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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Instant Reaction!

The studies are in and as it turns out, we are outdoor.

Another week another trade show.

Today on THE ROCK FIGHT (an outdoor podcast that aims for the head) Colin is fresh off a flight home from SLC and is here with his off the cuff thoughts Outdoor Retailer.

You know, Outdoor Retailer. The most popular topic of discussion within the US based outdoor industry!

So what happened at OR this week?

Was it a return to form?

The bottom of the barrel?

Well, you'll have to click play to find out.

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Episode Transcript

Colin (00:00)

Welcome to the rock fight where we speak our truths, slay sacred cows and sometimes agree to disagree. This is an outdoor podcast that aims for the head. I’m Colin True and today I want to give you my reactions to Outdoor Retailer. Two weeks in a row with a trade show reaction? Yeah! The rock fight has been out in them streeets and we have a lot to talk about.

But first! Have you sent us your apple podcast review so that we can send you a rock fight or gear & Beer sticker? Leave us a rating and review on apple podcasts and then email us at my rock fight at gmail dot com with your address and we’ll get you all stickered up! For those of you who have already sent in your review stickers will start shipping out next week!

Ok, quick break and then it’s time to talk about outdoor retailer and start the show!

In the beginning there was Outdoor Retailer. The one outdoor trade show to rule them all.

Ok that’s not true. In the beginning there were people who started making money by outfitting people who went into untamed and wild places.  That actually went on without a trade show for literally hundreds of years.  Brands like HELLY and Orvis who started making products to help the people of the day stay warm, cool, dry & safe when doing elective or required excursions.

But then, a scant 60ish years ago, a new crop of brands started deploying new fabric and design technologies that enabled more fun times out of doors and thus broadened a world that had been previously pretty niche. 

Brands and retailers started to spring up and before you knew it, a full on industry was born.  And what does an industry need if not a trade show?

I don’t need to go much more do I? OR became the go to national outdoor trade show in the US. A twice a year gathering of the tribe that not only put the commerce based arms of human powered activities on display but also attracted athletes, non-profits, activists and advocates. The Snow Show later to be known as SIA, which existed prior to OR and actually kicked out the attendees that would go on to start OR would be absorbed by OR.

And of course it’s a tale as old as time, right? The crown jewel event that everyone attended and those who couldn’t attend desperately wanted to attend became too large to fail right? 

If you’re listening to this you probably know the answer to that question.

In the twenty teens there were big gaping cracks in the OR armor with many of the attendees questioning the value of a show that had become very expensive to attend. Then came Utah’s reaction to the Trump’s Administration's roll back of protections for Bears Ears as well as a global pandemic and when we finally rubbed the sleep from our eyes and took a look around OR was demonstrably diminished.

Last fall, after I glibly declared that OR was over based on the super thin exhibitor list that was registered for their winter market show, Sean Smith, the director of the show came on THE ROCK FIGHT to talk about the state of the show, the changes they were making and why there was reason to be optimistic about the upcoming summer show. He and his team then invited THE ROCK FIGHT to do a live event at the show so we could see it ourselves.

Credit to Sean and his team because to be honest, even though I believed that they were putting in the effort to do more with the show, I likely would not have attended had they not extended that invite.

But they did and as I record this I’ve just gotten home after spending two days at Outdoor Retailer. So much like we did last week with GOA Connect, here is my instant reaction to what I saw after returning to the Salt Palace for an OR show for the first time since 2017.

First up and probably most importantly, the show felt like it had ‘real purpose’. I can look back to shows I went to in the mid-2000’s and as fun and extravagant as they were there was always the conversation of do we need to go to OR and spend all that money? So it’s kind of crazy to me to say that this show, here in 2024 really felt like one of the first OR’s I’ve been to where the attendees were engaged and the floor was buzzing not because it was jam packed but because people had a real reason to be there. 

Which is a good segue into my next point, smaller is better!

Were any of the big, most well known outdoor brands in attendance? Nah. Off the top of my head the brands that probably everyone knew the most were Sun Bum and Klymit among a few others.

And that was awesome.

The last time I went to OR was in 2022 and at that show there were a handful of brands that were hanging on and exhibiting in a show hall filled with mostly new brands trying to make a name for themselves.  That show felt just a little… sad.

The one that just ended? Was the opposite.  There was a vibrancy. People seemed pumped. Those who had a booth were working it hard and everyone I talked to said the same thing. That the vibe was high and the show felt fun. 

Thirdly, speaking anecdotally, it seems that the new hosted buyer program worked and that’s one reason for all of the enthusiasm. The brands that were there had someone to sell to.  This show OR provided travel resources to encourage retailers to attend. Every brand I spoke to said they were talking to a lot of buyers. I don’t know who they were buying for or the caliber of the shops, but considering where the show has been over the past few years, this seems like a big change of pace.

And it sounds like people were actually writing orders. I spoke to an exhibitor who was literally submitting an order he had just written. I don’t know if I ever attended an OR that was a true buying show.

One thing I said to someone and heard from others is that they should change the name of the show because those of us that remember Peak Outdoor Retailer will continue to compare the way it used to be against what it is evolving into.  The rational being that when I say Outdoor Retailer something springs to mind that doesn’t match what the current iteration of the show is and thus does that current iteration a disservice.

I was pondering this this morning on my flight home and I’ve changed my mind for two reasons.

The first is that back in the day we used to make fun of the name outdoor retailer because there wasn’t really any retail business being done. The show had become more of a marketing showcase so why not call it something that reflects what it actually was?

Based on what I saw the past two days the name is actually on target.  The people I spoke to in the booths were hungry and looking to sell their products to the buyers at the show.  They happily made time for a podcaster but that is not why they came to the show.

The second reason not to change the name? Because fuck that. I’m part of the old guard that’s been lambasting this show in some form for years. And now after OR has endured the rock throwing and mud slinging they should rebrand entirely? Just because there is a contingent that’s mad that we can’t see all of our besties and then close down the Port o’ call every night doesn’t mean that OR should change.  We should probably give up the ghost and recongize that there were a large number of people at the show this week who have zero memories of the way it used to be.  So I changed my mind.   As long as that thing provides value and the name outdoor retailer is accurate. Which for the first time in my experience…it seems like it is.

Alright, that's the show for today! Were you at OR and want to send me your feedback or maybe you’re surprised to hear how well I thought the show went? Either way send an email to my rock fight at gmail dot com.

The rock fight is a production of rock fight llc, we’ll be back tomorrow on the gear and beer podcast feed so go check that out.

I’m Colin True, thanks for listening. And here to take us out is a friend of ours. You know what I’m talking about it’s chris demakes with the rock fight fight song. We’ll see you next time rock fighters.


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