DENVER, Co. – For the survival and self-reliance world, 2017 was year of mixed emotions, and shaky business results.
For the millions of Americans that prepared for the worst, their fear seemed to melt away as soon as Donald Trump was elected. Others experienced the exact opposite feeling with threats from North Korea, Iran, mass riots nationwide and a shaky political climate.
Business owners in the survival and self-reliance industry experienced a change too. Sales either plateaued or fell off a cliff. Preparedness retailers reported unenthusiastic customers at best. Very few reported actual growth. While publicly-owned gun companies reported free-falling sales.
Meanwhile, survival and self-reliance trade shows and expositions reported lower than expected attendance across the board. Several experienced catastrophically small crowds. Some expos went out of business, while others postponed their shows until 2018.
Throughout all this, the Self Reliance Expo seemed to chug along. While some vendors described smaller crowds at the Colorado-based event, it still attracted enough exhibitors and crowds to keep moving forward.
So, when news surfaced that Ron Douglas sold the business, many feared it was another gravestone for what was once a thriving industry.
However, concern was replaced with relief when word spread that a buyer took control of the SRE and planned to improve it.
Not only will a revamped expo give self-reliance fans access to speakers, skills and products, but the new ownership gives vendors hope that someone might get it right, again.
When Douglas launched the Self Reliance Expo in 2009, it quickly took off. Large crowds, diverse vendors and a host of popular speakers and educators elevated the show’s status.
News outlets like the New York Times labeled it one of the nation’s largest self-reliance trade shows, while simultaneously painting a picture of Douglas as having ambitions as large as his physical stature.
For that time period, Douglas’ vision for SRE was different than the prevailing mindset. He felt strong about creating an event that was not fear-based. Instead, he preached three pillars to self-reliance: emergency preparedness, sustainable living and financial security.
According to the Times, his was a new spin on survivalism. “Instead of lining up speakers to offer right-wing screeds, Douglas organized a homemade bread bake-off. The prize: a new wheat grinder. The products — and even the vendors at times — may have been the same from the expos of the past. But the packaging felt different, less threatening.”
Over time, it became a passion for Douglas, his wife Heather and their six kids.
“I’ll always love the Self Reliance Industry, and our family misses the expo as most vendors were like family to us. Every expo was like a giant family reunion,” he told Paratus Business News.
Exit Ron Douglas
But Douglas’ self-reliance business encompassed more than trade shows. Thousands followed his National Self Reliance Organization Facebook page, its associated YouTube channel “The Self-Reliance Project,” and his podcasts.
Yet, while he created one of the more successful survival events and companion channels, a different interest began to take hold, and become more evident.
At first blush, the NSRO Facebook page looks fairly typical with its cover photo of a bucolic scene replete with a red barn. The barn is a typical symbol of self-reliance, and also the inspiration for his Red Shed Media Group, the holding company for all his businesses. But it’s the company overview that clearly indicates where his heart was heading.
Reads the page overview, “Founded by a small group of experienced entrepreneurs, the NSRO has taken on the Mission to help others become more reliant upon themselves. In a meeting of our business Mastermind Group, we recalled that during the development of our own careers and businesses, each of us had a strong desire to become independent, yet each had also struggled to find the tools to do so.”
But while the term “business Mastermind Group” seems incongruent with learning skills for simple living, like homesteading, the product list is even more off topic as it offers “training in FOREX, Stocks and Options, Grant Writing, Business Start-Up, Business Management, and more!”
So, while participants of the Self Reliance Expo received a straight-forward experience and education in living simply and securely, anyone performing basic research could see that its founder surely moved in a different direction.
Business Development or Self-Reliance?
Is Douglas a survivalist with a flair and ability to create a successful model that appeals to self-reliance fans? Or is he a businessman taking advantage of a hot trend?
A recent online bio would certainly point to the latter. Highlights focus on his success at having “created and sold several businesses” and how with “his unique spin on business, journaling, and goal achieving, he will have you making leaps towards your life-long goals.” Of course, his focus as a business trainer and his foray into business reality television as one of the “Blue Collar Backers” leaves no doubt that Douglas is first a businessman and then a teacher of self-reliance.
But the real question is: does it matter?
Is there a conflict between launching successful business ventures while being a leader in the world of survival? Of course not.
Self-reliance isn’t just about backyard chickens. It can be about financial security through business development. And clearly that’s the direction Douglas took when he sold the Self Reliance Expo to Kiki Bandilla.
“We did really well with it (the Expo) but after doing the ‘Blue Collar Backer’ show on Discovery Channel, I realized my real passion had become helping other business owners with their daily struggles in growing their business,” said Douglas. “It was just time for a change and a new passion emerged, so I jumped on it.”
On Nov. 22, 2017, Kiki and Steffen Bandilla announced to the world via e-mail that they were the new owners of the Self Reliance Expo.
Here Comes Kiki, And a New Hope
Bandilla wasn’t the only buyer interested in the Self Reliance Expo. According to Douglas, there were four others vying to purchase the business.
“I picked Kiki because she was the only one buying it that had a passion for self-reliance,” he said. “Others were just looking at profits.”
Of course, the drawback to passion is that without an understanding of the wants and needs of both the attendee and the vendor, a survival expo can fail everyone involved.
The food service industry is the perfect example of why “passion” can lead to failure for the owner of a new restaurant. How many restaurants are launched because some individual loves to cook? And, how many go out of business because that person’s love affair with cooking didn’t translate into effectively managing inventory, staff, equipment, and local laws while delivering a quality product consumers want to eat?
Kiki Bandilla has both passion and the right business experience, and she could be the perfect person at the right time to recreate the Self Reliance Expo’s success.
In addition to her efforts for building a self-reliant lifestyle for her own family, she brings to the table more than 25 years of corporate administrative management, sales and marketing experience.
She knows that she is accountable for covering all of her bases if she wants her version of the Self Reliance Expo to be more than a flash in the pan. She knows that both customers and businesses need to be satisfied with the event.
“I have consulted for several start-ups, helping them build their corporate infrastructure,” Bandilla said in an interview. “Throughout my career I have also consistently been involved in some form of sales, marketing and or business development, including having been president of the Las Vegas High Rise Association.”
A current resident of Denver, she and her husband, Steffen, first attended the SRE four years ago, and the combination of quality exhibitors, products, and speakers not only propelled her own interest in self-reliance, but it gave her a baseline for what makes a good event.
“We both realized how relevant the content at the expo was to us personally, as well as our community,” she said. “However, not being in the ‘self-reliant’ world, we also realized how many others were like us and needed and wanted the information/education but probably didn’t know where to find it because they may not understand what ‘self-reliance’ means for them.”
Aggressiveness, Expansion, Optimism
With decades of experience in Las Vegas, one of the world’s top convention locations and a team that managed some of the most successful expos in the nation, vendors have good reason to be optimistic.
To date she set two expos for 2018, one in Mesquite, Texas and the other in Denver. However, she has an eye on expanding the model, especially in areas where other expos exited the business.
How she makes her version of a survival expo successful for both vendors and attendees is holistic and aggressive.
She plans to use both digital advertising and traditional marketing channels, such as billboards, to drive large crowds to the expo.
She also is not relying on exhibitors to fill the speaker schedule. The schedule boastsnationally-relevant and regionally-popular speakers. This adds another layer of advertising that many expos fail to recognize.
In a recent e-mail to potential business participants she said, “We understand the investment of time and money each of our exhibitors make to participate. We are leaving no stone unturned to attract a great audience and create an incredible experience for them to want what you have.”
For attendees, the new SRE will create “an experience focused on preparedness, survival, sustainability and homesteading basics, helping individuals and families find their path back-to-the-basics, resurrecting time-honored traditions and adopting their idea of a simpler life filled with great adventure or simply, great peace.”
A new hope indeed.
Editor’s Note: For more on the new Self Reliance Expo, read our companion piece, “16 Questions for Kiki Bandilla, New Owner of The Self Reliance Expo.”