As the year wraps up and people’s minds shift toward the holidays, the outdoor industry continues in overdrive, something it’s not likely to be out of until at least mid-January. The reason for this is twofold. On one hand, like all consumer product companies, they make their nut during the holiday season. A good or bad sales season can make or break a small outdoor company or end careers at the larger ones. It’s a high stress time for sure. On the other hand, just to make matters even crazier, the twice annual Outdoor Retailer Trade Show (OR) kicks off for 4 days in Salt Lake City on January 6.
Exhibitors will come from around the world to show what new products they’ve got in the pipeline for Fall/Winter 2017. What started as a place to write retail orders and forecast production needs has become much, much more in the past 5 years. Now it’s a PR bonanza with media stalking the floor to provide daily updates about the latest and greatest new releases. Trend presentations look to give industry insiders a bead on what’s hot for the upcoming seasons. Companies set up product demos and testing events to drive awareness and shake out any last kinks. If you work in or are passionate about the outdoor industry, it is quite literally a “can’t-miss” event. As a result, I’ll be hopping on a flight from Boston to the middle of Utah for an intense few days at the gigantic Salt Palace Convention Center along with over 50,000 other attendees.
I’ve been before both as an exhibitor and an attendee over the years, each perspective having its pros and cons. I spent 2 years in marketing with Vibram USA and spent one memorable summer show helping attendees try on demo five-toed shoes, a harrowing experience as you can imagine. This past August I was an attendee at the summer show. Meeting friends I’d made in the industry over the years both from my Vibram days and from numerous freelance projects. It was a whirlwind of business cards, gear and faces new and old. In January I’ll be attending my first winter show and my first show on behalf of GYK Antler to learn from and see how we can help players within the outdoor industry. I’ll be walking the floor, meeting new people and seeing what the industry is up to for 2016 and beyond. While there’s no way to know exactly what you’re walking into when you head to the first day of OR, here are just a few things I’m looking forward to.
Venture Out is a new(ish) section of OR. Started only a year and a half ago, Venture Out is a place for the new lifestyle outdoor brands to exhibit. Young upstarts like Poler, Topo Designs, Jungmaven, Miir, Rumpl, and Alchemy Equipment have disrupted an industry that’s been dominated for decades by the same massive brands. Appealing to a more millennial-skewing consumer that looks to the outdoors as a playground and not something extreme to be conquered—their gear reflects this. The large brands ignored the trend for a few years and are now scrambling to catch up and learn from the Venture Out exhibitors. I’ll be interested to see what impact these smaller challenger brands continue to have on the industry.
Must-See Booths to Explore
Booths are a big thing at Outdoor Retailer. So big that there’s a cottage industry in Salt Lake City to design, build, assemble, break down, and warehouse booths for brands to exhibit at the summer and winter shows. The larger brands compete against each other to build the biggest and best booths with multiple levels, snack bars, kegerators, and more. I’m interested to see who has created their booth to build an experience, to best represent their brand and product, to do something different. This past summer Arc’teryx blew me away with their booth. Clean, minimal design with bright colored eye-catching product invited you to enter, but once inside sound deadening walls and stunning large-format nature scape photography transported you from the sensory overload of the trade show to the place we were all there for, the outdoors. I was stunned. I hope another brand will wow me this time.
How Does the Northeast Stack Up?
The Northeast has a rich outdoor history stretching back as far as any region of the country. In spite of that, it’s not known as a hot bed for the outdoors. “West is Best” is a common proclamation, not only for where to go and visit, but where to locate your outdoor brand. Many of the big players cluster in Northern California and Portland, Oregon. The Northeast is making a strong come back over the last few years though as startups that began here continue to grow, win awards and choose not to bail for the left coast. Northeasters like Nemo Equipment, Jetboil, Good-to-Go Foods, and Vibram all are making waves within the industry. I’ll be looking to see if they can keep up the innovation and see who’s new to the mix.
How Is the Outdoor Industry’s Strategy Evolving?
Attending the show is always a balance of absorbing the massive amount of information available without complete system overload. It will be interesting to see how the industry continues to evolve in their consumer focus. Over the last few seasons there has been an increasing effort made to better design and market outdoor products for women and stop the old strategy of just shrinking the products designed for men and turning them pink. As women have become much larger participants in the outdoors, particularly millennials, brands have looked to better appeal to them. Along the lines of Venture Out, there has also been a trend of brands designing products to be less about the most extreme outdoors pursuits and more about the intersection of leisure and adventure. Will this continue or begin to go in another direction? As a brand strategist, I’m looking to see how closely the industry is listening to their consumers and how they’re acting on what they’re hearing and seeing.
Will I See You There?
Outdoor Retailer is a blast, but the days are insanely long. If you need me I will definitely be reconnoitering the coffee situation hard. Good coffee is a must. In a city where caffeine can be challenging to come by at times, the exhibitor booths have smartly stepped in to fill the void. Last summer, United by Blue and Miir both had pour-over coffee available for a small charitable donation. Meet me at the coffee booths and enjoy the great outdoors, fellow adventurers!
Can’t make it this winter? Outdoor Retailer and I will return for the summer show on August 3-6, 2016.
Jon Gaffney is a Senior Brand Strategist for GYK Antler. In his free-time he gets out on the trail and the water as much as life allows, usually with a camera and some new gear to review for his freelance writing assignments. Prior to joining the GYK Antler team, Jon’s experience ranges pretty far and wide. He ran digital marketing for Vibram, a soling and footwear company based in Concord, MA and then spent 3 years on the agency side working on strategy for adidas, Lego, Reebok, HBO and Royal Caribbean among others. Last year he freelanced on digital strategy and writing while taking a road trip around the United States in a camper van of his own design. His passion for the outdoors is by no means an anomaly on the GYK Antler team and we continue to take those personal interests and apply them to the work we do and pursue.