January 31
KTAI Show in New Orleans

I'm writing this on the flight home from New Orleans. What a trip!

Susie and I see pictures of ourselves at these things and wonder why we look so awful. Puffy faces, bloodshot eyes, and sagging posture. But then we remember the early breakfast meetings, scrambling to set up our booth, running to workshops and programs, talking and selling nonstop all week, gorging ourselves on great food, and "working" the bar until late at night. Our voices are hoarse and we ache from head to foot from standing all day and hardly sleeping at all.

To feel this bad, you really have to be having a wonderful time!

Show Overview

The Kite Trade Association Annual Convention is the premier gathering of kite designers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers on the planet. This year, 60 exhibitors filled 100 booths. But the numbers are misleading. Our little booth alone represented GKPI product, Carlisle Kiteworks, Peter Lynn, and LOGO of Hamburg. Some distributors had products from a dozen sources. So easily 200 manufacturers were represented at the show from firms from across North America, Europe and Asia.

We arrived on Sunday and had one day to look around the city. The New Orleans mystique is evident everywhere. On the waterfront, I met a man with the amazing ability to guess where anyone had got their shoes. He taught me the secret for $5 and if you ask, I'll do the same for you.

We returned to the hotel to begin booth set-up and watch an empty exhibit hall slowly transform into kite Mecca. One perogative of being president is to get an early start since we had a Board of Directors meeting scheduled for Tuesday during normal set-up time.

GKPI Booth Logo Codys

Most exhibitors went to work on Tuesday while retailers gathered for a series of information exchanges. Owners of stores sat down to share ideas on what was selling well around the country or how to better promote the industry. Later, a "Retail Boot Camp" was scheduled for new store owners to learn more about displays, employee hiring and training, building a market, organizing festivals and events, and using the internet.

Wednesday morning, members attended the annual business meeting where the Board reported on activities, finances, and programs. Elections were held and Brian Smith of Active People was selected as the new president. (I was retiring after two years in charge). Immediately afterwards, the Show doors opened.

Cobra booth

Stepping into the huge hall of kites is an awesome and intimidating prospect. Its awesome because there is so much to see. Its intimidating because buyers only have three days to examine the products, meet with exhibitors, and place orders. Usually, significant discounts are available on wholesale prices (as much as 20%) and store owners work late into the evening reviewing catalogs and narrowing choices.

Obviously, the Show is closed to the public. The focus is solely on manufacturers selling to resellers.

Working my own booth, I had little time to really examine the other exhibits. But I did build general impressions talking to buyers as the week unfolded.

The major manufacturers -- Go Fly, Premier, Spectra, and New Tech -- continue to dominate the retail market and most stores were focusing their purchases with those suppliers. The majority of retailers are selling to first-time, smaller investment kite consumers so it made sense for them to concentrate their orders with the "big four". Buyers could count on the quality and availability of product, and could earn larger discounts by placing larger orders.

The unfortunate side-effect of an industry dominated by several large suppliers is that stores begin to look more and more the same and offer less and less to the more advanced consumer. Similarly, it becomes harder for smaller manufacturers to survive. We simply can't compete with the prices offered by distributors that import product 10,000 pieces at a time.

AKA booth
New Tech booth

Another interesting observation is that the larger firms are now beginning to produce more serious kites. Reza Genkis, Randy Tom Roks, Stanfield Eddies and Joel Scholz designs are now being mass produced. This has the benefit of bringing a larger variety of designs to the market at more affordable prices, but also increases pressure on the smaller producers. And of course, quality naturally suffers when the kite isn't actually made by the artist.

That's the way business works. To be competitive, you have to be smart.

GKPI just competed our best year ever. We continue to be the leading source of line laundry, ground bouncers, baskets, balls and bols. We also have the largest selection of more serious single line kites including our big SkyFoils, larger Codys, signature kites personally made by Kevin Shannon, and Peter Lynn inflatables. Our particular market is relatively small, and larger firms don't have the ability to produce custom colors with the quick turn-around we offer. Our other advantage is that we actually fly the large kites we sell.

On the dual-line front, there seemed to be few "break-out" designs or new developments. The big news was the amazing Prism CD ROM that featured flying lessons, and a virtual factory tour. Manufacturers continue to express concern about future availability of quality framing material at lower costs.

Prism booth Revolution Booth

The most evident trend was in power, traction, and boarding. A dozen new or improved "engines" were on display stretching across the trade show airspace. Even Revolution displayed an eighteen foot rigid wing for power flying. An afternoon workshop on Kite Boarding was standing room only as retail stores scramble to learn the new market and begin to compete with the wind surf and surfing stores.

A three hour demonstration field on Thursday was cold and windy, but with the help of the Crescent City kite Club, most new kites were available for testing. Buyers came back to the Show with new insights and placed more orders.

Friday evening, the annual award banquet recognized the best industry achievements of 1999. Great Winds in Seattle was named best Retail Store and Prism Design as Best Manufacturer. AKA's Kiting was chosen as the best magazine, reflecting the many changes that Roger Chewing has implemented over the past year. Into the Wind was again named for the best Retail Catalog. KiteLife.com won solid recognition for best web page. And I was honored with the Checkley Award for Most Significant Contribution to the Kite Industry.

Elephant Show

Next year, KTAI heads for Prim, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas.

For those retail stores who say it is too expensive, I say that the Show is an important investment and that they need to be there not just to see the new products, but also for the discounts, the personal contacts, and the sharing of information. You can't afford *not* to come.

And for you flier frustrated that you aren't supposed to come, the good news is that a demo festival is planned for right after the formal show. You may not be able to get into the exhibition hall, but you will still get some hands-on time with all of the newest and coolest products in the market.


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