OIA Rendezvous amps up the smiles and energy east of the Mississippi

The Outdoor Industry Rendezvous, an annual Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) event, played host this year to 270 industry attendees and 10 OIA staff at the Chattanoogan Hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn., from Oct. 12-14.
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The Outdoor Industry Rendezvous, an annual Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) event, played host this year to 270 industry attendees and 10 OIA staff at the Chattanoogan Hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn., from Oct. 12-14.

This year's Rendezvous featured three keynote speakers and 11 breakout sessions with topics ranging from global economic forecasts and the dynamics of influence to putting sustainable business practices into play and loving what you do by doing what you love -- with the fishmongers from Seattle's Pike Street Market tossing fish. It was, frankly, the best lineup the OIA has ever assembled, and if you weren't there, you really missed a great one.

Jeff Weidman, co-owner of Rutabaga located in Madison, Wis., summed up the value of an OIA Rendezvous experience best when he emailed us the following commentary:

"Where else can you go for a walk with Sally Jewel and talk about mutual challenges? I learned about a new sport called Parkour from two different footwear manufacturers. After researching it on the web, I was amazed.

"I met people that we buy products from. After meeting them, we will probably buy a lot more. Business is a contact sport, and the Rendezvous is the best playing field this industry offers.

"The presentations were excellent. I was so impressed by the seminar with the Pike Street Fish Market and the energy that the world-class fishmongers showed us that I just got their training film today for our staff retreat this week. The consultant to the army that presented on sustainability blew everyone away. It clearly changed the way I look at this important issue. Then there was John Jenson, who spoke about knowing who you were, who you do business with, and how you project that message. He was one of the best speakers I have ever seen. Finally, Skip Yowell's and Larry Harrison's presentation and reading from Skip's soon-to-be-released book was a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Yet again, OIA proved that it is simply impossible to not walk away from a Rendezvous with more than you came with.

Attendance up, but where are the retailers still?
OIA reported to us that overall attendance was up, from 250 or so in 2005 to just over 270 this year, not including OIA staff. A very good sign. Retailer numbers were up too, which was good, but frankly, retail attendance from those close to the event, and you know who you are, was pathetic! Retailers in attendance numbered 33 this year, compared with 19 last year, 35 in 2004 and 20 in 2003. OIA told SNEWS® that 34 states, as well as Canada and China, were represented.

Any outdoor retailer would have gained something from the seminar titled "Sustaining Specialty Retail Through Start-Up, Buyout and Acquisition." Panelists Joe Hyer, Fred Martin and Rutabaga's Weidman offered serious insight on everything from dealing with local government to launching an employee-owned business to realizing the importance of managing inventory.

Surprisingly, given the destination of Chattanooga, Tenn., only 38 percent of the attendance came from the mid-Atlantic, Southeastern and New England states. Forty-seven percent of the attendees still came from the West, Northwest and Rockies. That could be in part because whether you were coming from Seattle or Philadelphia, getting to Chattanooga proved to be an expensive and sometimes challenging air travel proposition.

Flight and travel issues should be removed when the Rendezvous moves next year from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Skamania Lodge on the Columbia River Gorge (Sept. 24-27, 2007, so mark your calendars now) as flying into Portland means smooth connections and flight plans for most everyone.

This Rendezvous was about sustainability
With seminars on turning your business into a green one and the opening keynote on "Natural Steps to Sustainability," it was most appropriate that the OIA staff launched a Green Team prior to Rendezvous, spearheaded by Ann Obenchain.

Said Lisa Winston of OIA, "In efforts to make our office and the business actions of OIA more green, we decided to offset the emissions generated by the event (the conference center, electricity, hotel, etc.), as well as from staff travel to and from the event. Native Energy then offered to help facilitate the offsetting of emissions by attendees. OIA hopes to more closely consider the impacts of all our programs, and undertake measures that help reduce the emissions generated by our events and programs."

As a result, quite a number of Rendezvous attendees were sporting "I am a Carbon Neutral Traveler" buttons on badges, demonstrating they had registered with Native Energy to offset the emission of their flights to the Rendezvous.

"This year's Rendezvous was the first in which we started to make decisions based on the environmental implications," said Winston. "As so many of the Rendezvous speakers, including (Brian) Nattrass and (Billy) Connelly, discussed taking steps toward environmental sustainability has to start somewhere -- even if the initial steps seem small."

Indeed, the offsets might have been minor -- but just going through the process requires some thought about the implications of travel on the environment and serves as a reminder that there is something that can be done about it.

Amid all the sustainable banner waving, though, there was an ironic twist that raised more than the eyebrows of the SNEWS® team. The Kenco Group, a Chattanooga business that specializes in handling distribution requirements of companies, signed on to sponsor Dr. Nattrass' keynote on sustainability. All fine and good, but apparently, the company did not get a memo indicating whatever it did at the breakfast should, itself, be in keeping with sustainable practices. Instead, on each chair at every table, were black plastic bags, emblazoned with the Kenco Logistics Services logo in silver foil print. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper -- more stuff to throw away -- were a pair of socks (OK, that was good) and a plastic letter opener (not so good). Oh well, live and learn we suppose.

Service Project on Maclellan Island a home run!
For the first time ever, there were more attendees signed up to give service than there were spots available. One hundred and twenty industry leaders participated in the service project which was sponsored by Timberland and coordinated, as always, by the amazing staff at City Year. With hand saws, a chainsaw, weeders, hoes, rakes, hammers and nails, and other assorted tools, the outdoor industry once again did itself proud.

Maclellan Island was overgrown to the point the Audubon Society, which owns the island, had basically listed it as closed to school use for the last year. In less than four hours of work, volunteers cleared the trails on 16 acres to 4-feet wide, felling logs and dead trees, removing poison ivy, underbrush and grasses, built bunks in the island cabin, cleared the camping area, painted murals on the cabin, created maps of the trails on signs, and more. SNEWS® provided, as always, the after-work-project cold brew in two kegs we toted out to the island under the code name, Project Blue Heron. City Year provided, as a complete surprise, chocolates, marshmallows and graham crackers for s'mores since there was a burn pile still glowing hot at the end.

We echo what most tell us every year -- networking, seminars and whatnot are incredible, but the work project and giving of service to the community is where the smiles and inspiration really shine. Maclellan Island is, once again, open.

Over the next several weeks, SNEWS® will be publishing reports from many of the sessions our reporters attended, as well as audio podcast reports taped live at the Rendezvous. We were there so you can be too -- although frankly, as good as our reports will be, nothing beats being there in person. See you in Portland next year -- count on it.

Have a comment to make about the OIA Rendezvous? Then head to the SNEWS® Forum -- a secure place that can only be read by those of us in the industry, and a place where you can say anything, as long as you are not simply flaming or nuking another person or company for personal reasons. Click on www.snewsnet.com/forums -- it's your Forum, your voice.

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