What’s Next for Outdoor Retailer
Q&A, Jeff Davis, Group VP, Emerald.
The trade show landscape in 2023 continues to evolve. Every trade show operator in our industry is juggling multiple challenges. Outdoor Retailer, for decades seen as a “go-to” twice a year national trade show, is certainly seen by many to be at a crossroads. The show is smaller than it has been in the past, but what will it look like going forward?
Emerald, the parent company of Outdoor Retailer, has been making moves over the past several months in an effort to ensure that OR can be what it sees as “the intersection of commerce and culture, content and conversation for outdoor and snow sports.”
Among the changes — the OR Show is now firmly back in Salt Lake City after several years in Denver. The OR Summer show now takes place in June, with the OR Winter show taking place in November. And there are two new additions — a consumer event, Outdoor Adventure X, taking place before the summer show, and a conference and on-mountain event in January, The Summit by OR, which will take place during the existing Winter Sports Market buying group event.
And most recently, Emerald acquired Lodestone Events, a company with plenty of experience in hosting consumer outdoor events.
To get a better handle on where the OR Show is headed, we spoke with Jeff Davis, Group VP at Outdoor Retailer parent company Emerald, for his take.
Your new Outdoor Adventure X consumer show will take place this June at Snowbasin Resort the weekend preceding Outdoor Retailer’s business-to-business (B2B) summer show in Salt Lake City. The team at Lodestone Events, producers of the Overland Expo series of adventure travel consumer shows, which Emerald just acquired, will oversee OAX. How do you see the consumer and trade side working together?
“What we have heard from some brands is that they’re interested in interacting with consumers but not really in the B2B environment. It’s got to be something different. [The Lodestone team] is so good at the consumer side, and they have such depth of experience at it.
Outdoor Adventure X is an event that is about outdoor rec. It’s about fun and it’s about ‘how to’ type of stuff. There will be hiking, biking, climbing, camping and glamping. That will happen at Snowbasin on the weekend in advance of Outdoor Retailer which will take place at the Salt Palace downtown in June.
There is a clear differentiator here between the consumer event and the B2B trade show event. At the B2B event brands are showing next year’s product line to retailers, while at the consumer event a brand is showing today’s product to consumers. So, they are completely different experiences from that standpoint.”
So, do you see the OR Summer Show and OAX as two separate entities? How do you see the consumer element contributing to the trade show?
“They are two separate entities, but what we believe will happen is that the energy that flows from the consumer event will flow over to the B2B environment. For the brands that are participating in the B2B environment, their customers in that environment are the retailers. So, they don’t want to mix the retailers with the consumer. There have been groups that have tried to do that, I would say unsuccessfully before, and that’s not something we are doing. So those are two completely different environments.”
Let’s talk about the timing of the OR Show, and the dates of the summer and winter events going forward. You have a schedule now that’s different than it has been in the past. The summer show is now in June and the winter show will be in November. Then you also have another new event, The Summit, which is in January and is tied in with a buying group event, Winter Sports Market. What is the reasoning behind these new dates?
“Nothing changes for June. I’ll be really clear about that. We feel good about the June timeframe. For the winter show, what we hear from the brands, especially on the apparel side, is that the January OR Show dates were just too late. So, November makes more sense for OR Winter because brands can showcase product and service the beginning of the buy-sell cycle.
On the hard goods side, that timing is a little bit different. Those retailers can’t really leave their store until after MLK weekend because it’s just so busy. So, the idea of The Summit in January is that we have this new partnership with the Winter Sports Market buying group event. They will continue to conduct their trade event as they had, and we will do some on-mountain activity with The Summit where brands can have product demos. And we will route some conference programming and some educational sessions around the Winter Sports Market event that will be happening at the Salt Palace.
We think this date lineup aligns better than trying to do business for everyone in one location at the same time. This enables us to serve the market better than we have before.”
Coming off a few years where people changed a lot of their business practices, often with more virtual and less face-to-face interaction, what do you see the role of trade shows being? Particularly your show. How do you view OR as far as what it means to the industry now?
“I think things are different now. But what we hear consistently across the board is that there is a desire — from brands, retailers and others — for a national show. One of the things that Outdoor Retailer is really great at is it’s about what’s new. It’s about emergence. It’s about discovery. We do that better than anybody. We saw some of that at Outdoor Retailer in January. At the show’s innovation awards, you take a brand like Opolis, the founder figured out how to make ski goggles from the plastic bottles that he was pulling out of the water! You get discovered at OR for things like that. That really inspires entrepreneurs and young people to get into this business and to do something really cool. It’s hard to find that at other events.
We think we are the best platform to have a national event. I don’t think that there is an appetite from a lot of brands who may have had that 6,600 square foot booth back in 2017, to do that again. It’s fair to say they may not feel the need to have an activation that big going forward, and that’s fine. We don’t expect people to do that. But we do hope to get as many brands in as we can, without question.
Some of the new and emerging brands — which are easier to find at Outdoor Retailer — they do better when the broader industry comes together with some of these bigger brands participating. Everyone can get more eyeballs on what they’re doing. We certainly like that.”
A lot of vendors and retailers have turned to smaller buying shows or regional outdoor trade shows. And other trade shows have carved out some space for outdoor as well. Do you think there is room in the outdoor marketplace for all of these trade events?
“From the retailer standpoint, the calendar is not super-efficient right now for their time. There are a lot of these regional events which are strictly commerce focused and they’re having some success doing what they’re doing. But what we hear from retailers is that there’s too much on the calendar. And I have heard this from some brands: I think Outdoor Retailer has a role to try to bring a lot of this together and certainly we want to create the most efficient marketplace we can for both buyer and seller.”
Is there anything else you would add?
“With this marketplace and these audiences — the outdoor industry is not full of people who want to just sit behind a screen or stare at their phone. They want to get out. They want to be together, and we see us as being the place where that happens again.
We like our calendar going forward. This is always going to be a puzzle to be working on — where does this piece go or where does that piece go. But we’ll get the center of it right. Our goal is to serve the marketplace in the most efficient way that we can and to be that national gathering spot, especially on the Outdoor Retailer side. We’re excited about what the future holds.”