The creator and owner of a cutting-edge hiking and backpacking gear company leveraged a $5,000 state grant to showcase new products and generate leads at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Colorado this summer.
When Brian Vargo created Vargo Outdoors, he never thought it’d be such a success 16 years later – let alone talking with distributors from Canada, Japan, South Korea, and others at the show this year.
His company’s hallmark is titanium-based products, which are strong, lightweight, and heat resistant. His first and most well-known product is the 1-ounce Triad Stove, which has an integrated pot support – the original of its kind. When he invented the product, others had a separate pot support unit.
That product’s popularity exploded, and fast-forward to this summer’s show, he introduced his most recently created product: the Vargo No-Fly 2 Person Tent. This backpacking tent is different from others because of the new Quadrapoint System setup Vargo designed – he got rid of the tentpole sleeves and clips and instead uses four strategically located insertion poles. These allow campers to set up the tent by inserting the tentpole in one hole and through the other side and through the opposing side – and set up is done. He also integrated the rain fly and created a hybrid between a single-wall and double-wall tent. While it isn’t made of titanium, it fits into the lightweight category.
This tent is in production and will be available in late September. He received positive feedback at the show, and a Japanese distributor showed interest.
Vargo also met with multiple retailors and international media representatives, including Backpacker Magazine that’s testing his tent in Denali, Alaska. If they like his product, he may get an award for it from the magazine in the spring.
“Media have become more of an influencer than anything else,” Vargo said. “The media representation is vast, including international media. We doubled our media appointments at the show this year.”
The Global Access Program (GAP) grant offset most of Vargo’s travel costs to the tradeshow. The program assists small to mid-sized Pennsylvania companies increase export sales. GAP is administered by the Pennsylvania Office of International Business Development (OIBD). The program is funded in part through a grant with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Noelle Long, SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) Export Development Program director, assisted Vargo with the application. Vargo said Long is his go-to Export person.
“Noelle is the contact person for my company to keep us informed about what’s happening for export,” he said.
Long said many people don’t realize the GAP grant can be used for certain domestic shows in addition to international shows.
“The GAP grant is yet another tool for companies to add to their international marketing kit. Companies can be strategic in using this to help offset costs associated with trade show expenses, foreign market sales trips, Department of Commerce products, and so much more,” Long said.
Vargo said he’s used the GAP funds in the past for international shows like the Germany Outdoor Show. However, he realized that the Outdoor Retailer Show in Colorado attracts hundreds of international distributors and that’d be a great use for the funds.
“Those international buyers go to the Outdoor Retailer Show in the U.S. looking to buy U.S. products,” he said. “For me to develop international business, the best place is here.”
He started the company in 2002 when he had an epiphany while backpacking – he saw an opportunity to sell titanium backpacking and hiking gear Business-to-Business (B2B) since companies weren’t doing that.
“The moment I showed all those B2B distributors, they all said they’d buy it. They all knew they couldn’t buy it elsewhere. So, it was a combination of having my original ideas and understanding the distribution system,” Vargo said.
Another Vargo top-selling product is the BOT, a combination of a bottle and a pot.
“I thought, why am I carrying a mug and a bottle? If I could convert my bottle into my pot, it’d be one less thing to carry on backpacking and hiking trips,” Vargo said.
That gave birth to the BOT, which people can drink and cook from, and the lid can be converted into a pot lid. “The concept was to have a truly dual-use product where you could drink out of it during the day and cook with it when you camp at night,” he said.
For more information about Vargo Outdoors, visit www.vargooutdoors.com. For more information about GAP, visit https://dced.pa.gov/programs/global-access-program-gap/.
SEDA-COG’s Export Development team serves the businesses and communities of central Pennsylvania by encouraging and facilitating economic development through growth in world trade. It is funded by the state Department of Community & Economic Development’s Office of International Business Development and Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance.
For more information about SEDA-COG’s Export Development Program, contact Noelle Long at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-524-4491.