As a regular attendee at conventions on behalf of his creative agency, Jeff Wolfe found himself growing tired of the traditional trade-show model. “I thought it was generally outdated,” he said, “and didn’t really serve the needs of the people who were involved with it.”
Wolfe’s friend Evan Dudley — a frequent exhibitor at outdoor-industry shows on behalf of the high-performance-blanket company he worked for — likewise felt as though trade shows were no longer beneﬁcial for small companies, particularly in terms of costs. Both agreed that the mold needed to be broken. “You need to reﬂect the changing landscape of modern-day commerce, with the internet and so many people going direct to consumer,” Wolfe said. “And companies need to have a platform to showcase their culture.”
Over a few beers, it dawned on the pair that there could be a platform that better served modern-day businesses. Along with friend and former colleague Caleb Morairty and CEO Eric Bach, Wolfe and Dudley created Outpost Trade Company (The Outpost, for short) — dedicated to creating trade shows that both literally and metaphorically would break the barriers of traditional events by forgoing four walls and a roof in favor of building a community in Mother Nature.
The Outpost debuted in October 2016 at the private, 400-acre Chanslor Ranch in Bodega Bay, California, for what was intended to be a one-off event. With the support of 37 sponsors, the program brought together 175 attendees, including outdoor-industry distributors and buyers, musicians, press, and social-media inﬂuencers. The festival-like atmosphere — complete with housing in the form of safari-style tents — allowed brands to tell their stories, rather than just sell products.
“When a bunch of brands within the same vertical get together, you have a tendency to start telling your story to yourself in a sense that this is already your tribe, this is your community,” Wolfe said. “People know your brand’s story. But when you start branching out into different verticals and involving different media partners and bringing in different mediums like art and music and various cultural pillars, I think something really special happens.”
Which is how The Outpost became something more than a one-off. “What we found coming out of the weekend was that all the brands who participated were very curious as to what the future of this was, and we hadn’t really given it much thought,” Wolfe said. “We’re sitting around on Sunday, we’re tired, we’re dirty, we’re all hungover, and looking at each other like, ‘What just happened here? What did we do?’ Then I was like, ‘I think we just started another business.’”
Wolfe shuttered his San Francisco–based creative agency to devote himself full time to The Outpost. Today, the business has a staff of seven, two events under its belt — the second show brought 225 attendees to The Talawahee, a 160-acre private ranch located in Yucca Valley, California, this past March — and three more planned for the rest of the year in upstate New York, Park City, Utah, and Mendocino County, California. The hope is that The Outpost’s portfolio will grow to the point that multiple events can be held at the same time in different parts of the world.
Wolfe thinks The Outpost continues to draw support because of its intimacy and authenticity. The show doesn’t allow any overbearing on-site brand-ing or signage — a distinct difference from the ads that often overtake show ﬂoors. “I think the people who come to an Outpost — they’re a sophisticated consumer, or they’re your peers, or they’re media, or they’re inﬂuencers, and they know they are being marketed to,” Wolfe said. “You don’t need to beat them over the head with it.”
The Outpost also has a signiﬁcant content-creation aspect, which isn’t something distributors usually come across at a show. “We have teams of photographers and cinematographers on site, who go execute these big shot lists that we create for them,” Wolfe said. “So the brands get to walk away with beautiful photography that they can use to market their products. For a younger brand — or really any brand — content is currency. It allows you to continue to tell your story.”
Providing brands the opportunity to tell their stories organically comes at a price. Setup at an outside venue isn’t without a unique set of challenges. “It is a lot more difficult than just renting a big hall and putting on an event,” Wolfe said.
“At Joshua Tree, we were there a week in advance setting up for our last event, and one day the Palm Springs airport got shut down because there were winds up to 90 miles an hour in the valley.”
But the experience of being among nature is what brings The Outpost to life. “I don’t think an outdoor brand that wants to market itself and create beautiful photographs and build culture on its brand,” Wolfe said, “can do that inside a booth in a traditional trade show.”
Innovative Meetings is supported by the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau.