We are talking industry trade shows today. Specifically, today’s guest is Travis Williams, who founded sToKed Climbing with his wife, Kimberly, and more recently founded the Indoor Climbing Expo. More than a trade show, the Expo is a new industry gathering, or festival, that combines routesetting clinics, educational sessions, roundtables, competitions, local crag tours, and of course plenty of networking opportunities. The Expo will be held in Tennessee at the Chattanooga Convention Center from December 13-16, and CBJ is actually the official media partner for the event. So, we wanted to circle up with Travis on a podcast episode to talk a little more about the Expo, the idea behind the event, who will be there and who should be there—which means you! The Expo was made for all professionals and climbers in the industry.
00:00 – Intro
04:48 – From sToKed to the Indoor Climbing Expo
06:25 – A different trade show
08:11 – Expo prep and red tape
09:45 – Vision for the Expo
13:32 – Marketing through word of mouth
15:33 – The target population of the Expo
18:46 – Roundtables, presentations
22:53 – Climbing in Chattanooga
26:29 – Expo prep challenges
28:49 – Finding information about the Expo
30:38 – Closing
BURGMAN: You founded sToKed Climbing, which sells a lot of stuff—soft goods, chalk bags, T-shirts, and also volumes. How does someone go from selling that stuff to starting a climbing industry trade show?
WILLIAMS: …So, it’s actually me and my wife Kimberly. The capital T and K in sToKed is for Travis and Kimberly, and our logo is actually a T and a K put together. She runs the software; I do the volumes. And so, just really going to CWA Summit and meeting other small businesses and even bigger businesses and making those connections through the years, and then just having good relationships, and then the timing was right. A few of the exhibitors that typically go to CWA were hoping for something a little different and they backed the idea when I first initially had it, like last September/October. Once they said, “Yeah, I’ll support you,” I decided to go all in and push for it…
When you say that people were wanting a trade show that was something a little different, can you expound on that? What were they wanting that was different from what the other trade shows were offering?
I think one of the big things is having a location that stays the same when it comes to the exhibitor side of things, and then also somehow drawing a different crowd. Because the CWA Summit, OR…those are great, but they have the tendency to bring the same people together—which is good for catching up and all that, but how do we actively chase new individuals coming? And then also allowing easier access to some of the things that are available for exhibitors. Coming to Chattanooga has really helped us because they call it a “little big city,” and it really is. It’s really big, there’s a lot of people here, but you can go and talk to anyone at any business. You can go to the tourism board, the city council, and talk to these individuals and get things done. Whereas in bigger cities, as I was scoping out different locations to go, it was just a lot more red tape and harder to deal with and a lot more to facilitate for them, whereas Chattanooga is facilitating for us. So, there’s just a lot of good things that came about, and it’ll allow us to do what we need to do for our exhibitors…
So, tell me what your vision is for this expo. Who should be interested in attending? Who should be interested in being a vendor? Tell me a little bit about how you visualize this going down.
Yeah, pretty easy: everyone. [laughs] If you climb, come on out…Right now, we have a lot of business professionals signed up to come, and we’re starting to really focus now on just climbers, consumers. We want everyone there. We’re even working with the city to provide a space for Sprinter vans to come out and park for free and camp. And even if these climbers don’t end up coming to the Expo, at least they’ll be here climbing in Chattanooga, and maybe their friends will come and hang out and then they’ll go to the Expo. So, we’re trying to bring in more of a B2C side of things for the Expo floor. Which, it dilutes the attendee base a little bit for some of the companies that are used to going to some of the other shows. But my thought is: You can have a dirtbag climber come out and see your product and think it’s the coolest thing ever, and then he’s out belaying a CEO of this company or this person, and word of mouth is still one of the best things I think available to businesses, and I think it’s coming back around. More people want to know the company that’s behind a product and who are the people running it, what are their values. And so, I think just having those relationships, having those conversations, even with someone who’s not going to buy your product, is valuable. I’m trying to bring that to the Expo floor.
If we can manage that, it will allow us to bring in some of the brands that have gotten away from doing your typical trade show events, like some of the rope brands, some of the shoe brands. Just because, for the dollars that they spend, they can put that into other advertising that has more ROI on it. But if we can get more just general climbers coming, then they can see value in showing up at a trade show like this. And if they show up, that just means there are cooler things that can happen for us as far as the Expo, and then what goes on in the city too, as far as after-parties, stuff like that—things these brands can bring to Chattanooga and make this thing really cool. So that’s our focus right now, just getting more climbers coming, and some more of those brands that would benefit from having climbers come in…
I think when people think of trade shows, industry trade shows for climbing, of course they’re going to think of the CWA Summit and Halls & Walls. And a big part of those trade shows has been roundtable discussions (and presentations). Is that going to be a part of the Indoor Climbing Expo?
Yeah, for sure. We definitely see the value in that. We don’t want to try and be the other trade shows, but there is value there as far as being able to convince a business to bring out their crew: “What benefit is this to my business?” Do you know what I mean? And so, that’s where the roundtables come in. We also think the education aspect of it is good, starting discussions is good. So, we will have roundtables Wednesday, Thursday, Friday before the Expo starts, at 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. They’re an hour long. We’re going to have panels of four to six individuals that know what they’re talking about…
A lot of this, what I’m setting up, I have limited knowledge in. But if we can get professionals that know what they’re doing talking about it…And then what we’re going to do is do surveys and try and get some of the general questions that are out there and then address those in the roundtable, have about 40 minutes of that, and then about 15 minutes of Q&A. And then we’re going to have on the Expo floor when it starts at noon a space where these roundtable individuals that are taking the lead in it will be available to further that conversation. So, we’re hoping the roundtable will answer some very important questions that are out there on everyone’s minds, and then start discussions that will linger into the day. And that’s our goal with those. So, it’s maybe a little bit different format, but that’s what we’re trying to do. We have one on opening a gym, we have one on insurance, one on gym-to-crag programming, sustainability—stuff like that, topics that we’re all interested in, and hopefully have professionals that will be able to answer some of the questions that don’t always get answered…
So, let’s help the brands out or the people out if they’re listening to this. Again, the Indoor Climbing Expo, it’s at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Tennessee, December 13th to the 16th. Brands and people and routesetters and gym owners and managers, anybody listening to this—as you said, anybody that’s a climber—would love being a part of this. How can those people find out more information about this event? Where can they go if they want to get registered to be there? What can they do?
So first off, it’d be awesome if you could follow us on Instagram (@IndoorClimbingExpo). And then, our website is indoorclimingexpo.com, so you can go there, find out some details. We are working on that. It’s kind of just a placeholder website that will directly link you to our registration path, but there’s enough details there for you to find hotel pricing. You can book a hotel at our discounted rate and register there. Right now, registration for the four days is $100. It’ll slightly increase as we get closer, ultimately being $150 for the four days. We are going to be working with some athletes to support us and to support them. Keep an eye out for a promo code that’ll save you $20 off, and it’ll actually pay the athlete the same. So, keep an eye out for that and maybe wait to support one of them, or go ahead and register now and get set up to come out—because we’ll have lots of fun, don’t you worry!
John Burgman is the author of High Drama, a book that chronicles the history of American competition climbing. He is a Fulbright journalism grant recipient and a former magazine editor. He holds a master’s degree from New York University and bachelor’s degree from Miami University. In addition to writing, he coaches a youth bouldering team. Follow him on Twitter @John_Burgman and Instagram @jbclimbs. Read our interview Meet John Burgman, U.S. Comp Climbing’s Top Journalist.