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Outdoor Retailer Bounces Back


Outdoor Retailer, which many in the industry considered languishing, surprisingly bounced back during its last performance in Denver. The aisles were full of an upbeat younger crowd wearing tee shirts with canvas shorts and tapered pants. Sales managers were smiling and the amount of swag being given away was almost overboard. Maybe it was the mask-free effect, or months without a meaningful physical show; this outdoor show was energetic, happy and full of new possibilities.

In a twist worthy of a spy novel, the absence of the major players turned into the show’s greatest strength. First, the six hour block of time retailer buyers used to save for the big guys was spent wandering the outdoor bazaar and resulted in increased opportunities for smaller companies. Secondly, the absence of the major player’s mega booths made for a cozier and more carnival-like feeling overall. The ambience was excellent.

The show was focused on camping and lifestyle accessories more than big displays of apparel and gear. The floor was full of smaller specialty vendors and a wide variety of ‘alternative’ companies stacked in ten foot booths along the main aisles. This left Venture Out a bit lonely, as the whole show had kinda taken on their vibe. Definitely not lonely was the textile and technology companies who were all pushed together for the first time. It looked exciting. Note however, I heard repeatedly that fabric vendors are looking to move to material specific shows like the Functional Fabric Fair.

Overall, this show was a continuation of the industry’s focus shifting away from heroically dominating mountains to simply enjoying the outdoors and promoting stewardship of the environment. The Outdoor Retailer Show is embracing this change, but challenges remain with specialty shops happy to do their buying at regional sales rep shows, bigger outdoor retailers buying from big brands one-on-one, and the fabric and trim vendors seeking new trade show partnerships. The disconnection with traditional OR Shows of the past presents opportunity and opens the door to both an evolving interpretation of what is ‘outdoor’ and an expanding pool of retailers that might be interested in those products. That actually sounds a lot like what got the whole industry going in the first place.

Up Next:  Outdoor Retailer, Salt Lake City, January 10-12, 2023