Trade Show Toss Up

To attend or not to attend outdoor living expos circuit

When you’re prepping for your next big store promotion or are in the thick of a busy season, it’s hard to imagine heading off to a trade show for outdoor living products when your company’s main focus is spas.

However, many a dealer has discovered outdoor living products can be a great compliment to hot tubs, giving customers the opportunity to create a full backyard experience. They glimpse everything their backyard getaway can be.

“People are expanding to the outdoors and are looking for somebody to supply them with the products that fit into all the outdoor elements,” says Tony Rodriguez, president and CEO of Summerset Casual in Ontario, California. “The more elements that a spa dealer can offer, the more opportunity you still have to sell products to them and build a relationship long term.”

Outdoor living trade shows allow spa dealers to discover new products and companies they otherwise wouldn’t know were available. “Shows are valuable to see new products and the competition’s products,” says Jerry Thramer, owner of Innovations for Quality Living in Bellingham, Washington. Thramer says he thinks it is especially important for newcomers to the business to attend shows. “Shows are very important for new stores to get [new product] lines,” he says.

Dennis DiPaolo has been in the industry since 1973, and retired in May after 29 years as owner of Seasonal Specialty Store in Amherst, New Hampshire. He says attending outdoor living expos is imperative for spa dealers. “I’ve attended shows outside my primary industry to find opportunities and even products my competitors don’t know about,” DiPaolo says.

Craig Ecelbarger, director for Ft. Myers Leisure Products, Inc. in Fort Myers, Florida, says by attending outdoor living trade shows, dealers not only gain valuable product information, but also build relationships with suppliers and factory reps.

With a large number of outdoor living expos each year, choosing depends on personal preference. Ecelbarger is a proponent of the Pool | Spa | Patio Expo and has been attending this show exclusively for 35 years. “Outdoor living is a recent addition to our product mix, and I became aware of it through this show, and through our other pool industry connections,” Ecelbarger says. “My take is that the outdoor living industry has apparently targeted the pool and spa industry to cultivate additional dealers, and with good reason.”

Other expos focus on specific types of outdoor products. “The Hearth Patio Barbeque Expo is great for those looking for grills or outdoor fire products,” says Hilary Reynolds, marketing manager for The Outdoor GreatRoom Company in Burnsville, Minnesota. “The Casual Market is great for those looking for outdoor furniture, accessories, fire tables and textiles. Outdoor living products not only complement a new hot tub, but also provide an additional revenue stream. As most spa customers are already spending money on updating their outdoor space, a fire pit, furniture, grill and pergola are great add-ons to the sale.”

Location may also be a factor in selecting which shows to attend. Sometimes it’s not feasible to fly across the country to attend an expo. Fortunately, there are a variety of tradeshow options available in different regions, so there’s usually something close enough for everyone. 

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Attending these expos is a great opportunity to network and get a sense of what’s available. “Really, trade shows should be all about education,” Rodriguez says. “Educate yourself on the differences between manufacturers. Then make your decisions based on their customer service, based on their back office, warranty and quality.”

Ecelbarger says the transition into this industry has been comfortable, and that selling backyard pieces alongside spas only makes sense. The customers who buy both types of products share the goals of outdoor entertainment and home improvement, he adds.

“They display and sell together quite naturally in the showroom,” Ecelbarger says. “We are a large volume seller in the spa and pool industry, and our sales in the outdoor living category were zero until five-and-a-half years ago. Today, they represent over 20% of our volume, and that number is growing. It’s huge. The sooner you start, the sooner you get there.” N

Outdoor Living Trade Shows

Hardscape North America
October 16-18, 2019
Louisville, Kentucky

High Point Market
October 19-22, 2019
High Point, North Carolina

International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo
November 5-7, 2019
New Orleans

Las Vegas Winter Market
January 26-30, 2020
Las Vegas

Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo
Exhibition: March 12-14, 2020
Education: March 11-13, 2020
New Orleans

Casual Market
September 22-25, 2020