ispo outdoor show knows how to rock

With packed aisles, a party atmosphere and everyone seemingly jamming from meeting to event to happy hour, Germany's ispo sporting goods show's large outdoor segment rocked from beginning to end with an upbeat mood, leaving both exhibitors and attendees smiling.
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With packed aisles, a party atmosphere and everyone seemingly jamming from meeting to event to happy hour, Germany's ispo sporting goods show's large outdoor segment rocked from beginning to end with an upbeat mood, leaving both exhibitors and attendees smiling.

The outdoor show's activity was so frenetic that it seemed to leave some exhibitors and attending retailers overwhelmed and nearly breathless -- but being overwhelmed by energy overload and optimism can't be a bad thing.

"This show is just massive. It's busy. It's non-stop," said Exel's Chris Griffin, the company's international sales manager. "There's a nice energy and vibe. There's a bit of an adrenaline rush. There's a buzz in the air."

Prior to ispo's opening day, the trade show's Messe Muenchen management group's CEO Manfred Wutzlhofer told the media, "A trade show is a reflection of the industry, and we assume that a strong ispo will send a positive message to the market."

It wasn't more than a few days later that he and others must have been smiling broadly when they discovered that not only the energy was positive, but also that attendance jumped significantly to 57,000 (unaudited number) over the four days in a sold-out maze of 14 halls covering 1.7 million square feet. That's some positive message.

"It's been really busy," said Egil Fjellheim, Norwegian sales rep for Sweden's outdoor specialist Klaettermusen, where the booth was swamped the entire show in its small corner. "It's been absolutely perfect. It couldn't be better."

Education, networking … and beer

One thing about any trade show: It's not always only about the suppliers exhibiting and new product, but also about the opportunities to network, to socialize, and to learn about and be a part of what's going on in the broader industry world. In one of two snow sports halls, in one of two outdoor halls, and in the one "cross-over" hall with both snow sports and outdoor, ispo management arranged meeting areas or "summits" with ongoing talks, demonstrations, roundtable discussions, competitions and movies -- not to mention bottomless beer kegs. (An attendee could actually drink beer pretty much all day, but that's another story.)

The beauty of the summit areas was that one could pick up industry magazines, put up the tired dawgs or have someplace to rendezvous with other attendees or exhibitors while listening to or watching the program. That gives yet another reason for folks to come to the show -- expanding knowledge on industry trends, for example -- other than product. We liked the way ispo organized these areas in that they are smack in the middle of the show floor. Not only does that add energy to the floor, but also allows an attendee to just pop into an event without having to leave the show to find some distant lecture room. We bet that also brings more attendance to the events and talks since passers-by will stop and listen, then get intrigued enough to sit down and stay.

In the new "European Outdoor Summit" (slogan: "connecting outdoor professionals"), SNEWS® attended two roundtable discussions:

>> Marketing Strategies brought together a panel with an independent specialty retailer, a representative from buying group Sport 2000, the head of Germany's eBay, and a manufacturer (the always outspoken Manfred Hell of Jack Wolfskin). For more than an hour, attendees were entertained and educated, while listening to thought-provoking discussion about the different channel's pros and cons. And a little fire flared a time or two, as you can imagine with Hell's no-mince-word ways and eBay sharing a platform. A free-flowing discussion debated the controversy of brand stores, e-tail, mass sporting goods retailers vs. independents, trade show and individual order shows and, of course, eBay's "alternative sales channel," as put by Bens Frank of eBay. "We want our customers to be satisfied," said Frank, who said the company controls for counterfeits. Added Hell, "But you don't do that at all." Frank said his company was "concerned" about the problem. Sniped Hell, "The fact that you're concerned about it really moves me, but … it still doesn't work." Get the idea of the fun we had?

>> A Nordic walking roundtable had participants from retailers to Nordic walking trainers and teachers, company representatives and marketing consultants discussing where the trend is headed, what's been happening, how retailers are participating and what training means. Although not a new topic in Europe as it is in the United States, its growth is still exponential enough that companies and trainers are worried that some are just jumping on the bandwagon since it's perceived as a way to make a quick buck. Several pushed for the industry to make sure it was promoted correctly and reputably. "We need to make sure we have professionals promoting this so we don't kill the whole thing because we want to make money," said Anke Faller, a master trainer. Sports consultant Axel Kiefer added that the healthcare industry, the media and the industry need to be integrated together and the trade needs to work with the media to make sure the activity is portrayed correctly, particularly avoiding the appearance that it is an extreme activity. "It's a complete sports activity," said Hartwig Gauder, former national champion race walker and Reebok walking consultant. "It's really all about health and wellness. The retailer isn't just selling poles, but a little bit of health."

Note that SNEWS will cover the backcountry and cross-country ski segment of the show and its summit and activities in a separate report in the next week or so.

So what about product?

OK, so there was lots of energy, education … and beer around every corner. That's not to say there wasn't also product. There was. Lots of it.

We won't even begin to try to tell you all about every product in every category by the several hundred manufacturers represented. Nevertheless, a few trends and a couple of pieces caught our eyes or our attention:

Zone base layers -- It seemed as if every time we turned a corner we saw somebody else promoting some kind of zoned and/or seamless type base layer-type performance product. Lowe Alpine of course won an outdoor award for its innovative Warm Zone Ninja Hoody that applies both the company's Dry Zone Base Layer and Warm Zone Isolation technologies in a snug fit. But Jack Wolfskin also introduced its "drybase" functional underwear with a "drybase seamless" that is based on a so-called "anatomic map" of the body to place different needs in fibers, wicking and breathability in different places. Also in a corner of the Lowa booth was a display area with X-Socks and X-Undergear, another zone underwear and performance company out of Italy, which Lowa is distributing in Germany.

Tubular seamless headwear -- No, not a Buff, but lookee here…there were five companies selling similar headgear at the ispo show. Most looked so similar it was hard to know what the difference was -- if there was any. K-Wind was launched about 18 months ago by a man who worked with Buff for about eight years and was at ispo for the first time; others saw a popular item and jumped on it. Some are competing on price; others on margins to retailers; others on variety of offerings, such as kids' wear or other stuff for hands and feet; others on marketing assistance. But make no bones about it, they ARE competing.

Nordic walking/fitness -- With the bandwagon rolling in Europe, companies have had time there to assess the weight of the trend, what kind of product they could offer and at what level to jump in. Now, they've jumped. Big time. Not only are the typical sporting goods companies on board (Asics, adidas, Reebok, New Balance, etc.) but also outdoor companies such as Meindl and Lowa, both of which have Nordic walking shoes. Reebok has a whole package, including its own Reebok-branded poles. Swiss company Odlo, which bowed out of biking to focus on its core aerobic areas like running and skiing, has Nordic walking clothing, as does Germany's Tao Sportswear. Poles are proliferating and not only from the likes of Leki, Exel, Swix and Komperdell, but also others who are looking at price alone (and not making a lot of friends). With the wave having crashed on the European front, just wait another six months or so for it to hit North American shores.

Trail Running -- Called in English "Trail Running" even when speaking German, the sport has come down out of the elite mountain running categories to tap into the growing running boom all across Europe. Montrail, only some four years in Europe, has seen huge growth, especially in its "velocity" series, which is the faster-moving trail-running category. Prominent displays were also seen by Puma, New Balance and adidas, among others.

A few other products and companies:

>> Lowa introduced an Ice Gripper sole that is a -- how do we call it? -- flipper technology. A plastic structure in the forefoot and heel hinges and flips so you can turn it so small "screws" are sticking out if you need more grip on ice or snow, or flip it back for a smoother outsole for normal hiking or walking. No word on durability of the hinge since it's so new.

>> Ice Bug, the shoe out of Sweden known for its retractable cleats, introduced a new shoe called the DMG BUGrip that has an attached gaiter. (It was also introduced at Outdoor Retailer with a list of $145.) Basically, the short waterproof gaiter is attached to the BUGrip shoe and extends to barely above the ankle, with a hook-and-loop and zip closure and a drawstring around the lower leg. Of course, as we know, get snow or water INSIDE and it is staying inside, but for basic wear, it was a sleek look.

>> Mammut gave serious schrift to avalanche education, introducing the "A.R.M" (Avalanche Risk Management) booklet made out of waterproof paper that is going to come tucked in a pocket of all ski and snow jackets. The booklet explains in brief how to recognize danger, assess risk and take precautions, and will come in several languages. Yes, you're supposed to read it BEFORE you hear the roar of an avalanche. Also introduced was the company's Barryvox avalanche transceiver that will now come with an interactive training CD on avalanches. With apparel that promotes free ride skiing, the company wants to be clear that it also promotes doing it wisely and educating yourself first. CEO Rolf Schmidt told SNEWS, "For us, safety and security is important. We are the company that knows the most about safety. And if we tell our customers (about what to do), they trust us. It's our obligation to tell our customers how to watch out."

>> Odlo got a lot of attention with its new skintight, seamless cross-country racing suit called the Bodytec. Not sure how many recreational skiers will dare to step out of the bedroom with it on, although seemingly fine technology. The company also introduced colorful and eye-catching mid-layer Tec Shirts out of bright colors and abstract designs. Yes, mostly what was new were the incredibly bright splashes of color -- a refreshing departure from the traditional one-color, seamed or blocked mid-layers.

>> The United Kingdom's Berghaus introduced its HeatCell technology in a vest using Polartec fleece. The "cell" is a polymer sheath that is sewn into the inside low-back/kidney area. A tiny battery heats it up and keeps it warm for up to about 3.5 hours. It goes through a standard wash cycle (list in Europe expected to be about Euro 230).

>> Klattermusen, the small Swedish company that specializes in high-end outdoor and mountaineering apparel and gear (Klaettermusen means "climbing mouse" in Swedish, by the way), showed a new three-layer eVent fabric where the inside laminate material can't be ripped, torn or shredded by hook-and-loop, zippers or any other rough use. Another new feature -- tiny but practical -- was a one-handed function to either tighten or loosen the drawcords on jacket sleeves or hems and drawcords that were sewn onto the jacket so nothing was dangling loose.

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