It’s all still a bit of a blur. My brain hurts, my quads are worse and I’m having reoccurring dreams about losing a game of tug-of-war to The Boy Scouts. Let me explain. We had an opportunity to attend the Outdoor Industry Association’s Rendezvous conference tucked away in the dense Appalachian forest just outside of Asheville, NC. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the area, Asheville in October is rightfully considered the most beautiful place on earth, and the Omni Grove Park Inn where we stayed is in my opinion the coolest resort east of the Mississippi. For any millennial reading this blog, imagine a Harry Potter Castle, but with a spa, golf course and unparalleled views of the smoky mountains. You might think that a conference for outdoorsy types would require us to “rough it”, or go “glamping”, but I can assure you that this was nowhere near survival in the wilderness.
The setting allowed plenty of room for two things:
- Getting Inspired
- Meeting Great People.
It’s as simple as that. The OIA picked this magical place, brought together aprox. 400 outdoor professionals and coordinated a series of educational events, activities and seminars that could fill 3 pocket pads from cover to cover with new ideas and action items.
The attendees from Digital Operative, which included myself and BJ Cook (our CEO), decided that the best way to kick-off a long week of brain teasing seminars and intense networking events was to help grow outdoor participation. AKA, we went mountain biking. Our friends at Slyvan Sports sponsored all the outdoor activities for the week, and bombing down single track in the Pisgah National Forest with guides from Bike Farm seemed like the logical choice. By the way, if you want to be a car camping hero, check out the trailers at Slyvan Sport!
After 1,500 feet of climbing, and 15 miles of some of the best, root choked, flowing single track of my life, we were ready to learn and immerse ourselves at the conference. But first we had to give back to the local community.
Timberland sponsored a local river cleanup for the 16th year in a row. A couple hundred outdoor employees dawning garden gloves and trash bags, hit the coastline or hopped in an inflatable raft to clean a few miles of the French Broad River. BJ and I chose to clean with the team of rafts and helped pull out hundreds of pounds of garbage, including some big ticket items like a tractor tire, a wicker dining set, and a container of rotten chicken livers.
I had the proud distinction of being that day’s only “swimmer”, which is short for me plunging backwards over the rails of the raft into icy cold water, and trying to keep a smile on my face for the next hour while my body experienced first stage hypothermia.
The next few days were filled with incredible speakers, educational seminars and more opportunities to network with the variety of brands and employees in attendance. From unique start-up companies like Parks Project to keystone industry brands like The North Face, from Marketing Mgrs to CEO’s, every conversation was filled with enthusiasm, best practices and staying relevant to the ever changing consumer.
At the event, Digital Operative partnered with the Outdoor Foundation to promote a contest built on our Contest Core platform (read more about the platform here), challenging the outdoor industry to Get You(th) Outdoors. When you’re inside the outdoor industry, it’s easy to forget that it took someone, be it a camp counselor, family member or friend, to introduce you to the outdoors. This initiative that launched at Rendezvous will help outdoor industry employees upload and share their inspirational stories, photos, ideas and suggestions for getting more kids outside. Of course there will be great prizes, and 3 $500 grants to local youth based non-profits, as an extra incentive to participate. Being a part of such a great initiative has been a privilege and one that the team members at Digital Operative are proud to support with their time and expertise.
Rendezvous culminated in a team building Scottish games festival, where I found myself on the wrong side of an all out tug-of-war battle. OIA employees in kilts, a bag piper, caber tossing fun noodles and of course a bluegrass band and great food made this the highlight of the show. By the time the week was over I felt like I had made real connections with real people. Sometimes (dare I say it coming from a digital agency), e-mail or LinkedIn cannot replace quality face-to-face time.
My brain is still overflowing with new insights into the outdoor industry, conversations with brands facing the real and sometimes scary leap into omni-channel retailing, and ideas for making Digital Operative a better partner in the outdoors. Next year’s Rendezvous in Seattle is already on the calendar, and this time I will choose a non-water activity.