O’Keeffe Consulting attended Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in July, notably our 40-year anniversary of the first outdoor show we attended in Las Vegas in 1978. My, how things have changed.

While other reviewers more qualified will focus on new products, company movements, macro trends and industry personalities, our takeaways will be unique to our perspective:

  1. We sensed both confidence and uncertainty in our conversations with retailers and brands. Many reported stable business and strong sales and most sounded optimistic about the future.
  • But there is uncertainty about the new show timing. For the brands, they are asking, “Will more paper writing happen with earlier show dates? What is a trade show if we cannot prove ROI with PO’s?” The news for them is that ROI rationale left us a decade or more ago.
  • Retailers wonder about a summer show in June and a winter show in November, when their sales basis is not yet in the books and their shops are busy. Moving a fall season show to March and a summer show to October would be ideal for retailers. Not gonna happen. Next best is make it so suppliers can succeed with forecasting and deliveries.
  • “Wait and see” is the prevailing posture.

Nonetheless, many booths were packed, both with product and buyers; sales managers had their hands full; design people were on the lower level looking at new materials and meeting with factory partners; PR and marketing conversations took place everywhere and most everyone was upbeat.

  1. We apparently love Denver. We heard some nostalgia for Salt Lake City, but our new venue and our new host city resonate well with attendees. Hotels are always a point of contention, but airline access, food options, public transit and amenities unique to Colorado support us getting our work done, or at least relaxing well afterwards. While the Colorado Convention Center has some layout challenges (Street Level rabbit warren aisles) this didn’t seem to deter attendees. Plus, we have elected officials who want us there! Mayor Hancock, Senators Bennet and Gardner, Governor Hickenlooper, Luis Benitez. How refreshing. We don’t need to utter “Rob Bishop” or “Gary Herbert” ever again in the context of this trade show.
  1. It’s been happening for years. As someone wiser once said, roughly, “Things change slowly until we realize they have changed altogether.” Younger people are now the current and future force of the outdoor industry. Elders have a place, to be sure. But the torch has been passed and the momentum of idealism, creativity, energy and all-in commitment from the younger “Gens” are inspiring and comforting. An older friend who attended the Industry Party reported, “This ain’t our party anymore.” We think he also meant the street party.
  1. The off-show-floor events were better than ever.
  • Timothy Egan’s (New York Times columnist) breakfast talk on the history of conservation at The Conservation Alliance’s summer meeting was a clear alarm bell and a call to action for individuals and companies alike concerned with the shameless assaults on our public lands.
  • OIA’s Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy presentations and graduation Sunday are something we all can be proud of. Nearly 100 younger industry leaders are now graduates. These new graduates were so energized and inspired and it rubbed off.
  • Venture Out kept a sharp point on new ideas and forward design.
  • Shannon Walton and Stacy Bare tried something new with their alcohol-free happy hour.
  • Kenji Haroutunian, James Mills and a host of others once more raised the issue of diversity in the industry at their semi-annual Diversity Luncheon, and broke attendance records.
  • And there were dozens more, helping answer the question, “If we’re not writing PO’s here, then what are we doing?”
  1. SLC food definitely improved during the years we were there, and there are kitchens we will miss such as Molise, Valter’s, Red Iguana, Spenser’s, Pallet, Toasters, J. Wong’s and others. We enjoyed the exploration and the new friends we met over the years. But Denver is in another gastro league altogether. Alex Seidel’s excellent Mercantile in Union Station. Wow. Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s new Tavernetta, also in Union Station. Wow again. Lon Symensma’s Asian wonder, ChoLon Bistro. And, just before skedaddling out of town, we sampled 5280 Burger Bar, one of the best bites in town. We have years’ worth of dining options ahead, with more coming on line all the time. Just count the higher-end NYC chefs who have chosen Denver as home. Nom nom!
  1. There’s always room for comedy. While pausing for the ever-recurring calendar check, we heard a couple young fellows, sprawled on the floor, texting, saying, “What we have in mind is kind of a ‘Patagonia 2.0’ “. Yeah. Don’t we all.
  1. We heard a bit of carping on social media about iteration versus innovation in outdoor. This is barely news. We will leave the product reviewing to others, but innovation was clearly evident. Bigger brands had compelling offerings, but as always, the new companies, the tiny, under-funded booths were a goldmine. Remember when Beaver and Pam had a 10 x 20 and folding tables showing prAna? Or Ex Officio doing the same that first year with Joe Bolden in a similar set-up? Or when Arc’teryx showed only harnesses? And did we say “van life”?
  1. Denver is carless-friendly. The 16th Street free trolley gets us down to Union Station, where some of that good food is. Or back up from the airport train. For nine bucks a day, we can ride RTD all over the Front Range, come in from DIA, go home to Boulder or just slip away to Golden and take a nap.
  1. Given how many meeting rendezvous I held “in the lobby, adjacent the Big Blue Bear” and seeing so many others doing the same, we’re going to need a bigger bear.
  1. Finally, unlike many organizations I know of, those leading the changes to our trade show landscape were on site and available, the entire show. We all had ample opportunity to speak with Darrel Denny, Marisa Nicholson, Amy Roberts, Larry Harrison, Joe Bustos, Matt Kaplan, Krista Dill, Ingrid Malmberg and others. While OR and OIA are not “democratic” per se, these folks are always open to input, critique and suggestions. We find that refreshing and unique.

See you all in November!

1 Comment

  1. Shawn Barnett

    Awesome review. Enjoyed very working with you.