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Camping & Hiking

Dealer camps mix outdoor business with gear testing in the elements

SNEWS contributor Eugene Buchanan recently tagged along Big Agnes’ first dealer camp trip, which took place outside the company's hometown of Steamboat, Colo. The camps, increasingly being used by outdoor brands, get dealers and manufacturers out in the elements to talk shop and test gear.

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Talking about gear and showing it to dealers on the trade show floor is one thing. Using it in the environment it was designed for, while climbing a peak your company was named after, quite another.

That was the reasoning behind tent and sleeping bag manufacturer Big Agnes, hosting its first dealer camp, Sept. 17-20, in the Zirkel Wilderness Area, just outside its home of Steamboat Springs, Colo.

“It’s just a great way to get some of our marquee dealers out here to see what we’re all about,” Big Agnes founder and president Bill Gamber told SNEWS. The brand names its products for the mountains, rivers and other natural features in the region. “There’s no better place to talk about your gear than the place it was meant to be used.”

Buyers from outdoor retailers Adventure 16, Summit Hut,, Midwest Mountaineering and EMS took part in the event, which kicked off with local meals and a facility tour of Big Agnes. After being equipped with backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, pads, chair-conversion kits and more, the group set off for Mica Lake in the heart of the Zirkel Wilderness Area a short half-hour drive from town.

Five miles and a couple thousand vertical feet later, they arrived at the quintessential Rocky Mountain lake to fly-fish, swim, set up Big Agnes’s latest and greatest gear, and talk shop — both with designers and company executives, as well as with each other.

“It’s a great way to get a sense for the culture of a company,” said Will Rettig, a buyer from Midwest Mountaineering. “You get a sense of a family when you get invited into their home, and a dealer camp is a lot like that. Plus, the chance to talk to other buyers is also invaluable,” he added. “It validates your own decisions and lets you see what’s working and not working in other people’s territories.”

Big Agnes used the time to showcase such new wares as its Fly Creek Platinum, Scout and FishHook tents (the world’s first zipperless tent with magnetic technology), new sleeping-bag-and-pad systems, and such other SKUs as its chair kit, memory foam pad and more. And it came at a good time for dealers, who had just finished the ordering crunch for spring 2013.

“It’s great to see how they come up with their ideas,” said Andrew Milkovits, the assistant product manager for EMS covering tents, packs, sleeping bags and travel, and who places buys for 70 stores. It’s way better to see their product here than it is the tradeshow floor. Here, you’re using it in the areas that inspired it. And it’s certainly more than the product. It lets you see what the company is all about.”

In Big Agnes’s case, that’s a work hard/play hard attitude that comes across in its entire product line, company officials said.

“I’m a gear geek, so I love this stuff,” said Christo Kuzmich, a buyer for Adventure 16. “At a tradeshow, it’s more business. Here it’s more fun. Even if we’re in the business of fun, there’s nothing like getting out and testing gear with the people who designed it. And to come to a place that many of its products, and even company itself, were named for makes it even better.”

Shop talk complete, attendees settled around a campfire to share tales and s’mores. In the morning, it was off to the summit of Big Agnes Peak, which the company was named after, providing an even closer look at its DNA. From there, it was back down to the Seedhouse Campground in full fall colors for an inside look at the company’s family-style tents, which dealers piled into after a night of margaritas and bluegrass music.

“All in all, it couldn’t have been better,” said Gamber, who said his company is coming off its best year ever. “No one is in this business if they don’t love the outdoors, and this is a great way to get to know some of the people who help bring your products to the end consumer.” In other words, it’s just another day at the office.

–Eugene Buchanan