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Quiet Water Symposium 2008 --- Report and Pics

March 03, 2008

The 2008 QWS was bigger than ever. 100+ booths and 1000+ attendees. It's Michigan's only outdoor "silent sports" show. What a great opportunity to bust some cabin fever!

It might be the only big outdoor trade show that's sponsored by a university. (Any others?) This lets the organizers include folks based on merit rather than cash. (Vestiges of socialism!) It ends up being quite the convivial event.

But what really makes this event tick is the VOLUNTEERS. That's who runs the whole thing!

It's part of MSU's "Agriculture and Natural Resources Week." This was the 92nd Annual such Week! NINETY TWO YEARS!

MSU is the nation's oldest land-grant college. Its mission is to provide a classic education to everyday people. This is NOT the mission of other universities. But I note that due to "these tight times" MSU has cut nearly all money support for the QWS.

So the QWS confab is a BIG statewide tradition. Cool.

(They used to also host a warm-weather outdoor "sports afield" show for the hook'n'bullet set. I hope they revive it!)

So there were THREE BROTHERS who had booths at the show. Cool, huh? : ) My bro Tim had the MSU Bike booth (http://bikes.msu.edu). My bro Kelvin had his salvaged timber sawmill booth (http://ravenfarm.com).

Man, I love the diversity of exhibits at this show. Sailboats, canoes, kayaks---highlight kits and how-to action along with some special hard-to-find made goods. Packbaskets and primitive skills stuff. Fly-tying. Land-use. Trails groups. Boy Scouts. Area history research.

I did meet a lot of neat people at the show---including fans of OYB and pals from the iBOB list---and I did sell a couple dozen books, mags, movies and stickers. People often said they wished the PAPER version of OYB was still available. I'm sure that some truly liked it, but sell-thru of the last issue FLOPPED. Print is changing---for more than just me! The world is changing! Where to next...who knows! Gotta dial in to meet it...

So, here are two marketing reports. One short, one long...

What's in a Name?

I like the QWS name and so do the locals it seems but maybe it's a bit limiting. I like the Michigander joke we play on it: *we* know it's more than watersport. But, really, maybe it's time to let the public in on it. I wonder if a name or subhead that included the whole "Winter Water Wonderland" concept would help...

The public just hasn't caught onto it yet. Maybe because of its basis in the staid MSU Ag Dept? Hmmm, how to build out further on all that... I suppose they would just need more hot PR *volunteers*. They do get in the news and in all the listings. The awareness just hasn't penetrated yet.


OK, here's my lengthy analysis of what went down at the OYB booth.

The OYB booth is a work in progress. I had my media on display plus a variety of DIY outdoor fun stuff. It's fun to dial in on what works and what doesn't. Clutter is bad. A shelf of books, spine out, is bad.

I had 3 laptops. My website was on one. Another was playing the "Unlimited" DVD featuring XC ski action---the only all-seasons outdoor sport movie. Another was playing Bill Mason's "Waterwalker" movie---the alltime best canoe movie. A total flop.

My pile of diverse outdoor mags: flop.

Books: flop.

This stuff all requires some concentration. Show visitors don't play that.

The fun stuff grabbed everyone---I had a hand-whittled longbow, a makeshift kicksled (spark), a superfast modified snowsled and a StrideGlide.com adult scooter. A couple dozen people glommed onto the scooter---it was all over the arena. Young and old.

If I had books about each of those toys---people would've loved em. That's the lesson! Everything fits together. Nothing abstract will work. (Does it ever?)

I coulda sold copies of the "Bowyer's Bible" or a longbow video. Or the "Boy's Dangerous Book" and the "Boy's Handy Book." But there's no bolting skis to the bottom of a tub sled in it. Hmmm... The "Atomic Zombie Bike Book" is a great homebrew DIY bike book that shows you how to make quality freak bikes. But no scooter in it. Still, it might've sold.

But a book alone don't stand a chance at a hands-on show like this.

My booth should maybe be set up with a sign saying "If you like this kind of stuff..." over a table of homestyle goodies then another sign that says "...Then you'll love this media" over my shelf of books and mags. Might work. A little. How-to books would work a lot better, I suspect. Maybe I need babysteps. Catch em with the fun stuff. Show em how with the how-to books then lead em over into the indy DIY worldview...

I guess I'm peeved at the total takeover of outdoor publishing by the guidebooks. They might as well be coupon books. Coupons are great, but there's so much more. The exploration of ideas, slowly, in print is vital if outdoor sports are to thrive. It's not just about motion and doing. There is VALUE behind these things that needs to be THOUGHT about and uplifted and worked at. Then you go do your tromping around. Everything is so split apart in our world today...

This lesson might also apply to this OYB website. I think every article page should look more like the homepage---it should display related items for sale. And another row of related articles to read. People who visit my site sometimes "get it" but mostly they just come in via a Google hit then read a piece or buy a book...and then go. They don't realize that there's more where it came from. And that what they're seeing is part of a broader worldview which is the whole point of OYB. I need to redesign my site to get that message across better. (Help?)

But enough about OYB... Here's some PITCHERS!

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