With the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, now several weeks before many key U.S. shows -- this year, July 22 to 25 â€“ it has become THE international preview of 2005 outdoor product, certainly for European companies, but also for the battalion of North American companies that are establishing ever bigger camps there.
U.S brands such as Black Diamond, Trango, Superfeet, Osprey, Keen, Chaco, Montrail, Eagle Creek, Smartwool, Western Mountaineering, Vasque, Timberland, Camelbak, Thorlo, Teva, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Jetboil, Outdoor Research, and more, laid out their product, noting to the SNEWSÂ® team on hand that in most cases, what we were being shown was what the company would also debut at WSA or Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
Jumping in with both feet
In addition to many European-focused companies such as Vaude, Jack Wolfskin and Fjallraven, a number of North American companies were at the show for their European debut or expansion.
>> Chaco took a booth there for the first time to fully kick off its European launch. The company doesn't expect to sell more than few hundred pairs this year, but will exponentially increase that in 2005 as it brings on more retailers and distributors. Chaco rolled out its new line of urban sandals with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi outdoor chic. You'll see them at the OR show.
>> Keen packed 'em into its booth for its European debut â€“ the company had just finalized its incorporation papers for a GmbH three days before the show opened. Its booth was tucked into the back of a hall but no one seemed to have trouble finding it. The company even had a customer appointment at 5 p.m. the last day of the show â€“ which closes at 5! Look for 18 new lines for Spring '05.
>> Mountain Hardwear, also fresh off its new identity as a GmbH and on its own feet in Europe sans distributors, was setting up offices and at the OutDoor show on its own feet, which Mike Wallenfels called "a big turning point" for the company after about two months of work. "Its been really rewarding to meet the retailers directly," he said.
>> Superfeet also was staffing its first OutDoor show booth on the heels of some European reorganization, using distributors now instead of agents, and is looking forward to a full European show schedule. It has a distributor in the United Kingdom now and is being taken to France, Australia, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, among others.
Eye on the U.S.
More than one European company noted to SNEWS that it would be undertaking a U.S. debut at this year's Summer Market.
>> SmarTube, a "drinking tube for bottles" out of Israel is in its third year, but will be working with a small distributor in the United States. Basically, the product is a drinking tube that comes with various sizes and types of screw on lids so any bottle â€“ from the large 2-liters to Nalgenes to small store-bought water bottles â€“ can become hydration systems. www.bluedesert.co.il
>> Macpac backpack- and tent-specialist Macpac from New Zealand told us the company would be doing a select debut for North America, but since it was too late to get onto the show floor, it would be in a room at the Marriott across the street. Not ideal perhaps, but good enough. Macpac's canvas packs are unique enough, and the quality of the entire pack line if good enough, that with the right specialty retailer, the company should find strong results.
Eye on the Europeans
Although European companies often watch North America for trends, that's not to say that watching the Europe-based companies' marketing efforts doesn't also offer insight:
>> Jack Wolfskin is continuing is push farther into broader TV and sports venue advertising, doubling its TV budget this winter despite CEO Manfred Hell saying some have said the company is throwing away its money. "We want to bring m ore people to our sport," Hell said, "not only for us, but for the industry."
>> Vaude unveiled its new "Vaude Woman" campaign, in which the company said it searched through a public competition for somebody â€“ man or women â€“ representative of the outdoor sport who would represent Vaude in person and on TV and in ads. It would not be a professional, they said, but an everyday person with a passion for the outdoors. They introduced Martina Mrak, a gorgeous blonde from Tirolia who is a ski and mountaineer instructor, climbing instructor and ice climber (this is everyday?). The slogan is, translated, "A woman just like you and me." Hmmâ€¦
Look out because you might see them over here before long
But what can be a true treat is taking a look at non-North American product that is NOT yet in the United States -- but might well be before too long. In this category, SNEWS saw a few companies that will be ones to watch:
>> Flatworld -- No, not a sci-fi flick, but a small company â€“ if you can even call it that really â€“ out of the United Kingdom. For his major in industrial design engineering at a British university, Jay Cousin came up with what is best described as camping origami â€“ flat sheets of plastic that can be folded and shaped into three-dimensional cups and bowls and, when snapped and unsnapped in certain ways, can also be cutting boards, coffee filters, scoops and the likes. His product is called "Orikaso," which he called a "bastardized" version of Origami â€“ Ori means fold and Kaso means plastic. This really is the coolest stuff and he's been so swamped after showcasing it as a winner of an ispo BrandNew award, he's trying to get his business ducks in a row. www.flatworld.co.uk.
>>Berghaus pack -- Having a male model bending into yoga positions is indeed a unique way to demonstrate the flexibility of a company's pack, and that is exactly what Berghaus did to show off their new Bioflexâ„¢, which company CEO Tony Post told us has been in development for nearly three years. Worries over the mechanical nature of the suspension aside and possible breakage in the field, the 'ergofit' design does appear to work continuously with the body, keeping in tune with its movements and transferring load to the hips regardless of posture or position. This allows the user to flex, twist or pivot and presumably leads to a much more comfortable carry with noticeably reduced fatigue. All we can say is a loaded pack felt wonderful on the trade show floor as we clambered up and down various obstacles Berghaus had set up in the booth. Post tells us he's not heading to the U.S. anytime soon, but if and when he does, he promises to "do it well and do it right." Go to www.berghaus.com
>> Pacer poles -- Well, the big boys -- Leki and the like -- didn't listen to Alan Rhodes, a aerospace engineer, and his wife Heather, a physiotherapist, back in the '80s we're told, but you can bet they're paying attention now. The Rhodes advocated for PAIRS of poles, not singles. The others picked up on that twosome concept on their own. But what sets apart Pacer is the grip, which is unique ergonomic molded shape that supports and cradles the hand and actually keeps the wrist and hand in a biomechanical neutral position. There are also no straps either, so no rubbing, although there is a thin leash. We have to say, the SNEWS team went "WOW!" upon testing these briefly on the show floor and can't wait to get our hands of a pair here in the U.S. to test more fully. www.pacerpole.com
>> AARN packs -- If you remember a company by the name of Natural Balance, and the product Balance Buddies, then this bit will not be a surprise, except to acknowledge that Aarn Tate is still alive and well, though not selling in the U.S. anymore. Dubbed "body packs" the bags feature a pack on the back, and then via a unique "flex motion" suspension, "balance pockets" on the front to create a load that is carried in a, well, balanced manner and not all on the hips or back. In testing these packs back in the 90's when they were sold in the U.S., we found them to be among the most comfortable we'd ever carried -- assuming you could get over the feeling of being strapped into a pack that enveloped you. While U.S. consumers didn't embrace the idea, Tate has won numerous design and product awards in Europe and remains a small but very successful company based in New Zealand. Go to www.aarnpacks.com
EOG pushes communication of sleeping bag standards
As SNEWSÂ® reported earlier this year, A new European testing standard for sleeping bags, EN 13537 -- 2002 "Requirements for Sleeping Bags" now defines how to measure and display the temperature ratings for sleeping bags, a standard which promises to change the sleeping bag industry -- at least in Europe. Of course, here's the catch -- the standard is not mandatory. But watch out! All manufacturers selling sleeping bags into Europe who choose not to comply with the standard by the end of 2004 do so at their own peril according to the European Outdoor Group (EOG). In meeting of leading U.S. and European sleeping bag manufacturers on Friday, July 23, it was unanimously agreed that the EOG will work to provide a communication medium to help manufacturers, retailers, and consumers better understand what the standards really mean.
What was made clear to all in attendance was that while the standard was not mandatory, if a manufacturer chooses not to comply, and then publishes temperature ratings on a bag or in a catalog and there is a liability issue (perhaps someone dies or is injured while using the bag) the EU will come down on that manufacturer like a ton of bricks.
Testing is expensive -- up to 1,500 Euro per bag -- so the EOG has agreed to try to work with testing labs on behalf of its members to minimize testing costs.
In addition, those in attendance at the meeting agreed to take the last eight pages in
Ajungilak's "Sleep Well -- A Review of the Temperature Standards for Sleeping Bags" brochure and incorporate it into a communication retailers can use to educate consumers. Sleep Well Part 1 is currently available as a downloadable PDF file in English and German. Click here to download the complete Sleep Well brochure.