Outdoor Retailer show attendance up, energy high

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market celebrated the show's 22nd year this month in Salt Lake City, Utah, from Aug. 14 to 17. Though there are always a few naysayers, the vast majority of show attendees were telling the SNEWS team (and there were a lot of us) that this show rated as one of the best in recent memory due to the energy and buzz around new products and innovation -- evident in every hall if you were willing to spend the time looking.
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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market celebrated the show's 22nd year this month in Salt Lake City, Utah, from Aug. 14 to 17. Though there are always a few naysayers, the vast majority of show attendees were telling the SNEWS team (and there were a lot of us) that this show rated as one of the best in recent memory due to the energy and buzz around new products and innovation -- evident in every hall if you were willing to spend the time looking.

Although final numbers are not yet audited, Peter Devin, OR's trade show director, reported to SNEWS that total attendance was up 8.3 percent over 2002, with international attendance up 21 percent and domestic attendance up 3.4 percent. Overall, total attendance nearly reached the 18,000 mark, with 17,862 working the floor, including 862 exhibiting companies (up from 848 in 2002), 2,765 retail stores (down from 2,900 in 2002) and 5,400 buyers (up from 5,281 in 2002). Though the increase in overall attendance is a good thing, the drop in store numbers is not. More buyers and fewer stores can mean several things, from more local stores sending anyone and everyone and registering them as buyers (which SNEWS evidenced on several occasions) to larger stores sending a full team of buyers each with a special category focus. OR's challenge for next year will be to ensure more specialty stores from the Midwest and East Coast feel compelled to attend, rather than go to EORA.

This year, the trade show certainly benefited from the bright beam of national attention the Outdoor Industry Association brought to bare with the backing of Black Diamond's Peter Metcalf in his stand against the backdoor deals of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. In fact, the first day of the show took on a political air and featured an impromptu stroll of the trade show floor by Leavitt who created quite a stir as he wandered from booth to booth with an entourage that included Metcalf, OIA President Frank Hugelmeyer and a mini horde of Salt Lake City media.

Thanks to Leavitt's commentary and attention around his desires to protect Utah lands despite his backdoor dealings that got him to this place, and despite the fact that nothing he said really had any meat to it, especially since he's likely the next head of the EPA, the OIA recommended that OR stay put through winter 2005.

Currently, OR is committed to Salt Lake City through Summer Market 2004 and has stated, "As far as future plans to move the show to another city, Outdoor Retailer will continue to research their options and consult with their customer base and the Outdoor Industry Association before making any decisions."

For the SNEWS team, innovation jumped out at us more during this show than at any OR in the last three to four years, making the OR halls especially exciting for us. From Jetboil's fantastic new stove to MSR's amazing new water-treatment pen to Brunton's nifty permanent mantel lantern to Boldt's new headlamps, we were drooling all over our notepads.

Of course, there was also the typical slathering on of buttery words and phrases that made us want to hurl all over our notepads, too. Nanotechnology? Puleeeze! Save your nano references for real innovation that is not firmly anchored in marketing desperation. Ultralight is also getting too much play. You'd think ultralight gear is the second coming. In reality, customers were just telling us that we were ultra heavy and over-designed and it is nice to see manufacturers responding accordingly. How about we just start using the word, lightweight? Or is that too simple and obvious?

We also find it remarkable that a few media sources were touting the apparent shift to lifestyle or casual clothing at OR. Forgive us, but isn't this a trend most of us have been touting for, say, years now? Apparently, some in the trade media just woke up. Regardless, the presence of well-designed lifestyle and casual apparel in the outdoor market continues to gain steam, and that is a good thing.

OK, enough introductory babbling. Beginning with this week's SNEWS, and continuing for the next four issues, our team will bring you the most comprehensive coverage of Summer Market you've ever seen. After that, we're going to pass out.

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