With the economic crisis still a whisper in their ears, outdoor retailers gathered in Germany at the 17th annual OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen mostly ready to buy as European consumers indicated a willingness to again open their pocketbooks, especially when it came to outdoor products.
Per normal, the annual gathering -- this year July 15-19 -- became more than a viewing of gear and apparel as several new hot topics and trends emerged:
• The threat of higher prices due to increased labor and material costs from China -- and how the retailers let alone the consumers would react,
• The search for a transparent and consistent means to show consumers the sustainability of products -- and if the outdoor industry would indeed take action as an industry,
• How outdoor as a sports segment continues to do much better even when other segments experience ups and downs, and
• The growth of international cooperation for the good of the entire industry.
“The brands are posting unbelievable gains. We really do have a boom going on in the industry at the moment,” Mark Held, executive director of the European Outdoor Group, told SNEWS®. “And I also sense the industry is more ready now than ever to discuss common issues. There is a growing sense of international cooperation here that there wasn’t before.”
Certain product trends also emerged or continued -- merino wool, lifestyle crossover, and an emphasis on the environment in manufacturing and materials.
With such global trends and worldwide cooperation, no wonder the show again posted gains in both attendees and exhibitors. Overall attendance was reported at 20,460, up from 19,300 in 2009. (In Europe, traditionally, one “visit” is equal to one retail buyer entering the show on one day, meaning for example three “visits” could be the same retailer coming on three different days. Manufacturers, media and other VIPs are not counted.) Exhibitor numbers also spiked upward, reaching 868 -- up 7 percent from last year’s 810. They came from 39 countries, up one country over 38 in 2009.
Cooperation and expansion
For the second year at the OutDoor show -- and in a spirit of cooperation seen by the Scandinavians, French and a few other countries -- the Czechoslovakians created an open-forum “Czech Village” to help promote their country’s brands.
“Czech companies that all manufacture in the Czech Republic -- with good Czech beer,” said Roman Kamler, president and CEO of the premium Tilak brand in the village. “We share customers. It’s more effective.”
Even with two new halls, the OutDoor show (www.outdoor-show.com) still filled its expansive open-air courtyard with last-minute and first-timer companies, as well as plenty of games and fun -- slackliners had a heyday, climbers took over walls, trail runners competed on a faux trail, and hacky sack, flying disc and other toss, run and throw games kept attendees occupied between meetings.
A couple of first-timers out of the United States told SNEWS they found their visit worthwhile.
“I’m very pleased,” said Bob Hunnewell, president of GoMotion, stationed in the courtyard. “I walked in with an empty calendar on purpose.
“On day one alone I met six people,” he added, ticking off distributors from Benelux, the U.K., Scandinavia, Japan, Israel and others. “This has been a pleasant surprise. It’s going to be worthwhile.”
Matt Patterson of HydraPak also said his company’s first experience has opened a whole new dimension of business opportunities in areas of the world it would not have seen at the U.S. shows. Plus, it’s allowed them to have meetings with European brands to discuss OEM business.
Trends -- real or not
With the precipitous drop in talk about and interest in Nordic walking -- not dead but not hot and growing -- four companies apparently decided they needed to manufacture a new trend. Lowa, Meindl, Deuter and Leki launched what they called Speed Hiking (www.speedhiking.de), which promotional materials called, loosely translated, “the athletic form of trekking.” According to a Meindl spokeswoman, Speed Hiking lies somewhere between trail running and Nordic walking but with poles and a pack and in the mountains. It’s not walking and it’s not running, we were told when we inquired what it really was other than a marketing package. “It’s a new sport form,” we were told.
When asked why retailers or consumers should care, the answer was, “We just have to wait and see.”
Nordic walking, by the way, has evolved into mostly slower urban walks with poles by ladies in city parks. That despite promotion by manufacturers illustrating its athletic nature and mini-workshops at trade shows where retailers clicked around the halls with poles. Retailers seemingly found that those that took to walks with poles didn’t care about athleticism and didn’t want to buy apparel, shoes and gear labeled as “Nordic walking” since anything worked.
One trend that was certainly evident and based on economic numbers was the leap in requests and sales of products made from merino wool. As the buying groups reported in show news conferences with German journalists that SNEWS attended, Icebreaker alone shot up in its sales and retailers were demanding products.
X-Bionic, with a new CEO in Andreas Soeffker, formerly of Falke, showed its expanded lightweight wool line although its super premium wool Apani line, one it debuted at the winter ispo show earlier this year, seems to be headed for high fashion.
No matter what the product line or trend, the OutDoor event continued in an outdoorsy setting on the Southern German shores of Lake Constance -- with retailers ready to keep their feet in the product waters.
“We create in summertime a real spirit of outdoor here,” said David Udberg, president of the European Outdoor Group and managing director of Lowe Alpine UK. “We are not out of the difficult economic circumstances yet … so we take a cautious but positive view of the future.”
In the next few weeks look for stories on the state of the European economy, a brouhaha over corporate sustainability, the debut of an index for companies to rate how environmentally sound their products are, a look at some European products, and many other topics.