultivate the best in the outdoor industry. Known as the place to be for outdoor products, over 200 leading outdoor product companies reside here. This past June, six relatively new local companies that are eager to make their mark had the opportunity to exhibit their products to the world and represent the great outdoor products being produced in the state.
The OutDoor Show in Friedrichshafen, Germany is Europe’s leading trade show for the outdoor industry. This year the show celebrated its 25th Anniversary with 900 companies showcasing their products to more than 30,000 visitors from 88 countries around the world.
Six local businesses represented Utah at the OutDoor Show–Buzz Graphics, Dark Energy, Cotopaxi, InstaFire Inc., MerkWares LLC, and Oxbow Gear–with several companies making their first foray into Europe.
These companies were recipients of the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grant, which is funded in part through a grant with the U.S. Small Business Administration. The STEP grant is administered by World Trade Center Utah (WTC Utah), a non-profit organization that helps small businesses build capacity for international trade. WTC Utah accompanied the businesses at the trade show and helped facilitate meaningful interactions with potential customers and partners.
Dark Energy – Creating mobile accessories as durable and tough as their customers, Dark Energy’s chargers, solar panels, and cables are made for extreme environments. “I came to the OutDoor Show thinking a tiny company like mine would not get any attention,” said Garrett Aida, CEO of Dark Energy. “To my surprise, I found that many distributors sought us out and were seeking a business relationship.” As a result of the show, Dark Energy is starting distributor partnerships in Germany, Denmark, and Chile. “If not for this opportunity provided by the STEP grant and WTC Utah, we simply would be years away from gaining access to these new markets.”
Merkwares – Merkwares designs tools and gear that enhance the wilderness experience. While at the show, owner Mikhail Merkurieff had the chance to meet in-person with his distributor. “The meeting was tremendous and I received an explanation of the European market, culture and how that plays into particular product demands,” said Merkurieff. “For instance, there is a big movement towards eco-friendly or green products. I’m now actively looking at options to manufacture some of my products in bamboo.”
InstaFire Inc. – Innovative and environmentally friendly company InstaFire Inc. attended the OutDoor Show with a goal to find salespeople and identify a new distributor capable of bringing their products into Europe. “I believe we have accomplished that and we anticipate significant future growth from this trade mission,” said InstaFire Inc. president Frank Weston. The company, which originally received funding from their appearance on the television program Shark Tank, creates stoves and lighters as well as coal and fire starters.
Oxbow Gear – Oxbow Gear creates high-performance helmet lights and goggles. “We learned some very valuable insights into exporting that are going to help us export our current products,” said president of Oxbow Gear, Clayton Krebs. “We also met some important people that are going to be able to help us create new products for our niche that could then be exported.”
Buzz Graphics – Not only did Buzz Graphics attend the show, but the small business also designed and constructed the booth for the trade show. Rich Whitemyer, owner of the graphic design and printing company, said the company’s “expectations were exceeded within days of landing in Germany.” Upon finishing their trip, Whitemyer feels “we have a much better understanding of the European market. We are preparing to launch individual websites for Germany, Austria, Denmark and the U.K. to test market some modified items. If we see a similar path to our launch in the United States we expect to hit our goal revenue within the next 12 months.”
Cotopaxi – Cotopaxi funds solutions that address the most persistent needs of those living in extreme poverty. While exhibiting their outdoor gear at the OutDoor Show, Cotopaxi established high-value relationships with potential wholesale accounts and gained valuable insight into the current level of interest/response to their brand in the European market. “The trade show laid the foundation to roll out a wholesale program in the EU, which will allow us to sell our gear to 3rd party retailers in 2019,” said Stephan Jacob, who is the Founder, President & COO of Cotopaxi.
In addition to the international connections each of the companies made at the show, the STEP grant recipients also had the benefit of learning from and making connections with each other. “Some of the most valuable relationships we made were with the businesses we shared our booth with,” said Whitemyer of Buzz Graphics. “ From fast moving companies like Cotopaxi to smaller upstarts like Oxbow or Merkwares, everyone had great insights into specifics of marketing and international sales.”
With experience and connections garnered from their time at OutDoor Show in Germany, each of these companies is better positioned for international success. Additionally, their wins in the global market are a win for Utah.