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A First Time AOA Conference Attendee's Blog

trade show

 Our first experience at the AOA conference.

After a hectic travel day we were thankful to have made it safe and sound to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the America Outdoors Association (AOA) 2013 Confluence. The AOA Confluence features valuable seminars on risk management, improving profitability, operations, plus the Outfitter Expo trade show featuring all the products needed for our outdoor business. In a day and age where digital and online communication are the norm, taking advantage of the opportunity to meet our vendors and suppliers face to face, network with like-minded businesses, and learn from marketing professionals, online strategists, and brand evangelists was an exciting engagement for our small Maine rafting company. "Renew, Motivate, Collaborate, Enjoy" was this year's motto and I can say that each one of these words resonated through me at some point throughout the time I spent at the Confluence, and continue today.

My husband Jeremy and I started our business in 2007. He has been in the industry since 1997, myself since 2000, and I'm not going to lie at the end of 2013 I was feeling a little burned out. In a time where people want instant gratification, where they cross things off their bucket lists and move on to the next adventure, or are wrapped up in paying as little as possible for a service that costs more for the company than what was paid, it gets challenging. We had the pleasure of listening to Ira Blumenthal kick off the Confluence with "Collaborative Advantage Leads to Competitive Advantage". In less than an hour I was feeling a sense of renewal. Assurance that we are doing many of the right things through our business partnerships and providing value to our services that our guests can truly conceptualize. I was reminded that we need to begin with the end in mind and Northeast Whitewater is going there - through distinction.

It was important for us to split up and attend different seminars. We have different roles at Northeast Whitewater; mine being the front line through public relations and online marketing, and his being operations, finance and SEO. All of the featured speakers at AOA were excellent, each bringing their own expertise to their thoughtful and informative presentations. Two of my favorites were Author & Digital Strategist, Lisa Buyer and Rebecca Murtagh, Marketing Professional & Entrepreneur.

It was also my responsibility to attend the Risk Management seminars for insurance purposes. In my former life I worked in the insurance field, a different line, but the same animal. We have a great company that insures our business. Most people can't even imagine the amount of people that we have to list as additionally insured, related to road and land access, let alone the liability associated with our property and guided services. Thankfully, our agent Jim makes the process easier for us.

We bounced between seminars and the Outfitter Expo trade show, excited about finding new lines of retail for our shop in Greenville. We chatted with our current vendors and connected with new ones. Making that face to face connection provides so much satisfaction. You know the person on the other line now, because you actually can put a face with their name or voice. Respect and understanding elevate. This is an important addition to who Northeast Whitewater is and where we are going. Stay tuned, so that we can get to know each other better.

We met with Nathan, the creator of our online reservation system. We have some exciting plans for 2014 to make the reservation process easier for our guests, and some fun networking ideas. Since returning from the Confluence, I have spent countless hours on our system upgrade and am looking forward to the unveiling this season.

We purchase our on-the-water river shirts and our most popular t-shirt, the River Map T from Kurt, one of our sales reps. Whether it is a Kennebec River Map, Penobscot River Map or Canada Falls River Map, this shirt is a hit with all of our guests! We've added a few more female cuts, but the really cool feature is that we have added a splash map style.
We also had the pleasure of getting to know reps at three other sportswear companies. All three of these companies are going to provide some new life and color into our rafting gift shop in 2014. From moose gifts to hard core raft shirts; with the help of these companies, we'll have guests living the river life!

The owner of one of our suppliers is a total hoot. Beth has the best personality, is full of life, and knows the importance of outfitting rafting companies with the best gear and provides the best service. I couldn't wait to meet her and she greeted me with the warmest hug!”

Our beautiful red rafts are built by a company in Idaho that builds, packages, sells, ships AND at the end of the day gets on the water to go boating. Our latest purchase, an inflatable couch! Our couch is going to be red with our Northeast Whitewater logo; a fun addition for groups to have their morning photos taken on before their river trip. Also, new this year, is our first Penobscot River SPORT RAFT!!! This is going to be the highlight for river rafting diehards at Northeast Whitewater this season.

What was really neat about seeing one of our vendors at the show, was that Charlie Walbridge, a nationally known whitewater safety expert with over 40 years of river running experience and the instructor for Jeremy's first swiftwater rescue instructor training program, was manning the booth! Jeremy and Charlie reminisced, talked shop and enjoyed catching up with each other.

Making all of these personal connections, I felt a sense of renewed energy, my focus and motivation was back on track, thanks to my membership and participation in the America Outdoors Association. "Confluence", a gathering at one juncture, was so much more than the simple definition of where rivers meet, it was where I went to connect and meet with others face to face to collaborate, to enjoy the experience of connecting with like-minded people that have similar goals, aspirations, that love rivers and the American outdoors.

The travel challenges we faced were part of the adventure of getting to Albuquerque. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. Arriving at your destination is all about the experience to actual get there; the people that you meet along the way, the feelings that you have during your travels; and what you learn about each other and most importantly yourself.  Remember the importance of personal connections, travel, growth and we hope you come to see Northeast Whitewater in Maine this season.  Thanks to the America Outdoors Confluence, we have a renewed outlook, and 2014 is going to be a great year.  Daytona, here we come!

Thoughtfully submitted by Jessica Hargreaves, Co-owner Northeast Whitewater
You can see Part 1 of this blog on Jessica’s website,

Make plans now to be in Daytona Beach, Florida, December 3-5 for our 2014 meeting!

Conference registration information will be available soon.
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