Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Report Part 2

This year's Summer Market was chock-full of things to talk about, see, poke, prod and experience. Last week, we brought you our look at the Climbing/Mountaineering market. This week, we take a peek at a few trends, events and happenings -- including the entire soft shell saga -- that created some buzz on the show floor. Coming next week, the SNEWS® report continues with a roundup of product and product trends that caught our team member's eyes.

Lower price points
You couldn't go in a booth without hearing the line. "and we've lowered prices,…" or something similar. And then came: "…allowing for higher margins for the retailer," or "…passing along those savings to the consumer." Better sourcing, increased overseas competition for U.S. market due in part to inclusion of China in the World Trade Organization, and improved systems and production management by companies are all reasons given behind the lower prices. Heck, even Arc'teryx had a couple of schnazzy items in its first summer collection priced at $99! Knock us over.

Yoga Clothing At OR?
Yup, and it's all mixed up mostly into the climbing area since those companies are a few of those that spawned the "trend" -- well, mostly unwittingly when they found their climbing customers were doing yoga and liked the climbing clothes for their practice, or when yogis and yoginis discovered that climbing clothes were good yoga clothes. So then comes marketing with Prana and Stonewear Designs launching lines tagged as yoga items. Others popped into the market too. And even long-time yoga specialty company Hugger Mugger appeared in the pavilion and was nearly toppled from its tree pose by the overwhelming response. Not to put any of this down: This is great stuff that you those practing yoga can really move in and go to and from studios in. And the bond between the mindful yoga practice and outdoor adventure seems a natural one to spawn this birth. Maybe next year there ought to be a "yoga" section sort of next to the climbing section for one-stop shopping for buyers in that market. We also love the fact that Prana did a second round of offering its Rejuvenation Room where yoga and stretching classes were offered during show hours but the space was also available for a mental respite from floor craziness. There are just times when a few ohmmmm moments are needed.

Grabbing Attention
We tip our proverbial hats in Suunto's direction for a brilliant marketing campaign built around bunnies. Pure genius was the video clips of rabbits on crutches -- thanks to the worldwide need for lucky rabbits feet -- cheering Suunto wildly because with Suunto watches, navigation was no longer a matter of luck and therefore was saving rabbits and their feet everywhere. Lauren Zimmerman's idea to add to the play by handing out very small and very fuzzy, cuddly stuffed bunnies at the show was also very, very smart. We saw bunnies attached to backpack straps (we're not sure how the bunnies felt about this mind you) all over the trade show floor. We discovered a couple of them followed the SNEWS® team home too!

Winning Event
No more meaningful event was staged at Summer Market than Timberland's Project Playground. SNEWS® wandered through the staging area near the south entrance to the Convention Center at around 7:30 a.m. to find well over 37 folks already engaged in building 10 playground sets for under-privileged Salt Lake City kids. By day's end, the playground sets were completed and more than 150 industry manufacturers, retailers, media members and reps had volunteered a few hours of their show time to don hard hats and swing hammers for a good cause -- they of course followed up with work and sweat with a few beers and great music. The playgrounds were trucked to their destinations that night by Outdoor Play Projects and went to Make-A-Wish Foundation Utah, the Adolescent Residential Treatment and Education Center, Christmas Box House, and Samoan House. Timberland, W.L. Gore and Associates, the Outdoor Industry Association, and Outdoor Retailer provided funding.

Best Seminar
Hands down, the best seminar packing the most bang for the buck was one a lot of folks probably took a pass on, but shouldn't have. OIA's Summer Summit, held Saturday night at OR for retailers only, offered dinner (with OIA picking up the tab) and a workshop that presented attendees with business ideas and programs that could be put into practice effectively and quickly. SNEWS® attended the first part of the workshop, effectively chaired by Arnold Sanow, who led a very funny and very New York-esque in-your-face workshop at April's Rendezvous, and we were impressed. Each table of retailers (we counted about 82 retailers total at 11 tables) tackled discussion topics such as effective staff training programs, successful store events, and ways to improve profitability in the current market. For each topic, a leader from each table wrote down ideas generated by that table. Then, under Sanow's guidance, each table presented its ideas until the room, collectively arrived at actionable items they could each put into use. Double thumbs up salute here!

Honors and Accolades
>>Cascade Designs, won this year's Moving Mountains Award. Cascade earned the award for a company-wide willingness to get out and get dirty on volunteer trail maintenance building scores of crib steps on the Snow Lake Trail in the central Cascades along with other much-needed annual maintenance. That example of corporate sweat-equity, coupled with a corporate devotion to protecting and enhancing outdoor recreation, helped earn Cascade Designs the coveted Moving Mountains Award for 2002.
>>Canoe & Kayak magazine celebrated its 14th annual Boat Manufacturer, Accessory Manufacturer, and Retailer of the Year Awards. Liquidlogic garnered the Manufacturer of the Year honors. Aquabound Paddles of British Columbia earned Accessory Manufacturer of the Year recognition. And, Pacific Water Sports of Seattle was named Retailer of the Year. Congrats to all.

Soft Shell Soft Schmell
With all due respect to our newsletter friends up north, the Demystifying Soft Shell Seminar Part Deux was one worth missing, and one we trust Nextec will likely not try to spin into a Part Tres -- the 300 or so who did get up early are probably still wondering why they did, with few exceptions (In fact, we know from a couple of folks first-hand who said they skipped out after less than 30 minutes since they had decided by then that it was a waste of a good morning.) No fault of Nextec's really, but did anyone really expect this seminar to accomplish anything? We have yet to hear from one person -- and that includes two of the panelists -- who thought the event was anything but a bust. Nextec had the courage to pull together the first seminar in January, in Anaheim. That was a good and lively affair and was one for which Nextec should be applauded. So what did this 2nd seminar accomplish? We'll make a stab at that answer:

>>First, an attempt to establish standards was introduced. Spare us! How about trying to establish a forum to kill innovation while we're at it. Does anyone remember the temperature rating wars in sleeping bags? Right, and did that get us anywhere? Nope. Soft shell doesn't need standards. What it does need is for folks to realize that the category represents a grouping of products that have a wide variety of performance characteristics that offer the consumer tremendous benefits and options if -- and this is a HUGE "if" -- the retailer knows how to sell them.

>>Second, an attempt was made to get folks in the room to agree on what a soft shell was. And the conclusion? Ummm, stretch, athletic fit, durable, water-resistant, highly breathable, compressible, and made of fabric that can be either woven, non-woven, or knit. Gee, isn't that the same list of descriptors we established in January? Well, that was worth another early morning….

>>Third, forget all this moaning about press not doing this, and advertising not doing that. The issue is at retail! IF folks want their soft shell or performance shell or whatever to sell, they have to be willing to get the garments on retail staff backs. Once retail staff members have an opportunity to wear and understand the wide performance capabilities of the products, the term "soft shell" will become irrelevant to a selling conversation. Instead, it will be more about meeting a consumer's needs based upon asking them a series of activity-related questions and then matching them up with the best garment or garments to meet that need as well as the customer's personal preferences and tastes.

>>Finally, can we just get over the soft shell thing please? It's a marketing term, nothing more, nothing less. Mammut, Cloudveil, and many others were successfully selling garments in the "soft shell" category long before the buzzword. In fact, long before the January seminar, there were a slew of manufacturers who told us they were selling garments that met the soft shell definition, but no one had been calling them that because, well, the phrase didn't have cache. Ahhh, blame it on the media for jumping on the bandwagon, even if we couldn't see where it was heading. And then what's with all this bandying about that this is a "new" thing. It isn't! This is old stuff in Europe gang! Just for the record, SNEWS® humbly points out that, in fact, even an oiled wool sweater, by the current still-malleable definition, is a soft shell. Hmmm, so perhaps we can all increase sales by renaming the oiled wool sweater to "soft shell wool?" Oooo, we should trademark that. The bottom line is, soft shell really is nothing more than a calculated and very aggressive play by fabric companies to create the next "Gore-Tex" buzz. And that's fine, but please realize it for what it is and respond accordingly.

More Soft Shell
Though it was kept relatively quiet and didn't become an issue during the seminar, word spread around the room in whispers following the event that Schoeller Textil AG, the Swiss parent company of Schoeller Textil USA, had filed for trademark registration of "soft shell" in the major countries throughout the world, including the United States. In a statement issued to SNEWS®, Schoeller stated that, "Schoeller was the original technology provider in this emerging market, and realized the need to curb the ever-expanding definition of soft shell to stabilize the legitimacy of this category. Schoeller did not attempt to trademark 'soft shell' in order to monopolize the category, or to withhold trademark from legitimate soft shell manufacturers and suppliers. It is not Schoeller's ambition to suppress further innovations or inhibit the future growth of this exciting category." We would refer you to our comments above vis-a-vis our views on soft shell as marketing-driven. While it is unlikely that Schoeller will be granted the trademark in the United States (although certainly stranger things have happened), it does stand a good chance of receiving trademark protection in Europe. Frankly, Schoeller should have thought of this long ago, when it would have easily won worldwide protection. But, then again, even it did not foresee the quick rush by U.S. companies to grab on to any buzzword that could help drive sales in a sluggish market. And that, dear SNEWS® readers, is essentially what this is all about.


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