Smoky Mountain Gift Show Entrance

Forging connections: working together to solve supply chain challenges

 How trade shows like the Smoky Mountain Gift Show can assist

{Sponsored}  As the gift industry continues to face ups and downs related to the global pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues, retailers must think outside the box and stay positive to continue to thrive. Buyers must be creative to continue having strong sales; one way to accomplish this is by sourcing products through new channels and making connections during increasingly important in-person trade shows. 

Donna Steakley, director of tourism at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas, is solely responsible for not just purchasing, staffing and running the gift shop, but also for the food service and special events at the drive-thru wildlife center. Fossil Rim thrived during COVID-19 due to its setup, allowing groups to view the animals in their natural habitats from the safety of their vehicles. They only had to close their roads for 53 days in 2020 to adjust safety protocols. 

Fossil Rim gift shop
Fossil Rim’s gift shop

Visitors get the opportunity to see giraffes up close, often with the creatures eating directly from their hands, and everyone seems to want to take home giraffe-related products after their driving tour. One of the more popular products that Steakley sources for the gift shop are 25-inch giraffes.

Because of ongoing supply chain challenges, Steakley had to seek out new vendors for many products, including giraffes and T-shirts, ordering much earlier than usual and finding a list of vendors who had what she needed through the Smoky Mountain Gift Show’s MATCH! program. 

Steakley is part of the MATCH! Program, which is typically run at in-person events. Clarion Events, the tradeshow producers behind the Smoky Mountain Gift Show and various other gift, souvenir and resort events created the MATCH! Program to make buying efficient and convenient. Buyers and exhibitors are paired up based on specific sourcing needs. Throughout the pandemic, the relationships formed through the MATCH! Program helped vendors and buyers connect so that product isn’t sitting idle in warehouses while gift shops had empty shelves. 

Through the program, Steakley found new T-shirt vendors without harming her existing vendor relationships, filling in the gaps caused by delays with alternative orders. This meant that when her usual T-shirt vendor was delivering in six weeks, she was able to find one that would deliver in two, in order to supplement the supply from her existing partner. “Think of the vendors. We are partners with them. They sat with stock. We are lucky they are open,” Steakley said. 

Popularity Products, a souvenir apparel company just outside of New York City, experienced the same sorts of challenges from a supplier side during the pandemic. Owner Jack Tebele has relied upon strong communication with his vendors and customers to ensure that scheduling and pricing fluctuations have as little impact on business as possible.

Lifeguard Tie-Dye Apparel from Popularity Products
Lifeguard Tie-Dye Apparel from Popularity Products

As a vendor at the Smoky Mountain Gift Show, Tebele looks forward to being out of the big city atmosphere and into the natural surroundings in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “It changes your mindset. The amount of customers I get to see at the show is just incredible. It’s also a great time to plan, not too early or late, actually one of the perfect times; I ask customers to place spring and summer orders, so it’s a good time for me to meet all those buyers and sit down with them,” Tebele said. At the 2021 Smoky Mountain Gift Show, Popularity Products will be launching a new line of tie-dyed apparel, which buyers can find at Booth 1210. 

Fossil Rim’s Steakley is already planning for Spring 2022, preparing for additional delays and anticipating another record year after the last two Fossil Rim had. The Smoky Mountain Gift Show is a big part of that strategy. “The Smoky Mountain Gift Show has such a diverse group of vendors,” Steakley said. After walking the show, she spends time at a minimum of six vendor appointments each day in order to ensure that the product she needs for Fossil Rim will be at her facility when she needs it. 

Between the variety Steakley finds at the show and the MATCH! Program that Clarion created to create lasting connections between vendors and buyers, she is prepared for another busy year at Fossil Rim. Most of all, Steakley is staying positive. 

To learn more about the variety of unique vendors at the Smoky Mountain Gift Show, which is taking place November 10-13, 2021 in Gatlinburg, TN or to register to attend for free as a buyer, visit

 © 2021 Clarion Events 

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