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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Moshing at Outdoor

By Kenny Stocker | 01, Aug, 2009

The Alpkit team visit European Outdoor in Friedrichshafen

Alpkit at a show reserved for the Outdoors Industry! Sounds fishy, everyone knows they do not sell through distributors or retail stores. The truth is that we have been going to European Outdoor at Friedrichshafen since way back when. It all started when Nick and Jim were working for previous companies. In those days they had a trade stand, in fact they built their own trade stand and courted buyers, distributors, press and young hopefulls looking for sponsorship. Since starting Alpkit we go for different reasons, we meet suppliers, we catch up with old friends, we see what funky things other brands are doing and we ride the mechanical bull! In many respects the tables have been turned, we get to eat their snacks and for us at least it is a lot more chilled out. Outdoor show vetran Nick and Outdoor noobie Jenni walk the halls.

Trying to ignore all the great parties for a moment the other really important reason for going is to meet our suppliers, talk through existing products and plan new ones, it sure does cut out a lot of travelling. We have a weird relationship with some of our suppliers, not in a terrible way, not through lack of experience, but as we have grown as a company so we have raised what we expect from our suppliers. We have proven over the years that although our range is small and eclectic Alpkit can mosh as good as the next brand, and in the case of some products sell more than many of the big distributors.

The Patagonia and Arc'teryx stands were full of very beautiful and inspiring clothes and equipment. I hadn't realised just how big either brand was. They've simply never really cropped up on my radar when I've been buying kit. Is it because I'm shopping in the wrong places or are they totally under-represented in the UK?

For the past year or so we have been trying to sign an international brand, this isn't meant to be a departure from what Alpkit is, more a recognition that there may be certain products that we should leave to the experts. Anyway we have been battling to sign them up, written essays on international marketing strategies, and explained why we could be part of that. We love their products and they seem to like what we do, they have even accepted that our little old web store can match the clout of a few hundred specialist stores.

However we just couldn't sign up on the dotted line because they work with REI who sell one of their items for US$80 and all their new European partners where happy to sell this particular item for €85. We have looked at all the shipping costs, sales taxes and duty rates and there is no reason for this disparity in price. The simple reason was these European companies were willing to accept the difference, not one of them questioned it. These are big companies with clever people, but they are happy to pay more for stuff than they need to.

So despite the fact that we didn't sign the deal, we still want to sign then up. And they know it, in fact we told them that, and we hope they are wrong with their strategy. In a strange way we got the feeling that they might think we are right as well.

There were more tents than I could shake a lightweight, packable stick at. I hadn’t fully appreciated that in order to go ultra-lightweight, you may have to accept a single skin shelter. I would worry about condensation. I loved the Mountain Hardware base camp tents. The vents on the side are not escape chutes as Col and Kenny had me believe.
Counterfeiting, copying and knockoffs, this is the ugly side of product development. The problem with it is that it isn't black at white. It such a grey area it is difficult to know who is right and who is wrong. This year we had to make a strong point to one of our factories that although they make our product and have a strong hand in it's development that they still have to be careful. Basically they have started to supply another UK company with a similar product. It doesn't really affect us but had we been the other company we would have been royally miffed trying to sell a rucksack for £65 when there is some one else with something pretty similar for £20. Their argument was that they designed it, but over the years we have changed the internal roll material, fabric, webbing, design of the shoulder strap and back design which are all now common features on the other companies product. Tricky isn't it.
 
The fashion show was a lot more energetic than I was expecting. I loved the Meindl skitt. Men and women in Lederhosen and Meindl boots. It’s good to stick to your roots. The colours of the clothes on show were in line with the ideas we’ve had for next season’s down jackets, which is reassuring.
 
Blatant copying can also be flattery. During our wanderings we bumped in Andy Utting (MD of Terranova) and couldn't resist asking him what his response to the new Scutumn tent from Vaude, aka Terra Nova Laserlite. To be fair he was quite magnanimous in his comments saying that it showed how good their design was, and that he was surprised how long it had taken for someone to copy it. It was pretty clear that the design came from a sample being sent out to Asia with a note saying make a tiny bit bigger. Later in the show we even found out who sent it to the factory and it wasn't Vaude.

Good things come to those that wait. For 8 years we have wanted to work with a particular factory, that's a little before Alpkit started but that's just how it is in the world of product development. Anyway finally we are getting to work with one of the best factories of their type to manufacture our products. We got to speak to their Big Cheese and he like the sound of what we want to do, so although we already make these products only now can we really start to kick some butt. It is going to mean an increase in price but it does mean the product will be awesome.

There were lots of men at Outdoor. There weren’t so many women. Is this representative of the outdoor industry? If so, I wonder why this is? Is it because, in order to work in the industry, you often have a background in a sport that you enjoy and that women feel that such activities are more suited for their male counterparts or is it that they are simply not as interested in the outdoors and the associated industry as men are?

AlpNicks show favourite

New Trainers by New Balance. For me this was just an example of a brand finally making a product that I would by from them. Ever since Chris Townsend talked about using NB575 in his PCT walks. I've always had a soft spot for NB but never actually thought about buying them.

European Outdoor is Europes leading trade fair for the outdoors industry

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