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Summer Trade Show Season Is On its Way


After nearly 18 months without an in-person outdoor industry trade event, August will bring with it the return of Outdoor Retailer in Denver and the debut of The Big Gear Show in Park City. For OR Show execs, a key focus is on having the industry “show up” in whatever way they choose, and to serve as a place of community. For The Big Gear Show, a new show from a vetaran team, the focus is on delivering a curated, hands-on outdoor experience in a unique trade show environment.

For OR Show, the Focus Is on ‘Showing Up’

Outdoor Retailer Show, Denver, CO, August 10-12

After having to host its Summer 2020 and Winter 2021 trade shows virtually due to the pandemic, Outdoor Retailer show execs are focusing on the industry’s collective will to “show up” for the return of the in-person trade show this summer. Originally scheduled for June, Outdoor Retailer’s summer show is now set for August 10-12. The date change was made in order to facilitate an in-person event

While moving the event from June back to August allowed for more possibility of  travel as the pandemic restrictions have eased, the change in timing takes the show out of the traditional buying cycle dates. It also bumps up with some other trade show dates, including MAGIC/PROJECT in Las Vegas. The OR Show will be back to its June dates in summer 2022.

“In order for our industry to be able to come together this summer we needed to move out of June into August to allow for the greatest amount of brands and retailers to be there,” said Marisa Nicholson, SVP and show director for Outdoor Retailer, who answered some questions in a recent Instagram live session. She also noted that show management has learned lessons from other shows owned by OR parent Emerald Holdings that have already returned as in-person events. She acknowledged that industry brands and retailers are in different stages of “reopening and recovering” and said that will impact the type of presence businesses have at the show. Some brands may have product for an immediate sell, others may have more of a marketing presence, while others may have a more traditional product showcase.

“This is the first time the industry will really be together in almost 18 months,” Nicholson said. “And brands are thinking about how they want to show up. It’s been fun to have conversations with brands about what they can do differently [at the show]. I’m excited to see the changes and the ways  different brands are approaching this particular event.”

OR plans to have a floor plan out by the end of June. “We are still having tons of conversations,” said Nicholson, noting that “it is evolving as more brands are signing up.”

OR Brand and Retail List

Show organizers have released a list of 100-plus brands who will be at the show. Brands on board to attend include The North Face, Liberty Mountain, LOWA, Osprey Packs, Pendleton, Rab, GCI Outdoor, Kavu, and Wolverine, and more. On the retail side, show organizers report that more than 3,000 buyers are registered so far, representing Academy Sports + Outdoors, Alpine Shop, Canadian Tire, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Huckberry, JAX, Mountain Sports, Peace Surplus, Vail Resorts, Whole Earth Provision Co., and more.

The “fluidity” of the show situation includes its safety protocols — the show had originally indicated that it would require masks and social distancing, but Nicholson recently updated that, saying the show will work within local and state guidelines and restrictions to update safety protocols as the show approaches.

Education and Networking

OR will once again have an extensive educational component at the show this summer, as well as an online component that kicks off in July. Utilizing outdoor space is also a focus, with a “Basecamp” for events that will be located across from the Colorado Convention Center entrance.

Nicholson says she feels many in the industry feel it is “important to show up” — not just to industry events, but to “show up” in a more general sense for causes and beliefs overall — a hallmark of the outdoor community.

As for OR this summer, she said, “It is a great opportunity for us all to get together and have a collective voice on how we recover from this and move the industry forward.”

Bringing a New Approach to the Trade Show Scene

The Big Gear Show, Park City, UT, August 3-5

Making its debut this August, The Big Gear Show is an invitation-only, multi-category trade event for the paddlesports, cycling, climbing, and camping markets. The show’s open-air, outdoor, demo experience will be fully integrated into the event, allowing buyers to test gear all day. Attendance is limited to 500 retailers (whose travel will be subsidized) and 250 brands. The veteran industry team behind the show, whose launch was delayed this past year due to COVID, includes co-founders Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush, Outdoor Show Director Kenji Haroutunian and Bike Show Director Lance Camisaca.

Key brands committed to The Big Gear Show by contract include, from the camping and climbing brand side: Camp Chef, Eureka, Goal Zero, Jetboil, Kleen Kanteen, La Sportiva, Liberty Mountain, Miir, Osprey, Petzl, Princeton Tec, SOG Specialty Knives & Tools, Scarpa, Sterling Rope, and more. In the cycling category, committed brands include Camelbak, Diamondback, Giro, Pinarello, POC Sports, Stan’s NoTubes, Tern Bicycles, Troy Lee Designs, Wahoo Fitness, and Yakima. In paddlesports, brands on board include AIRE, Astral, AquaGlide, Eddyline Kayaks, Esquif Canoe, Johnson Outdoors / Ocean Kayak and Old Town Canoe, Oru Kayak, Seattle Sports, Suspenz, Tahe Outdoors / SIC, Wenonah Canoe / Current Designs, and more.

Key retailers committed to attend The Big Gear Show by contract (and receiving financial support to attend), include specialty shops like Appomattox, Bill Jackson’s, Sunlight Sports and The Trail Head, as well as regional and mass merchants like Scheels and Moosejaw, and e-commerce retailers like and Outdoorplay, as well as independent bike shops such as Global Bikes, Landry’s, Motion Makers, and Wheel & Sprocket.

Sutton Bacon, co-founder, The Big Gear Show, answered a few of our questions about The Big Gear Show.

What are some of the key aspects of your show that you see potential attendees being most excited about?

“The Big Gear Show is different because of who we’re looking to serve. We want this to be a place for retailers to do business with brands. Specialty retailers and brick-and-mortar stores are continually challenged by the ongoing and relentless change in retail trends, and yet we see them as very integral to our communities. We need them and we want to see them supported. So one thing we’re doing that is incredibly unique to most national shows is that we are paying them to come through our retailer incentive program. Another focus of ours is to offer a myriad of bonus features to show attendees. We’re looking at some really creative and compelling media opportunities. We’re working with the NBDA, People for Bikes, grassroots organizations, and industry veterans to build an educational tract that runs through the whole show — six sessions a day for each of the three days. These seminars will be beneficial to the retailers. Attendees can just drop in on whatever they’re really interested in. We’re really excited about it.

I guess the last big one to mention is that by holding this show, outside in Park City, not only is it safer because of the pandemic, but it takes so much of the pressure off the brands. This is not a ‘minimum $30k investment’ kind of event for brands just to get in the door, like other shows can be. It doesn’t cost two grand to hang a sign. You don’t need to pay a union to put up your booth. In fact, we are encouraging exhibitors to keep their booths simple and let their people and their product carry their brand’s message.

Our show is so much more lightweight. It’s meant to fit into a modern marketing budget — and we believe it will fit. The Big Gear Show fills a need that the old model trade show just cannot achieve anymore. Our vision is that the big tradeshow stuff doesn’t really add anything to the end result, anyway. A commercial location and big convention center is not why people come. They come to do business, learn, and to be inspired by their own community. Heck, that’s all the important stuff, and we can do all of that stuff better outside anyway. We’re the outdoor industry, after all. This is why both retailers and brands are excited about The Big Gear Show.”

One interesting element of The Big Gear Show is that it is curated on the retail and brand side and retailers are “paid to attend” – what can you share as far as how the business model for this works?

“We don’t want to give away our special recipe! What I can say is that along with saving brands money by cutting out the fancy convention center, unions, nickel and dime fees, and the idea that each booth has to outdo the other, we are able to build in a little bit of retail and media subsidy cost into each brand’s footprint. It’s still so much cheaper than the old way of doing it — by, like, half or more. Honestly, so much of the money that brands spend on the old trade show model gets sucked out of our industry and flows straight to Wall Street. Not only is that not cool, but how is that possibly helping anyone? That’s why people are sour on it. And the times have changed too. A marketing director just can’t justify the $30k, $50k, $200k investment in a single event for a single industry any more. Back in the day, that kind of investment on a trade show had value, it was justifiable; the return was there. Now, it’s just not.

So how do we change the model? I mean, honestly, the bike industry is a good example. They’ve got Sea Otter, and how the bike industry supported it really changed the game. Kudos to Frank [Yohannan, Sea Otter co-founder] and all the brands that built that ‘race’ into the industry event it is. They showed us that we need to gather, but we don’t necessarily need to do it where kegs cost $800 with an extra $50 an hour for someone to pour your beer. We’ve taken this enthusiasm to gather out of doors and tweaked it to fill a need that’s still there and wasn’t being met. Sea Otter is a consumer event. Outerbike, which is just another twist on the model, is a consumer event. The Big Gear Show is a retailer-centric event.”

What are the key factors you take into account when deciding which retailers can get an invite to The Big Gear Show?

“Something I didn’t get into in the last question is that there’s a finite amount of space, both with regards to the curated show experience we are creating and with regards to keeping people spread out and safe amidst the pandemic. So, how did we select? It’s pretty simple — we’re retailers ourselves, so we put together a list of who we thought were the very best gear shops in the country. These are our friends, in some cases our competitors, shops and people that we look up to, have served on boards and committees with, and have known for years. We didn’t do it by size or number of doors or anything like that. We just invited who we thought were the best of the best. We also have some great partners in the NBDA and Grassroots and we are very excited to host their members at the event. Since our initial invitations went out, we’ve also been flooded with applications from other retailers who would like to attend on a space-available basis. For those, we review each application carefully and vet them through the lens of commitment to brick-and-mortar, Main Street USA-style retail with a high emphasis on customer service and product knowledge. We are filling up fast, so any retailers who would like to attend or that haven’t yet confirmed their invitations need to do so ASAP.”

What will a typical day/schedule look like for attendees of The Big Gear Show?

“We’re really excited about the variety of opportunities that we’re putting together. Obviously, the show is a demo, so you need to come prepared to hop in a boat, go for a ride, or hit the trails on foot. We’re anticipating most of the ‘business’ at this show will be done between buyers and brands on the water, trails, or chairlifts. Plus, the educational and networking opportunities I mentioned earlier. We’re really trying hard to be creative too. We’re working closely with the team at Verde Brand Communications to provide an exceptional and unexpected experience to the trade and consumer media, one that hopefully helps them deepen their connection to the products they cover and our community as a whole. We even want to give them, meaning these journalists and creators, the chance to take center stage. Honestly, though this is still too much in the works to really dive into details, nonetheless, I’m still super excited about the possibilities.” l

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Jun 21, 2021


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