Inaugural OB Outlook a good first effort

After quietly canceling its first attempt to put on a business conference for the outdoor industry from April 23-25, the Outdoor Business/SGB team regrouped nicely and pulled off what our eyes on the scene tell us was a very fine first effort. The first, in what SGB hopes will become an annual OB Outlook Conference, was held from Oct. 13-14 at the Hilton in Torrey Pines, Calif.
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After quietly canceling its first attempt to put on a business conference for the outdoor industry from April 23-25, the Outdoor Business/SGB team regrouped nicely and pulled off what our eyes on the scene tell us was a very fine first effort. The first, in what SGB hopes will become an annual OB Outlook Conference, was held from Oct. 13-14 at the Hilton in Torrey Pines, Calif.

Perhaps to save expenses and add enticement to attendees, the SGB team placed the OB event prior to an event they have been holding successfully for 14 years -- the annual SGB Industry Forum -- and from what several sponsors told us, that made the OB event more interesting to them since they could attend both the OB and the SGB events.

Attending sponsors told us they paid $6,000 or less (several sponsors told us they received sweetheart deals) -- plus the cost of providing product for the goody bags for retailers -- for the right to attend the event with two company executives, be listed as a sponsor, receive logo recognition in OB Outlook promotions, receive editorial publicity in OB, and receive an ad placement in an issue of OB. By our count, there were 10 official sponsors.

OB in turn covered all expenses for 22 invited retailers from Adventure 16, The Elephant's Perch, Sturtevant, Summit Haus, U.S. Outdoor Store, Popular Outdoor Outfitters, Campmor, Southwind Kayak Center, Fin & Feather, Kittery Trading Post, Midwest Mountaineering, Le Travel Store, Kirkham's Outdoor Products, Nomad Adventures, Mountain Gear, The Sportsman's Guide, Backcountry.com, Tent & Trails and Turner's Outdoorsman.

Retailers told us they very much enjoyed the small gathering and opportunity to spend quality time with companies they normally don't get much quality time with. Sponsors too echoed that, for a first time event, they thought OB did a commendable job.

The Seminars -- Quick Takes
The Call of the Wild: The Outdoor Industry in the 21st Century by Kurt Gray
Kurt Gray is a former shop owner turned product designer and self-proclaimed trend expert. He had an informative and entertaining presentation on how design trends move through the marketplace and affect everything from power tools to women's handbags. Trends can particularly be seen in ads for glasses, shoes, watches and cars. Gray led a discussion of how trends are started and/or detected. Gray asserts that the military now has as much influence as other leading industries these days when it comes to tech and styling demands.

Consumer Focus by Jim Spring
Jim Spring stated that Wal-Mart sells 8.5 percent of the general merchandise in America, which he believes is fine because people need a low cost way to try something and then they will come to specialty to buy quality gear or "trade up." Spring asserts that 25 percent of equipment sales happen at Target and Wal-Mart. Other numbers of interest included his view that women's business is up 22.4 percent overall, broken down as follows: Footwear 18.7 percent, Apparel 23.6 percent, Equipment 23.3 percent and Equipment Accessories 24.2 percent. He said more women are more active, have less time and are more stressed than ever before. They see the outdoors as very beneficial for relaxation, spiritual connection and excursive. New light and fast gear is allowing them to go farther faster with short adventures and immediate gratification. They value quality over quantity. Leisure time has never been more important or more precious to women. Spring also emphasized selling the dreams and experiences of the customers rather than just selling gear.

From Dell to Zara: New Earnings Strategies in the Retail Supply Chain by John Thorbeck, President and CEO of SupplyChainge Inc.
John Thorbeck offered up a unique presentation on the science and opportunity of streamlining/accelerating the supply chain (from manufacturing origins to the retail floor). According to Thorbeck, there's no good reason why six-month lead times in the supply chain should be the norm. He said even the factories acknowledge as few as 10 days is possible with proper management strategies applied. The amount of energy, human resources and capital presently wasted is unbelievable -- but we should consider this to be the good news. The technology model exists to optimize the supply chain (Zara, a Spanish-based firm, and Dell prove it everyday) and when the knowledge and energy are harnessed it may make our businesses all more profitable and effective.

Assessing Strategic Alternatives and Accessing Capital in Today's World by Andy Cocks, Vice President of Wachovia Securities, and Joseph Pellegrini, Managing Director of Wachovia Securities
The two spoke to strategic financing alternatives, mergers and acquisitions (and related impacts/trends) and accessing capital to grow business. The information provided was pertinent to those looking to sell/grow/merge. While they had some interesting comments about consolidation in the marketplace, the presentation quickly went into the amount of available capital funding in the market and how to take your company public. While that might have been good information for some of the vendors present -- at least those generating more than $10 million in sales annually -- it was not information most of the specialty retailers in attendance could use -- unless a company like A16 is now considering going public?

SNEWS® View: We have to commend SGB for pulling off the OB Outlook -- and in particular Mark Sullivan, SGB group editor and publisher, and Judy Leand, SGB executive editor. By all accounts, for a first time event, it was quite successful. It is important to remember that the first Rendezvous put on by OIA (then called ORCA) didn't exactly fire on all cylinders either. Applause for success aside, we do wonder what need the OB Outlook is filling though? Retailers and sponsors that attended both events told us there was little difference other than a feeling of intimacy at the OB event -- something an event such as the Rendezvous with over 250 folks in attendance simply can't pull off.

So, we ask, does the industry need OB? Well that depends on perspective. If all you are after is an opportunity to have quality face time between a select group of retailers and manufacturers, then the answer would be yes. However, if you are seeking an event that specializes in inspiring keynotes, educational seminars and valuable workshops appropriate to a broad range of industry professions, then the answer would be no since the Rendezvous already serves that purpose and does a much, much better job of delivering.

There is no question that OB (read SGB here) deserves the opportunity to launch a business venture that generates a reasonable profit center -- which is what OB Outlook clearly is. From what we heard, SGB really knows how to put on an event, and there is no doubt in our mind that OB intends to put on another OB event next year. But we have to wonder why? With only several exceptions, the retailers and sponsors we spoke with that attended the OB event felt that in an ideal world, OB/SGB and OIA would find a way to work together to provide one event that does not force the industry to have to make choices between two events that are, for all practical purposes, essentially the same.

Sure, retailers get to attend OB for free, but we suspect that OIA will soon begin offering similar benefits to retailers attending the Rendezvous, removing that level of competitive advantage OB enjoyed this year with Outlook. We suspect that if the Rendezvous and OB Outlook begin entering into a competition for attendance, the Rendezvous will win hands down, but at what cost? Wouldn't it be better for the industry to have one event to focus on making successful?

We believe SGB and OIA might do well to strike up a dialogue around SGB abandoning its OB Outlook attempt. We're not saying we want SGB to give up on generating more business, let's be clear. But we wonder if the very successful and already well-established SGB Industry Forum was held either right before or right after the very successful and well-established OIA Rendezvous, and in the same location, if a synergy couldn't be developed that benefits both events and makes a combined program THE must-attend industry gathering for both outdoor and sporting goods.

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