Outdoor Retailer Open Air Demo proves to be an important event, for many reasons

While a few folks were testing their off-road skills with Hummer, Outdoor Retailer was trying out a new two-day format for the Open Air Demo. The first day (actually a half day, beginning at 1 p.m.) drew only a light crowd of retailers, but attendance appeared to skyrocket the second day—one member of the SNEWS® crew had to catch the second shuttle from the Salt Palace because the first bus filled quickly, as did the second. Despite the 45-minute ride to Willard Bay, retailers and outfitters are willing to make the journey because the Demo continues to play a vital role in discovering new product and testing boats.
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Unless you’ve been trapped under something heavy for the past week, you probably bumped into at least one person with an opinion on Hummer’s involvement in the Open Air Demo. SNEWS® weighed in on the subject as early as July 17, and then penned an editorial on August 4 (Click here to read: Hummer sponsorship at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market stirs up more than dust), so we won’t churn up the issue too much here. However, we should note that, despite all the objections to Hummer, we did hear that as many as 157 test drives took place. One of our editors hitched a ride with an outfitter to view the test track, which amounted to little more than a cleared field sporting obstacles constructed of railroad ties, dirt mounds and a simulated creek bed of chunky boulders. The outfitter was all smiles as he drove the Hummer at a 40-degree angle over a dirt mound, and later put the pedal to the floor on a stretch of asphalt to test the car’s acceleration. After the ride, he seemed to seriously consider buying one for his business, and a representative from Hummer said he could have one of the vehicles onsite for about $29,500. Seems some folks were not only unbothered by Hummer’s presence, but they were digging the idea of actually driving one home. To listen to on our live podcast focusing on Hummer at the Demo, click here.

While folks were testing their off-road skills, Outdoor Retailer was trying out a new two-day format for the Open Air Demo. The first day (actually a half day, beginning at 1 p.m.) drew only a light crowd of retailers, but attendance appeared to skyrocket the second day—one member of the SNEWS® crew had to catch the second shuttle from the Salt Palace because the first bus filled quickly, as did the second.

Despite the 45-minute ride to Willard Bay, retailers and outfitters are willing to make the journey because the Demo continues to play a vital role in discovering new product and testing boats. “I’m trying to decide which boats I want for my rental business,” said Scott Teuber of Wisconsin River Outings in Viroqua, Wis. “I’m going to use the time to test the stability of certain boats, and I’m also going to look for a kids’ kayak that I’ve heard about,” he told SNEWS®. Indeed, product testing remains the focus of the Demo, and at 11:20 a.m. on the second day, we saw no less than 50 boats cutting across Willard Bay.

While familiar companies lined the beach, we took note that the Demo continues to attract plenty of new exhibitors. Kenji Haroutunian, west coast senior account executive for Outdoor Retailer, said that more than 20 of the 71 exhibitors at the Demo were there for the first time. Wavewalker, a company founded in 2005, debuted its kayaks that you pedal like a recumbent bike. While the Wavewalker boats aren’t as slick and tricked out as Hobie’s pedal craft, plenty of attendees were curious to try them out, and all of the company’s eight demo boats were continuously being launched.

Relative newcomers to the market view the Demo as a good place to buoy their presence in the industry. Reddington, a manufacturer of fishing rods and reels, had attended the show in the Salt Palace before, but this year marked its first trip to the Demo. As Marketing Assistant Karen Curry showed us the new Super Sport rod with a titanium reel, she said attendance at the event would help the company benefit from the dramatic growth in kayak fishing.

Even for established companies, attendance at the Demo can be an important method of maintaining, or increasing, presence in the market. Sierra Designs staked out a large plot on the beach to highlight four new tents and, more importantly, get face time with dealers. Paul Gagner, president of Sierra Designs, is working to re-establish Sierra Designs as a market leader, and he told SNEWS® it was important for the company to be there and make as much contact with customers as possible.

The Demo also continues to be a good place for all sorts of promotions because the outdoor nature of the event has a certain appeal. On Aug. 9 at Willard Bay, the Outdoor Industry Foundation announced its first group of Outdoor Idols, eight athletes ranging in age from 11 to 23, who will promote youth participation in climbing, paddling, adventure racing, running, skiing, fishing and outdoor instruction. “At the Demo you’re in an outdoor setting. We’re talking about these human-powered outdoor activities, and to do a press conference in a walled-in room without windows doesn’t resonate in the same way,” said Drew Simmons of Pale Morning Media, which provided PR support for Outdoor Idols. It helps that Demo attendees want to make the most of their time at the event and check out a wide range of activities. Simmons said that the Outdoor Idols announcement drew a crowd of about 75 people, and about half of those attending were unexpected. “I was really pleased and I’d do a similar event there in the future,” said Simmons. Click here to listen to our podcast with the new Outdoor Idols, live from the Demo.

For more on the Demo in general, including interviews with retailers and manufacturers, listen to our podcast live from the Demo by clicking here.

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