Outdoor Retailer Summer Market dubbed best yet by many

Despite a bit of justified grumpiness over hot and sometimes lengthy registration lines, Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City Aug. 12-15 garnered nearly universal praise for show energy, buzz and upbeat attitudes. In fact, quite a few manufacturers told the SNEWS® team that they were experiencing one of the best shows ever in terms of retailer response and orders promised or placed.
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Despite a bit of justified grumpiness over hot and sometimes lengthy registration lines, Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City Aug. 12-15 garnered nearly universal praise for show energy, buzz and upbeat attitudes. In fact, quite a few manufacturers told the SNEWS® team that they were experiencing one of the best shows ever in terms of retailer response and orders promised or placed.

Unaudited numbers released by Outdoor Retailer reported that overall attendance was up by 2 percent -- 18,278 compared to 17,862 in 2003. Exhibiting company numbers were up, from 862 in 2003 to 876 in 2004. The number of retail stores in attendance also rose slightly, from 2,765 in 2003 to 2,773 this year. Buyer numbers represented the largest percentage jump, up 7 percent to 5,792 in 2004 compared to 5,400 in 2003.

Although numbers were up, key manufacturers and reps continue to speculate to us that attendance remains strong only from retailers in the West and Rockies with decreasing numbers the farther East an imaginary line on the map is drawn. Outdoor Retailer continues to decline to release regional numbers.

As unbelievable as it may seem, there were more than 280 events posted on Outdoor Retailer's official "Schedule of Events," meaning there was literally never a dull moment before, during or after show hours. While the Industry Party "On the Grass" next door on the lawn of Abravanel Hall was superb, it was the Hooked on the Outdoors/Salomon Freeride Happy Hour on the South Plaza featuring dueling mechanical bulls and Backpacker's Dodgeball Tournament that raised the competitive nature of partying to an entirely new level.

In the next few weeks, the SNEWS® team will bring complete Outdoor Retailer Summer Market coverage detailing special events, parties, speeches, market trends, key seminars and events, new product highlights by category, and, of course, more interesting or simply funny tidbits and news. As is our tradition, you won't find more complete or more accurate coverage anywhere else.

Let's begin with a peek at the good, the bad and the truly funny:

The Good…
Open Air Demo Day at Little Dell Lake -- Two thumbs-up for this one. Sure, there was mud and, at some point, the Outdoor Retailer team needs to help exhibitors with temporary docks -- even plywood sheets would be nice. However, we've never seen a more well-attended demo. We're being told there were more than 1,000 attendees, though no word from show management just how many of these were actually retailers. We suspect a majority, but it would be nice to know for sure. Watermark deserves a round of applause for raising the bar on future demos with its 30-minute retailer clinics scheduled on the hour every hour throughout the day. The brainchild of Larry Hewitt, the clinics brought 120 retailers to the demo. Each clinic was held in an air-conditioned tent with sandwiches, Jamba Juice smoothies (yes, you read that right), and cold drinks. On hand were the company's pro paddlers to show retailers how new boats performed too. Way cool. Nordic walking demos drew a few curious stares, a lot of interested questions and quite a few participants. Montrail athletes took the more adventurous on runs that demonstrated the company pros have no sense of distance. The morning "5K" run over hill and dale and through dense shrubbery and a few streams was estimated at less than 2 miles (note that a 5K is 3.1 miles). The afternoon run ended up being closer to 4 miles, we were told. Perhaps the company was going for a cumulative distance of 6 miles between the two? One Montrail-sponsored athlete told us, "It felt longer when we walked it, and frankly, we aren't used to this short stuff. We're better at 100 miles." Riiight…. Nevertheless, participants smiled and laughed. Thule also deserves major kudos too for providing free BBQ food and drinks all day long. Yummmy!

Outdoor Industry Association's Industry Breakfast -- Though registration was capped at 500 for the OIA breakfast, we'd guess slightly under that number made the early morning kickoff. Those who bellied up to the breakfast bar were treated to an incredible series of speeches (although the FedEx sponsor droned on for a few minutes too long). Walking and fitness advocate and motivational speaker Mark Fenton kicked it off, inspiring laughter and head-nods among the crowd as he urged all of us to get involved locally to fight obesity and get America active. And, no, he was not serious when he recommended introducing predators into the urban environment to encourage running. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., wrapped up the morning by underscoring the need for all of us to come together. "We need to bring together the public health needs of this country, your industry and the great natural assets of this country." Keep it up OIA -- it really doesn't get much better than what you delivered at the breakfast event.

Wobbling for the ninth time -- The Ninth Annual Wasatch Wobble "5K" run, organized by Montrail, was a streaking success...literally. Approximately 250 runners, hungover joggers, altitude-weakened sloggers and walkers turned out at 6:30 a.m. Saturday for the largest crowd ever in the run's nine years. We call it 5K in quotes because Montrail-sponsored adventure racer Rebecca Rusch seemingly couldn't downsize her normal five- or six-day events to a teeny 5K. One participant with a GPS clocked it at closer to 4.4 miles rather than the 3.1 of a 5K. Oxygen-deprived runners could be heard muttering and cursing under their breath. The real "streaking" success, however, came with the enthusiastic embrace of the optional challenge of prizes to those finishers with the LEAST clothes and the MOST clothes. We found out that at least a few in the industry were truly exhibitionists. Luckily, the Salt Lake cop who cruised by missed -- or chose to ignore -- the naked finishers. Yes, we do mean in-the-buff, butt-naked. Fastest naked guy was Luis Guerrero (of Montrail in Mexico, who must have been trying to impress his boss by eager participation). He was wearing his Montrail Masai shoes, so organizers decided he was trumped by the second-fastest naked guy, Australian Matt Dalziel of Sea to Summit, who carried his Montrail Kinabalu shoes. Third runner streaking in was Gary Richter, with a Bridgedale sock -- how do we say it? -- strategically placed. We hear he reps Bridgedale, Garmont and Ice Bug, so he too must have been trying to impress an employer. And no, we have no idea how big a sock he was wearing -- sheesh! But taking the cake was a trio of finishers, near to the end of the pack, who came across the finish line naked and holding hands: Paula Parker (Montrail), Andre Tiffany (W.L. Gore, with a Suunto-branded water bottle hung strategically) and Janiec Gutierrez (Five Ten/Stealth Rubber). Another woman as-yet-unnamed (or maybe she just ran before organizers could ID her) won for most clothes since she was carrying and wearing all the duds of the naked trio. We hear there might have been a seventh (who arrived fourth), but he disappeared into the crowd. "To those who rose to the exposed occasion, we at Montrail say, 'Our hats are off to you, but OUR pants are on,'" said a Montrail organizer. Those who just ran to run (and left their clothes on) included outright fastest man, Tom Borschel, 27:19 for the about 4.4 miles, who we hear runs for La Sportiva, and, for women, nationally ranked runner Liz Wilson of Sport Hill. This year's Wobble was sponsored by Montrail, DeFeet, Layers, Trail Runner, KAVU, Suunto and JetBoil (which delightfully churned out good strong Peet's coffee onsite). With next year being the 10th annual, we expect the Montrail gang will come up with challenges to top this year.

The Bad...
Daily Dredge -- Once again, the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Daily -- published by SGB -- proved it was not up to the task of covering the most important show in the outdoor industry. Though it was an improvement over the disaster at Winter Market, the Daily continued to be rife with errors and featured shoddy and boring reporting. There was so much happening on the floor, any decent reporting team with a working knowledge of the industry could have filled truckloads of pages with show life. Instead, the outdoor industry got press releases reprinted verbatim, photos that were too light or too dark much of the time, and mistakes that were just plain clueless. Thank goodness for Lesley Suppes' column, on page two each day -- entertaining, insider and lively. Sadly, the rest of the pages weren't even close to being up to par. We were howling on Day 2 when we read on page 42, "The big news at SupperFeet's Summer OR exhibit…" First, we had no idea SuperFeet had changed its name and, second, you'd think the Daily folks would know the show they were being paid to cover was actually Summer Market and not just Summer for short. On Day 3, the lead to the Kennedy story read, "In front of an understandably receptive audience of outdoors retailers…" How on earth did they know the audience was "understandably receptive"? That's just bad journalism. And "outdoors" retailers? You mean there is more than one outdoor? Who knew? Even pre-printed material fell far short. On page 17 of the Day 2 issue, there was a Dolomite photo in a footwear article touting boot companies at Summer Market. Talk about clueless. Dolomite was not an exhibitor, has not been sold in this country in over a year, and has not sold outdoor product in this country in at least four years. Unbelievable! We could go on, but that would be too depressing. This show is too good to be served so poorly. Our recommendation? Outdoor Retailer needs to take control of the Daily and put together its own experienced team to restore luster and credibility to the show's most important voice.

Registration -- OK…the Outdoor Retailer team is too good, too experienced to not have the registration process down by now. Long lines that snaked out into the hot Utah sun caused more than a few tempers to flare and extremely poor signage left more than a few attendees wandering around trying to find the right registration line. We understand that OR wanted to fill the space previously taken by registration with paying booths. We also understand change is good. Rumors that lines were longer this year do not appear substantiated though. OR tells us that there were no more registrants in line than in previous years -- it was just that the space was much smaller inside. Next year, gang, think signs -- BIG signs. Also, canopies so that if the lines snake outdoors, there is ample shade. Oh, and if you are an attendee and reading this, think pre-registration! OR really couldn't have made it any easier than it did this time to pre-register online.

Curious exhibitors -- While we realize Outdoor Retailer is in business to make a profit and wants as many paying exhibitors as the company can muster, there were a number of exhibitors that raised more than the casual eyebrow among retailers and veteran exhibitors alike. And we have to say we are as curious as many of them who stopped by our booth to sound off, pulled us aside in the aisles to express an opinion, or emailed us after the show to ask us what we thought. What exactly are ATVs doing in a show when the Outdoor Industry Association is working hard on roadless and human-powered issues and represents non-motorized locomotion? And then there was the Pavilion featuring several aisles full of Asian companies offering products that looked like any other, only cheaper and not as well constructed that made the place look a bit like a flea market. More than a few Pavilion exhibitors speculated to us that they felt retail traffic was off in the Pavilion because retailers walked in and thought all they would see were knockoffs. There was in fact true anger brewing among some exhibitors in the Pavilion. We'd suggest in the future that OR needs to flex its discretionary muscle a bit more and perhaps place fringe exhibitors in one location, off the floor and away from core outdoor companies that not only need the show, but also need the show to be authentic.

The Funny...
Security -- Day 1, our SNEWS co-publisher was entering early to get to our booth wearing both his exhibitor badge (to allow early access) and his working media badge when he was stopped by a very sweet lady with security who informed him he could not go in because the show was open only to exhibitors at this time. The conversation went something like this: "I'm sorry sir, but media can't come in right now." Holding the exhibitor badge up clearly, he stated, "But I have an exhibitor badge right here." "I see that, but you have a media badge there, and media can't come in." After a bit of back and forth our intrepid co-publisher smiled, removed his media badge from around his neck, although he still clearly held it in his hand. "OK, now you can go in," the nice security lady said with a smile. OK then. Good to see security folks are masters of independent thought.

Silver duds just don't cut it -- Clad in very unbecoming tight shimmery silver short tights and tops, two women wandered the show floor drawing stares and snickers. Curious, one of our team chased down the pair to discover that they were promoting Sole Defense's silver-lined footbeds. Next time, we'd recommend the models request duds that are at least attractive and flattering to their respective figures. Sexy is good … if the models can pull that off. After all, if you're going to be forced to wander a trade show in tight silver clothes, ya may as well look good doing it.

It was just a (dodgeball) game, gang! -- Aside from the fact the GearTrends® team got its fanny spanked by a PR agency (the ultimate in media embarrassment), we had a fantastic time playing dodgeball and applaud Backpacker magazine for sponsoring such an incredibly enjoyable time. However, there were a few participants who should be thoroughly chastised for a touch of poor sportsmanship and over-the-top bad attitude. It's a game! If we had written down their names, you can be sure we'd print them here -- next time ya'll, so be warned! Yelling, swearing, getting into faces of other competitors and pointing angry fingers accusing others of cheating is completely out of place and not in the spirit of the event, which is to have fun and only fun. Lighten up!

Watch what you say -- Sometimes, what you mean and what you say don't exactly synch the way you imagine. Such was the case when one Polar company rep, while leaning over a female editor's wrist and explaining the features of one of the company's new AXN outdoor computer watches and the impending appearance of a heart rate on the screen, stated, "You're going to come in a minute." Oh my! If that observation was true, we can guarantee sales beyond Polar's imagination.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2005 will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 at the Salt Palace Convention Center, with the Backcountry Base Camp scheduled on Jan. 28 at Brighton Resort. Registration details for Winter Market 2005 and more information on Outdoor Retailer trade shows can be found at http://www.outdoorretailer.com.

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