I have been to every Outdoor Retailer show since 2002. I know that means I am just getting started compared to some of the great leaders and mentors in this industry like Larry Harrison and Diane Kay who can still remember Vegas back in the 1980s, but, at this point, the show has become part of my life. Over the years, I have seen the evolution of sustainable fabrics and avalanche airbags, drank whiskey with Camper Van Beethoven and walked the aisles with Michael Franti. I cried when Terry Tempest Williams recounted the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide at the Conservation Alliance Breakfast and stood in solidarity when the industry and the show made the break from the state of Utah to protest politicians unwilling to even listen to our concerns when it comes to all-important public lands.
I’ve reconnected with friends from college and said farewell to far too many friends young and old—from Skip Yowell to Jonny Copp to Sarah Burke—who shared so many hugs and laughs here. I guided a Secretary of the Interior around the show after staying up the whole night with food poisoning and logged marathons worth of miles on hard carpet as the editor of and a reporter for the OR Show Dailies. Even with all of this experience under my belt, the show and the people who come to it continue to surprise me, to evolve, and to bring new life and energy to this community. And I have to say that Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver last month was filled with an energy and fresh vibe that I have never witnessed before, even after 30 straight shows. Here’s what I saw as the big takeaways.
For decades, there have been speakers and seminars and discussions about diversity at the show—but little has changed. No longer. Issues of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) have risen to the forefront when it comes to the present and future of the outdoor industry and changes are finally beginning to happen. Camber Outdoors, in particular, made a tangible effort to change the face of the industry by officially broadening its mission beyond advocacy for women to include gender, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, and physical ability. Most importantly, this expansion will also be part of the group’s existing CEO Pledge (
camberoutdoors.org/ceo-pledge), which has 80 members dedicated to diversifying and transforming workplace environments in the industry. Camber also launched a Workplace Equity Working Group in order to ensure these issues are thoughtfully solved rather than just discussed.
“From Diversify Outdoors’ perspective, more voices are always a good thing. More voices working together are even better!” —Danielle Williams
Furthermore, Teresa Baker, the founder of the African American Nature and Parks Experience, introduced a diversity pledge written by Chris Perkins, a master’s degree candidate at the Yale School of Forestry. That pledge with a focus on hiring a diverse workforce will be audited by outside observers. Marmot CEO Joe Flannery has already signed on.
“I feel optimistic about the current trends within outdoor industry,” says Danielle Williams, the founder of Melanin Basecamp and Diversify Outdoors (
diversifyoutdoors.com) who will curate the public presentation of Baker’s pledge. “I’m excited about the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge and Teresa Baker’s efforts to obtain diversity in hiring data. I was also thrilled to see Camber Outdoors’ announcement that they would be expanding their CEO pledge. Grassroots initiatives and affinity groups seem stronger than ever and the amount of collaboration and cross talk between organizations is fantastic. From Diversify Outdoors’ perspective, more voices are always a good thing. More voices working together are even better! Much of the groundwork for change has been laid in the past few decades. Our goal is to continue to carry that momentum forward. We look forward to seeing the impact of DEI awareness at every level of outdoor industry. The more that CEOs promote diversity within their own organizations, marketing, charitable giving, brand ambassadorships the less we have to do!”
But the real proof that the industry is indeed changing was out on the show floor, especially at presentations and programs capped off by a panel of the first all-black group to climb Kilimanjaro. Chaya Harris, Ray Smith, Brittany Leavitt, and Leandra Taylor talked about their climb with James Edward Mills, author of
The Adventure Gap, about the climb and what it means when it comes to expanding the outdoor community. One thing is certain, the industry is and will continue to find more diverse leaders, athletes, business people and icons.
The industry also will have to come to grips with the seriousness of the #metoo movement and big questions about sexual harassment both in the workplace and in the wild. That work will begin in earnest with the publication of the results of the Safe Outside survey on sexual harassment and assault in climbing. The survey was promoted by
Alpinist magazine, the American Alpine Club, the Access Fund and other climbing organizations and media partners including Outdoor Retailer magazine, and conducted by two independent data scientists: Dr. Callie Rennison, renowned victimologist, and leading expert in statistical and survey methods; and Charlie Lieu, trained computational biologist with nearly 25 years of big data and decision analytics experience, often in clinical context requiring HIPAA privacy and security.
The official numbers of the survey will be released on August 27 in a joint promotion between the partners, but Rennison and Lieu did present a preliminary run down at the show and plan to return to Winter Market with deeper analysis (look for more of that information in print in the Winter 2018 issue of
Outdoor Retailer magazine as well).
Can There Be Too Many Coolers and Insulated Water Bottles?
The answer simply seems to be no. There was a lot of innovation to see in the products on the show floor. Iconic Colorado brand Big Agnes debuted a insanely light Dyneema tent. But everybody has a cooler. And those who already had coolers (think Yeti) introduced wheeled coolers. Likewise, insulated water bottles continue to sell at retail so manufacturers keep pumping them out.
“Rolling coolers are where it’s at,” says Cameron Martindell, who walked the entire floor seeking new gear as gear test coordinator for picky product review website Gear Institute (gearinstitute.com). “No more breaking your back getting heavy loads from the car to the site. Also, with modern materials and smart design, we’re getting away from shoddy construction that falls apart as soon as the going gets tough.”
This trend is not an outlier. It speaks to the evolution of independent specialty shops to stores that can cater to the community vibe of the outdoors just as well as the technical gear needs. Sell a casual customer a cooler on wheels and they just may come back to become more engaged in sport climbing or backcountry skiing since those sports are such an essential part of the outdoor culture. Or maybe not: You can still serve customers who want to sip craft beer and gaze at the stars with gear that improves that experience.
Denver Was the Right Choice
The state of Colorado has not just provided a new, authentic home for the show, it has embraced Outdoor Retailer as the cornerstone of its push to become the epicenter of the outdoor industry (to note VF Corporation announced this month that it will be moving to the state). While Utah politicians made little effort to keep the show in the Beehive State, making the call that extractive industries at odds with recreation were more important, Colorado has capitalized on the prospect of growing the outdoor economy and creating a nation-wide conversation on public lands and the role recreation and conservation play in boosting and sustaining the state’s economy.
“Outdoor recreation is central to Colorado’s identity,” says Luis Benitez, director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Office. “Bringing the Outdoor Retailer Show to Denver has made a clear economic impact, but it’s also elevated the conversation around stewardship of our public lands and waters, and how we impact other industries and communities in a holistic way.”
And, while the welcoming spirit of the people of Salt Lake—from bike rickshaw drivers to sandwich-shop owners is much missed—Denver itself simply feels more vibrant: The restaurants and hotels are closer. The Rockies host home games. The shuffle of people headed into the show under the auspices of that big blue bear sculpture outside is busier, with more attendees coming to the show as community gathering. The show has transformed from a friendly business conference to the convocation of an economic powerhouse.
We Need to Address Threats to Water
Outdoor Retailer has always been as much a social and environmental cause think tank as it has a business—the two go hand-in hand here. Attendees and stakeholders tackle everything here from managing public land to climate change. But one issue continues to loom larger than ever on the increasingly alarming list of environmental problems Outdoor Retailer businesses tackle—water. That concern was evident in the sheer number of panels, nonprofits, fundraisers, and talks dedicated to water issues at Summer Market.
“This year is an especially telling reminder, especially here in Colorado, with outfitters and retailers curtailing operations because of low flows. And this will trickle down to next year’s orders they place with manufacturers.” —Eugene Buchanan
“Water is of pretty vital concern to the entire outdoor community, be it the paddlesports, camping or apparel industries,” says Eugene Buchanan, the former publisher of Paddler magazine and founder of PaddlingLife who moderated the panel discussion “Avoiding Crisis on America’s Rivers: How the Outdoor Industry Can Seize Opportunities in a Changing Climate.”
He went on to connect the dots between the show and apocalyptic images on the news this summer. “This year is an especially telling reminder, especially here in Colorado, with outfitters and retailers curtailing operations because of low flows. And this will trickle down to next year’s orders they place with manufacturers. And this doesn’t even factor in the lost-revenue repercussions a low snowfall winter creates for the countless snowsports sectors relying on Mother Nature. The whole industry needs to pay attention,” he said.
Water activists see the problems stretching far beyond classic “outdoor” thinking, however, and feel that solutions need to merge traditional conservationists and a wide swath of stakeholders.
“Clean, plentiful water is necessary for healthy people, animals, and ecosystems—as well as for economies,” says Radha Marcum, marketing and communications director, for River Network, a Colorado-based nonprofit. “No one doubts water’s significance as a resource. But water’s power to replenish us physically and mentally is irreplaceable. For a growing number of communities, clean and beautiful water is not a given. More than half of our rivers across the U.S. aren’t thriving. And about a third of Americans stand to lose affordable drinking water. Climate change and growing urban populations will only stress rivers and water infrastructure more in coming years. The good news is that there are over 6,000 local groups who protect and restore water across the U.S. Connecting with them is an easy way to support your community’s access to clean water and water recreation activities.”
To that end RiverNetwork produced this video about what water means to the Outdoro Industry at the show. It features a wide range of players from Colorado’s Luis Benitez to Tenkara USA founder Daniel Galhardo:
There Have Always Been Three Shows
Yes, we all love the show, but the biggest grumbling on the floor centered around the idea that we need to be back here again in just over three months for Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in November. And then again for Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in January. This new three-show schedule is the result of SIA becoming a part of Outdoor Retailer and Outdoor Retailer undergoing a long and far-reaching series of attendee surveys to help it set the right dates for sales cycles. And while that schedule may sound daunting consider two things: One, it’s what exhibitors and attendees asked for in order to better align with writing orders and two, there have always been three shows. It’s just that previously Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and what had been the SIA show made for a much longer week (and time away from the shop).
“The idea of three shows or the perception that we’ve added an additional show has definitely been a point of confusion. But we didn’t add a show. We bought a show,” says Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer show director. “The industry continues to have the same three shows that have always served the outdoor and snow markets, now just timed appropriately for the buying cycles. Previously, Winter Market and the SIA Snow Show would compete for the best January dates. Those dates weren’t necessarily set with the buying cycle in mind – the very thing tradeshows serve—and both sides jockeyed for ‘better’ dates. Sometimes that meant earlier, sometimes later. It wasn’t science.”
“The industry continues to have the same three shows that have always served the outdoor and snow markets, now just timed appropriately for the buying cycles.” —Marisa Nicholson
The key to thinking about how the three shows have been scheduled is that the timing of them (with Outdoor Retailer Summer Market also moving up to June) corresponds to attendees’ feedback in both an in-depth qualitative survey and expansive web survey completed two years ago, when the show first began to shift dates.
“We first announced in 2016 that we would be moving Winter Market to November in 2018 to mark the launch of the outdoor season, allowing retailers to see everything the industry has to offer ahead of order deadlines (we moved Summer Market to June in 2019 for the same reason),” says Nicholson. “And here’s where the confusion comes in: during that process, we bought the Snow Show and moved to Denver. The result is that Outdoor Retailer has three shows—the same three shows that were always there, but we produce them all. The first thing we did was slide Snow Show back to late January to accommodate the sales cycle for snowsports, which tends to be driven by hardgoods deadlines. Also, ski/snow retailers, with such a short window to sell, need to be in their stores at least until the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.”
Of course, these five observations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what happened at the show and the pulse of our industry. No matter what, it’s uplifting to know that we work in a vibrant and concerned industry. See you in November!