Postcards from Summer Market 2004

From dodge ball to pedicures, our intrepid reporters wax philosophical -- ok, sometimes we just get a bit silly -- on our continued Summer Market coverage by sharing a few thoughts on the good, the bad and the just plain dumb of this year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
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From dodge ball to pedicures, our intrepid reporters wax philosophical -- ok, sometimes we just get a bit silly -- on our continued Summer Market coverage by sharing a few thoughts on the good, the bad and the just plain dumb of this year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

First blood
Shouts and screams collided with blaring music, and then the blood began to flow. No, we're not describing a shark attack from the film "Open Water" -- we're talking about the raucous dodge ball tournament hosted by Backpacker magazine the second day of the show. About a dozen teams of 10 faced off for two hours of afternoon combat, while a DJ whipped contestants into a frenzy with a steady pulse of heart-pounding noise. If you were among the crowd of a hundred or so onlookers, chances are that your head, or the beer you were holding, got smacked by a wild throw. And if you were in the pitch of the battle -- as was the SNEWS® crew -- you sweated and gasped for air, remembering just how brutal (or frightened) you were back in eighth-grade P.E. For those who think the outdoor industry is populated by a bunch of softies, we can attest that among your colleagues are some natural-born killers. As for the tournament champions, Princeton Tec, we salute you, and ask that you please not throw anything at us when we walk into your booth, 'cause ya throw hard. And to Backpacker, we say congratulations on hosting what has to have been one of the liveliest show promotions ever. To the guy who cracked his head open dashing for a ball, we saw you get right back into the thick of the action, and we're sincerely thankful we never pissed you off on the playground in middle school.

Nordic walking for Southern folk?
Could Nordic walking be the next new exercise trend, or is the idea kind of a stretch for Americans with a predilection for chitlins and gravy? At the Open Air Demo one of our male editors -- a man with a real southern accent no less -- went on his first Nordic walking jaunt with the folks at Exel to see what the hubbub was all about. Nordic walking basically involves striding out while pushing off a pair of Nordic ski-style poles. There are supposedly about a million people in Europe participating in the activity, which allows you to expend 20 percent to 40 percent more energy than regular walking. He tells us he did feel a difference while cruising with Exel poles, but one obstacle lies between Nordic walking and widespread acceptance south of the Mason Dixon line -- is it really cool enough? Frankly, our Alabama-boy felt he just didn't look real cool while doing it, and we all know how in the South it's important to look good while doing just about anything, except maybe grocery shopping. If you walk fast clacking two poles on dry land, your neighbors may point at you as they whisper rumors about your "falling down" affliction. But, our Alabama boy tells us, he's willing to give testing a shot. As professional gear testers, we make a living appearing silly in full view of our neighbors with regularity. And, if nothing else, he figures he can use the poles to fight off his neighbor's obnoxious dog.

Best product of the show was a box
On the last day, our co-publisher was scampering by various booths when he was stopped dead by an offer to "buy a bag in a box." Curious, he bit and was handed a small box, nicely packaged as one might expect, but still, it was just a box. Now, we're not implying that he was the type to get all happy at Christmas when he received all kinds of neat boxes to play in -- what, he was supposed to be happy with the presents too? No, in actuality, he noticed that inside the box, was a gift card inviting him to "build your own bag." In short order he was belly up to a computer logged into Timbuk2's website with the special gift code he'd just purchased (OK, so he didn't really purchase it, but if he had, he would have spent $100 for the box so play along). In short order, he was custom-designing his own Messenger Bag, choosing the colors, and various accessory options available. Took less than five minutes and he walked away, smiling. Three days later, there it was, on his doorstep -- the bag he had designed. Outstanding! Timbuk2 has given retailers a sales tool that allows them to sell something special and provide a unique service to their customers. Timbuk2 Designs sells the boxes, (with a relatively low out of pocket cost) to retailers for $55 each. The company gets the sales revenue from its dealers, without having to provide raw materials. The retailer gets to sell a customizable gift to its customers for a great margin that takes up very little floor space. We applaud Timbuk2 for "getting it" and suggest that it adds one more little feature to make the product idea truly perfect -- the capability for a note to be included from the retailer where the order originated in the first place, thereby closing the loop on customer service and loyalty.

Now if we could just settle every legal tussle this way
We salute Harmony (Watermark) and Werner Paddles executives for their innovative means to decide a naming issue. Seems both companies showed up at Summer Market with identically named paddles -- the Cascadia. Instead of heading to the phones to call "dial a lawyer," Bruce Furrer, president of Werner, and Joe Pulliam, executive vice president of business development for Watermark, agreed to settle their differences the old fashion way: a duel. Both entered the paddling tank in respective kayaks, tied together at the stern. On the duel-meister's signal, both began paddling furiously in opposite directions -- we've never seen so much froth in one paddle tank before. After several minute of literally going nowhere, Furrer prevailed, dragging Pulliam into his end of the pool. Game, set and match. Watermark changed the name of its paddle to the Tortuga, and as a result, had to change all the company literature too. Werner just sat back and smiled -- as it should be.

Get on the good foot -- Marcus Woolf on pedicures
As a male, and a native of Alabama, there's a bit of a risk involved in getting a pedicure. It's not the type of thing you casually reveal to your buddy Leroy as you drink whiskey at a Crimson Tide football game. "Say, Leroy, you ever had honey butter put on your feet for exfoliation? I'll tell you it feels real nice. Just look at these toes." No, friends, in Alabama that will not only bust up a friendship, it's grounds for deportation from the state. But, I'm a risk taker, so I signed up for a KCPR (Kristin Carpenter Public Relations) media event in which I received my first pedicure -- poolside -- while watching presentations of products from KCPR clients. Having shoved my craggy feet into rock shoes and hiking boots all my life, I made a point to apologize to the pedicure lady in advance, and she snapped on latex gloves. (Is this normal? 'Cause I kinda took it personally.) As I examined the cucumbers and oranges floating in the tub beside my lounge chair, she took note and explained that the produce was for soaking and foot hydration. This prevented a horrible faux pas, as I was about to request a fork and some ranch dip for snacking. She then slathered my legs and feet in all kinds of creams and butter concoctions, which in Alabama means you're about to get lucky. I'll admit, she was looking pretty good to me, until she took to my toenails with some kind of wooden stick. And this is why people drink lots of wine during pedicures -- to deaden the pain. Thirty minutes later, the wine had washed away the discomfort and my toenails were shiny as a trailer hitch. I have to thank KCPR for an experience I'll not soon forget, and I'll be fine as long as a State Trooper never pulls me over while driving barefoot.

Cooking up new ideas
It probably won't shock you to learn that a number of the male editors on our team can't bake worth a damn. But we might have to study up on it thanks to the trend toward "bakeable" gear. Consider Osprey's new BioForm hip belts ($49), which can be molded with heat to precisely fit a person. The belts are constructed of a special type of foam and a high-density shell. Osprey will provide retailers a special oven in which they place a customer's BioForm hip belt to cook for 10 minutes. Afterward, the customer wears the belt, applying downward pressure for about 10 minutes as it cools and conforms. You then attach the belt to a pack, and that's pretty much it -- a custom hip belt created in the time it takes to bake a…well, we're not really sure what bakes in 10 minutes. Maybe biscuits?

Montrail has also caught on to the bakeable trend with the new Molokai ($45), the first thermo-moldable flip flop. The Molokai is made with the company's comfy IntegraFit footbed design, but it also has a top layer of moldable foam. Just pop the flip-flops in any oven for a few minutes, then wear them to achieve a custom fit. It's a great idea, but carefully consider your customers' culinary skills before they do this at home. For example, a person who chronically burns the toast may not be an ideal fit.

Memorable new stuff
Each show we endure hundreds of probing questions by other media, retailers and exhibitors trapped in a world of their own making wondering what it was that we saw that was, well, hot, cool, must have, nifty, neato, really wow, and, like, bitchin' beyond belief. To that end, we've decided to assemble our answers in writing this year, highlighting a few, just a few mind you, products we thought were, well, simply the cat's meow of the show. Oh, and if your product isn't mentioned here, please don't get upset. We simply can't cover it all ya know. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Black Diamond cams are oh, so light and cool… The Swap-it system from Zeal Optics are sunglasses, water sports goggles and snow-sports goggles all in one system… Icebreaker summer-weight wool tops -- we can attest they are cool as cotton, offer good moisture management and don't smell even after three long days in the woods … Montrail's heat molded customizable flip flop thong sandals garnered more than just passing curiosity… Smartwool's new colored socks (girlie pink with flowers even!)… Ultimate Direction's new bite valve for its sport bottles and hydration systems -- after we got beyond the strange sensation of tugging on the soft rubber nipple to extend it into the drinking position… The Rapid Air emergency system which gives a kayaker who gets caught under a rock or sweeper up to 20 breaths and hopefully time enough to extricate themselves or stay alive until rescue arrives...

…Yakima's new E-Z Load roof rack is sure to be a hit with the vertically challenged. The big advantage over Thule's system, which is also cool, is the ability to also carry a pair of bikes or a cargo box as well as boats… Granite Gear's Nimbus Latitude Ki, a 3,800-cubic-inch pack for women that weighs under 4 pounds and will retail for $240… Patagonia's use of welded-seam construction and stitchless technology for the new Grade VI hard shell jacket and the new Ready Mix soft shell jacket to reduce weight by about 25 percent compared to standard sewn-and-taped construction… Often the biggest crowds at the show could be found checking out demonstrations of MSR's new capillary white gas stove ($170) that needs no pumping. Also creating interest was a prototype integrated butane stove cooking system that won't be available until December 2005… The Salomon XA Pro Jacket ($120) is designed for adventure racing so it has to be fast and efficient. This is a vest that has sleeves you slip on that are connected in the back and snap across the front. Pretty slick… We tasted all kinds of food at the show – who can walk by Backpacker Pantry's Spice King, Tim, without stopping for Pad Thai or Chocolate cheesecake? A lot is quite good. But Cache Lake really takes the cake for making backpackable food that tastes like REAL food, real comfort food like pancakes and dumplings and stew. Yummy!...

…When introduced last fall on Marmot's Phenomenon Jacket, many people didn't really get the point of the electric light panels. However, the new Denali EL ($100) and Moab EL ($150) will make perfect sense to bike commuters, students and perhaps rescue groups. The second generation panels now only need two AA batteries and will greatly increase visibility. We wouldn't be surprised to see these light panels show up in tents next… Jack Stephenson has been making down-filled air mattresses for longer than we care to remember, but his products are not sold at retail. Exped's Downmats are insulated with 700-fill down, and, like Stephenson's version, use a stuff sack air-pump. The mats will retail between $130 and $160 depending on size and thickness… Pacific Cornetta has a teaser and a bootle. The teaser lets tea drinkers steep their favorite bulk tea on the go and comes with a screw cap that makes it leak proof. The bootle is a double wall liter-sized bottle. It is designed to keep drinks cold in summer… The Elete electrolyte water seems like the no-brainer, why-didn't-we-think-of-that idea winner of the show. All this time everybody has been struggling with flavors. So why not dump the flavors and do plain electrolyte add-ins? Well, duh!...

…The Trav-L-Pure Camper drinking water purifier by General Ecology threads onto a standard garden hose or outside faucet for purifying campsite ground water -- or house water in an emergency. At 600 quarts of water with a flow of one-half gallon per minute, we're impressed… Kelty's Carport ($250) attaches to a roof rack at either side or at the back of a vehicle for a nifty shelter for the campground, beach or trailhead… High Gear's TrailAudio MP3 player ($200) wasn't ready for prime time yet, but it's a cool design that is focused on the outdoor user -- mountain biker, paddler, trail runner -- and the fact it will only be distributed through specialty stores caught our eyes immediately… A tent for physically disabled folk, which has been on display by the designer (BlueSky Designs) at the ChillFest for the last two years, is now being distributed by Eureka! and dubbed the Freedom tent. Very, very cool… Hind's seamless MotionSensor bra in a pretty Japanese print, the reversible Skinny Bra Top, print on one side, solid on the other and the knit shirts with welded inserts for ventilation… Mountain Sprouts kids Guillemot Pack with an easy to open Velcro closure perfect for young hands… The best place to take a break at the show is still in the Blue Ridge Chair Works booth with its traditional and glider chairs. Ahhh!

Making money while doing good is good
The Vibram EcoStep is literally a step in the right direction. Instead of dumping nearly all the leftovers from making soles into the landfill, Vibram has introduced a new sole called EcoStep that will contain 39 percent recycled product. Look for products to start appearing next year, from the likes of Merrell. With a speckled look, it looks different too. Sugoi is adding both a men's and women's Team Diabetes jersey for 2005 (about $80), with partial proceeds going to support diabetes research. Why? Because it's preventable through being fit and active and "it's important for our brand to get that message out there," a spokeswoman said. In 2006, the company will expand the line further. Big applause all the way around.

Coloring up the show
Fox River had purple, yes, color me purple, women's hiking socks. With that and the now traditional foot massages, who could ask for anything more? Oh, how about colorful shoes? Montrail has a whole line of pop colors coming in its Mara, and a SNEWS® editor who was outfitted on Day 2 in pink Vasque trail runners (and wore them for three days as a test) was stopped in the aisles and found heads swiveling mid-conversation to stare at her passing feet. And Hind ain't just all about black track pants aka Munich tights anymore. In fact, the very high-tech, very shiny, very white booth glowed with new energy – not to mention was enhanced by some cool bombshells and hot beefcake, although they were standing on wood stumps, so go figure.

Sometimes it's best not to talk to nursery rhyme characters
SNEWS bumped into Little Bo Peep in the women's bathroom with a button that read "I'm looking for my sheep." Guess they had to go pee-pee too. She was a Slumberjack promotion, wandering the show with her shepherd's staff and handing out Slumberjack stickers. Naturally, we couldn't resist the obvious question and asked if she had found her sheep as she adjusted her bra straps in front of the mirror -- yes, Bo Peep has certainly grown up. Her reply? "They've all shown up and they're in the sleeping bags," she said, rather curtly. Ouch. We won't tell the kids she said that.

Taken to task by retailers
A few weeks back, we wrote about Outdoor Retailer Summer Market registration and the obvious need to improve the long lines and confusion at this show and closed with the line, "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." Ouch is all we can say for the response we got from a fair number of subscribers who collectively took us behind the proverbial woodshed for not digging into the story a bit more. Seems there are a number of retailers who have been regular attendees at past shows but for some reason are not yet showing up in the system to enable them to register online. Seems there are other retailers who, when they do pre-register, don't receive their badges and then end up having to wait in line regardless and, even worse, when they do finally get their badges, experience the frustration of badges with names or even the company typed incorrectly, thus having to get back in line. It appears as if Outdoor Retailer does have a bit more work to do before we can say, the pre-registration process is dialed to satisfaction. Show Director Peter Devin assures us that the company is doing all it can to tighten up the ship before the next show.

Would you wear glacier glasses on the Flatirons?
There we were, flipping through a heap of magazines post Summer Market and happened to notice the full-page spread the OR Thursday daily rag at Summer Market -- page 48/49 if you care -- for 3XDry. Did the ad agency in charge think anyone who even remotely knows Boulder would not know the mountains were the Flatirons and the angle of view is likely from the Chataqua parking lot -- oh yeah, just where we begin all of our serious mountaineering adventures! The model is apparently very happy that he has his high-tech fleece jacket with 3XDry. Over his shoulder is slung a pair of 20-year-old Sportiva Mariachers in surprisingly good condition and he has glacier glasses around his neck -- you know, because the Flatirons require them. To make matters worse, it appears as if the lad is holding a 13mm sailing rope with one end casually looped around a locking carabiner -- why, we have no idea, but perhaps he is hopeful there will be a regatta soon. The added touch of fake snow dusting the model's hands and shoes is quite marvy, but considering there is no snow anywhere else in the picture, it does leave us wondering if he simply has a bad case of something requiring a medicated shampoo. Finally, the ad carries a bunch of text, part of which states that 3XDRY is easily reactivated by ironing the fabric. Umm, the last time we ironed our fleece gear was, errr, never? Sigh. For the record, Schoeller USA had nothing to do with this ad. Woodlake Designs, a New York-based company that distributes finished fabric products, is the owner. Is there a lesson here? Yes. For any company putting together an ad for the outdoor industry, especially an industry that does take the word "authentic" quite seriously, be sure you hire an ad agency that can present your products in a manner that draws nods of approval and not stomach-grabbing guffaws of laughter.

We're supposed to be a healthy lot, right?
KINeSYS sunscreen company brought in dermatologist Julie Winfield for a couple of days to size up attendees' skin for problems. (She was the one at the 90-plus-degree demo day wearing long pants, dark shoes, long sleeves, and a doctor's jacket with nary a patch of skin showing except her face). Aside from lots of typical moles, she found some potential basal cell carcinoma, which surprised the bearers. She also found one man with a horrible crusty patch that she warned meant don't-pass-go and get-thee-to-a-doctor-asap. He said he'd wondered about it but kept putting off seeing a doc as the spot changed shapes and colors. And we're in a healthy and knowledgeable industry. Think what she'd find at a consumer show!

Mountain scootering is one way to try to kill a group of press
Polar did a small evening event to introduce its new AXN outdoor computer line to a select group of media representatives. We mountain-scootered at Snowbird, leaping off the scooters here and there to sprint up hills to test heart-rate and ascent-descent features. Never mountain-scootered? Imagine the scooter of your youth on steroids. Yes, a platform, but BIG, with LARGE wheels at either end, and made of metal. The thing then has a vertical front bar with handles and brakes, a little like a mountain bike. You can go full tilt down hills, jump berms and even do headers and spin-out like on mountain bikes. Suspension? Hah. Limited, so all those rocks vibrate right through to your head and back multiple times -- our editor is still trying to realign her molars. Wish we coulda enjoyed the view, the sunset and the strawberries, although the product seemed functional (The real product was stuck in New York so the samples we got were ripped back out of our hands when the event was over. But stay tuned…)

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