Only three months into his new job as show director for both Outdoor Retailer and FlyFishing Retailer, Kenji Haroutunian is already moving the furniture and knocking down walls in Salt Lake City -- at least metaphorically. Acutely aware the trade show landscape is changing, Haroutunian is working closely with Joe Flynn, vice president of Nielsen Sports Group (parent of Outdoor Retailer and FlyFishing Retailer), and moving quickly to ensure Outdoor Retailer not only survives the evolutionary process natural in all market progression, but in fact prospers. And in so doing, he trusts the show will then be able to serve the industry
Haroutunian told SNEWS® that part of the evolutionary process is ensuring his team works very closely with Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to ensure both Summer Market and Winter Market are best meeting the needs of the industry.
"The trade shows are a different place than when I started," Haroutunian told SNEWS®. "There is an energy around the outdoor show that is not so much about buying and selling widgets on the show floor."
Flynn added he and Haroutunian are fully committed to creating a show that directly reflects what the industry wants and what OIA wants. "The outdoor industry can be an umbrella for new categories of exhibitors and retailers that are interested in the show and the market potential, with possible cross over with action sports, but only if it makes sense for the show and it is what the industry wants," Flynn said.
Though there are retailers and others who question the large presence of suppliers at a trade show for the outdoor market, Haroutunian points out that this is yet another example of evolution serving a market need.
"Companies such as The North Face and JanSport are bringing five to six key designers to the shows who come in simply to shop for components and new fabric and fiber technologies," said Haroutunian.
To address this need, and focus attention where it needs to be focused, Haroutunian's team has created the Design Center, a supplier/component sourcing area of the show now located on the second level (Meeting Room 255).
Of course, the show's growing pains and need for more space are not lost on either Haroutunian or Flynn, which is why in 2008, Summer Market will feature a new section of the trade show, catering directly to the needs of the suppliers and located across the street from the convention center in the Energy Solutions Arena.
Another evolution in the show is the addition of associated events running concurrent with the show, which will work to drive energy both in the event and in the market interest for the industry with media and other attendees.
"We will be seeing more things like the bouldering competition which will be happening this year," said Haroutunian. "I have notes going back to 2004 when we were working with what was then known as the Professional Climbers Association, seeking to create events that have a unique synergy that can add to the business energy of a trade show."
Though he's not ready to talk about any commitments yet, Haroutunian confirmed to SNEWS® what we had been hearing recently: Communities near Salt Lake City are looking to work with Outdoor Retailer to create a whitewater event that would also be concurrent with the trade show.
"Utah clearly wants to be the center of the recreational universe, and we are looking at how we can leverage the show and build constellations or other events around the show with Outdoor Retailer as the mother ship," said Haroutunian.
"Salt Lake City is an example of a city that really wants to help the industry. Our shows have a lot of clout that allow us to work with the city over the next five to 10 years to develop that festival atmosphere that will be critical to the show's future," added Flynn.
While Haroutunian does not argue that there are some things that make sense in the context of outdoor and things that don't -- like bringing ATVs into the show, for example -- he suggests that an open mind needs to govern discussions and debate.
"I have been certainly guilty of not welcoming folks to our show because of preconceived ideas," he told SNEWS®. "While we gave Canine Hardwear a booth many years ago, I did not see pets and dogs as core to our market, and put them out in a back area. Before long, I was seeing dog products in outdoor specialty retail stores and soon, more companies and a strong category was created. I was wrong. I have learned that some things may not match my idea of what is core, but if I trust the natural evolution of the market, the things that belong in an outdoor shop will become evident and survive."
Flynn allowed that while he and Haroutunian will be willing to welcome new trends, ideas and exhibitors to the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, the show will not lose sight of the fact it is a reflection of what is going on in the outdoor specialty retail storefronts.
To that end, Flynn told SNEWS®, "We want to align very much with what OIA feels is the right direction and we will always get their opinion before making any decisions and that is a change."
Noting that new markets and collections are coming into the Outdoor Retailer shows, Haroutunian said his team has worked hard to create zones or collections where products and categories can be featured.
"SNEWS® was clued into, and in fact, probably helped inspire the endurance trend years ago with its coverage of ultras, adventure racing, trail running and more," said Haroutunian. "So, this year, we have created an Endurance Sports Zone, where activewear, footwear and accessory brands catering to the endurance market are located."
In addition, there is a hardgoods focused area called The Gear Loft, an Accessories Feature Area, and an Apparel Feature Area. For specific locations of the new areas, look on the map located above and to the right of this paragraph.
"The design of the show speaks to the name of the show. It is a different industry but the focus is and must be on the retail landscape. There has always been climbing and paddlesports areas…now there are others that make sense and that will continue as we continue to evolve naturally," said Haroutunian.
When we asked Haroutunian to summarize what he wants most for the show under his watch, he said, "For over 20 years I've been advocating for people to get outdoors, and I hope to continue my work from this new post, serving the industry with the same mission. It's really exciting to see the energy out there for youth involvement, for preserving our natural resources and promoting an active, healthy lifestyle. Customers and vendors will have many different ways to produce and develop products and bring those products to market and I want to be sure we can serve those needs well."
SNEWS® View: So refreshing. Both Haroutunian and Flynn get it. This is a market-focused approach to doing business, providing customers solutions to issues they have by serving the needs of the market as the market dictates.
While there is still some paper being written at Outdoor Retailer -- and the move of Summer Market 2009 to an earlier date is an acknowledgement that more and more order confirmations are being placed earlier -- the show is evolving into a gathering of the tribe. It is a place where new products are seen, the media gathers, the retailers gather, the manufacturers gather, the suppliers gather and the reps gather, and we all celebrate the outdoors. The more the show becomes that festival it is working to become, and the more it becomes a celebration of innovation, inspiration and new directions and trends, the more compelling it will be to attend.
We are very pleased to see Haroutunian's influence already being felt in the press room, where the show has announced it is going paperless with single sample copies of press kits and PDF versions available for download to complimentary USB storage cards.
Haroutunian and Flynn are moving the show in the right direction. Let's hope Nielsen continues to give them the latitude and resources necessary to see the ideas they have and the enthusiasm their teams have see fruit.
Oh, and we have a show tip for you… if you are hungry at Summer Market, and who isn't, the best food going, and most relaxing atmosphere is on the third level of the convention center at the OR-ganic Café. Tell 'em SNEWS® sent you.