West Virginia products get big push at Pipestem event
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When employees of Corporate Identity showed up at Pipestem State Park's first trade show 12 years ago, they didn't even take along an order pad. They thought the event was more of an "informational thing," sales manager Tim Beavers said.
But the Summers County annual marketplace, which brings wholesale vendors and buyers together for a three-day event, now "sets the tone" for the Cross Lanes business, Beavers said.
Vendors from around the state and surrounding states meet at the annual trade show to make some of their biggest sales of the year. Wholesale buyers -- mostly state park gift shops and businesses -- put in large orders for West Virginia-themed apparel, jewelry and souvenirs.
The trade show, which is free to attend, runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday.
"This show is an annual kickoff for the year for us," Beavers said, standing in the company's showroom and surrounded by merchandise. Corporate Identity is a logo company that specializes in corporate apparel and promotional products.
"We pick up phenomenal customers from that show," he said.
Some trade shows "involve trick-or-treaters" who walk around more to look than to shop.
"We didn't realize it really is a buying show," Beavers said.
Teresa Mansfield, who organizes the show, said the buyers are typically other state park gift shops, hospital state parks, rafting retailers, and West Virginia businesses. While the public is welcome to attend, most shoppers buy wholesale, she said.
More than 50 vendors pay $175 for a registration fee and to rent a booth for the three-day event, Mansfield said.
The vendors are primarily from West Virginia, but some travel from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, she said.
They line tables in Pipestem's McKeever Lodge conference room with handcrafted jewelry, homemade jams, and shirts splashed with "Wild and Wonderful West Virginia." The vendors sit down one-on-one with each customer to discuss big orders or they may schedule future appointments, Mansfield said.
Chip Turner has sold his handcrafted and mouth-blown glassware at the trade show for at least eight years.
Turner said the show is a good event for Appalachian Glass, his family-owned business based in Weston. By the end of the trade show, the glassblower said he meets with up to 100 buyers.
His glass ornaments and ring holders are sold in small stores throughout 37 states. Tamarack - which sells a lot of Corporate Identity merchandise -- carries Appalachian Glass products, too.
Turner said the marketplace is successful because the customers are people who still want to shop American-made.
"When you have 20 million people out of work in America, the only way you're going to get those people back to work is for American companies to produce more American products," Turner said. "People realize that this stuff that's coming in from overseas is putting people here out of work.
"There's a grassroots movement to buy as much American-made product as they can to put Americans back to work."
Beavers said Corporate Identity also has customers who "still will not buy anything else other than American made."
Corporate Identity is expecting even more of those customers with a new product the company plans to launch at the trade show.
The logo company has made numerous, never-before-seen t-shirt designs for the Boy Scouts of America's 10,600-acre Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County.
The Scouts plan to complete the $200 million Summit project by July but screen-printed t-shirts touting the indoor and outdoor parks will already be on shelves and selves.
"We will have five displays at the trade show but one will be dedicated to the Boy Scouts' Summit shirts," Beavers said. "Every year we've written more business."
Beavers stood in Corporate Identity's showroom - "a complete mess," he said - that was clearly getting ready for the following week's event.
A shelf lined with West Virginia University-themed coffee mugs stood near the rack of Summit shirts.
The sales manager said Pipestem's marketplace is a chance for West Virginia business owners to buy items off one another to sell in their own stores.
Turner likes to buy small coal figurines, jellies and honey for Appalachian Glass.
"This show is more localized. We've done business with the people for so long, it's almost like we're family," Beavers said.
For more information about Pipestem State Park's marketplace, call Mansfield at 304-466-1800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Megan Workman at email@example.com or 304-348-5113.