What I saw at the doomsday prepper convention
The market for preparedness supplies tracks to broader anxieties: some sensible, some not so much. And it's not just conspiracy theorists buying in.
FORTUNE -- More and more Americans are spending money to get ready for an uncertain future -- gathering food, water, tools, and skills to help them weather anything from a hurricane to a pandemic. Contrary to images of deluded or gun-obsessed "lone wolves," many preppers are average consumers reacting to concrete worries, and their way of thinking is spreading, fueling an emerging lifestyle trend. That lifestyle is generating demand for a broad spectrum of products offering survival -- or even comfort -- when large-scale systems go down.
An array of preparedness expos and conferences have cropped up around the country to serve this emerging and fast-changing market. To get a closer look, I visited Life Changes, Be Ready!, or LCBR, a new expo that held its second event on the weekend of November 2nd and 3rd, in Lakeland, Fla. LCBR gave an immediate sense of one big way that the preparedness crowd isn't marginal at all -- economically. The show floor was packed with a dizzying array of small businesses and products that defied stereotypical "prepper" classification -- not just ammunition and crossbows and camping gear, but also seed banks, beehives, financial planning, and acupressure.
According to many of the entrepreneurs on the floor, business is trending upwards. John Egger of Self Reliance Strategies has been producing and selling prepackaged seed banks for nearly four years and sees his market expanding. "It's definitely picking up. It's not just country people anymore. We really cater to a suburban market ... We call it suburban homesteading." You can see this broadening of the market in the range of price points, from the $5,600 portable solar charging stations flogged by Alternative Energy, Inc., to the $649 "Stomp Supreme" field medic kit offered by Doom and Bloom, LLC. ("This is the one recommended for people expecting civil unrest.") Clearly, LCBR's vendors saw a crowd ready to drop major cash today to assuage their worries about tomorrow.
Black Blade: It is big business. People see the economy is weak and getting weaker. They see natural disasters and those who are unprepared victims. They see friends and neighbors who are unemployed and who will soon become unemployed (thanks Obama Care). They see the loss of freedom and liberty as the politics change from a representative republic to a more authoritarian totalitarian form of police state government where "1984" isn't just a book for entertainment but rather seen as an instruction manual. People want to take back control of their lives and so the prepping movement is picking up steam.