Expo has everything

SHREVEPORT, La. — Skeet Reese would rather have been fishing this week. But he didn’t have a lot of time to sit around and think about not qualifying for this year’s Bassmaster Classic on the Red River, where he won the Classic in 2009.

“I don’t have any idea how many autographs I signed,” said Reese, who was working at the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods. Reese spent half of Saturday in the Dick’s Sporting Goods booth, before coming to the CenturyLink Center to do color commentary for the television broadcast of the Classic.

“They sold so many of my (signature) rods and reels and Trokar Hooks yesterday that they overnight shipped more in today,” Reese said. “Sales have far exceeded the forecast. We were almost out of inventory again today when I left.”

When the Bassmaster Classic was held here in 2009, a record on-site crowd of 138,000 attended the daily weigh-ins and the Expo. Saturday, it appeared this area was well on its way to setting another attendance record. The aisles in the Shreveport Convention Center were jammed.

“Shreveport is one of the best places we visit,” said Stan Lawing, who was working in the Brannan’s Bass Shop booth. “People are out shopping, not just looking.”

Most of the people were shopping for fishing equipment, naturally. But the bass fishing crowd has attracted the attention of other businesses as well. Bonnie Plants began sponsoring Elite Series angler Keith Poche a year ago. With Poche qualifying for his first Classic this year, Bonnie Plants decided to become an exhibitor at the Expo.

When Poche was atop the leaderboard after Day One of the Classic, the Bonnie Plants representatives were ecstatic.

“Leading the first day in his first Classic, it was great for him and great for us,” district manager Sidney Phelps said. “We just hope that it continues and he has a great season.”

No matter where Poche finishes in this Classic, it will be a positive experience for his Bonnie Plants sponsor. Vince Culpepper is a senior buyer for the national plant wholesaler based in Alabama. Culpepper and Poche became friends through bass fishing a few years ago, and that relationship has blossomed.

“I went to the Classic last year in New Orleans with my wife and kids,” Culpepper said. “They had a blast. And I thought this was a great opportunity with Keith fishing in his first Classic.

“I’ve just been overwhelmed with the number of kids who know who we are. And so many of the parents say, ‘Oh, yeah, we know Bonnie Plants. We’ve been growing them forever.’ Just one right after another. It’s been overwhelming.”

The company, which began in 1918, researched the bass fishing market and realized that people who fish and enjoy the outdoors also enjoy gardening. So they expected this association with the Bassmaster Classic Expo would be a natural. But it has exceeded those expectations.

“With this being our first Bassmaster Classic, it’s a new experience for us,” Phelps said. “It’s amazing to see all the different things that go on here. This is huge. There’s something for everybody.

“We’ve gotten a bigger response than I think we could have ever anticipated. It makes you proud to know the people that are following Keith are using our products as well. It shows the relationship is working.”

The Bonnie Plants booth has a life-size photo of Poche, so you can get a picture taken “with him” even while he’s competing on the Red River. And they are giving away a rod, reel and tackle combo, like Poche uses, for the person who comes closest to guessing Poche’s weigh-in total each day.

Just like the fishing industry, Bonnie Plants is focused on the next generation of consumers. Bonnie’s 3rd Grade Cabbage Program has been awarding $1,000 scholarships to winners in each state for the past several years. Kids in the contest have grown cabbages up to 60 pounds, and they’ve been educated about gardening in the process.

“It’s been amazing how many children here know the plants we’re showing them,” said Lois Chaplin, the company’s marketing director. “Sometimes you get in urban areas and the children don’t have any sense of gardening. We’ve talked to a lot of children here who have participated in our 3rd Grade Cabbage Program.”

Bonnie Plants has partnered with Growums, a company that teaches kids about gardening and healthy eating through the combination of virtual teaching tools and hands-on experience. Growums was represented in the Bonnie Plants booth this weekend, as was Daniels Plant Food, which produces a chemical free, soybean-based fertilizer that is used in Bonnie Plants.

“We decided this was a great opportunity,” said Janet Curry of Daniels Plant Food. “We felt like people who love the outdoors also enjoy gardening, and we wanted to support this. It has been a great experience for us.”

In other words, whether you want advice on fishing an Alabama rig or tips on growing tomatoes, it’s all available at the Bassmaster Classic Expo, which continues through 4 p.m. Sunday at the Shreveport Convention Center.

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