It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years. In February 1984, SNEWS® was born. Actually, back then, it was known simply as Specialty News. It was printed on gray paper with maroon ink. There was no website. No email. Instead, we had nothing but paper, and fax machines, and photocopiers. SNEWS took to fluorescent orange paper and black ink by 1985 in an attempt (mostly a failed one) to prevent “illegal” copying and sharing by eager paid subscribers with non-subscribers.
A lot of industry news, quotes, prognostications, humor and poignant observations have filled the pages of SNEWS since then. Retailers, manufacturers, magazines and trade shows have come and gone. Products have appeared, evolved and, in some cases, disappeared. We have celebrated new ideas and company launches, covered people as they came and went, reported on marketplace trends and finances, and mourned layoffs, company failures and yes, the passing of friends. Through it all, we’ve worked hard to establish a sense of community and belonging. To that end, we thought the members of our ever-growing family might enjoy a look back as we ramp up to celebrate our 25 years of being a part of your lives. In July, look for a very exciting SNEWS Summer Outdoor magazine 25th Anniversary issue, both in print and in an elaborately interactive digital magazine format. To gear up, the SNEWS team starting now will take a peek back in an occasional series at the outdoor industry’s history as reported in the archived pages of SNEWS, starting with the first-ever issue in February 1984.
We hope you are as fascinated by the differences from and, yes, similarities with today’s outdoor industry in these excerpts from SNEWS, 25 years ago:
Trade show coverage
In the trade show merry-go-round, the regional shows should continue to become more important as the SIA emerges as the one and only national show. Common belief is that even when the NSGA moves to fall, it will be just a Midwest regional circus.
The OR show has left Vegas for the friendly confines of Anaheim and is viewed as more of a super regional show rather than a national show. Larry Harrison, Wilderness Experience rep and rep show organizer for NoCAL and SoCAL specialty dealers, has endorsed Outdoor Retailer. Harrison feels they have answered the locale, cost and time the OR shows lacked in the past. “They’ve answered everything that I ever found wrong about it. I think it’s going to set the standard for shows that could be done in the future,” said Harrison. “Now in the fall, we’ll eventually have these super-regional shows in the east, a show in the Midwest – provided by NSGA – and in the West by the OR show. The rep shows, which used to be thought of as writing shows, have deteriorated in some parts of the country because they want to become producers of major trade shows...they rent halls, hire secretaries, and escalate costs. They’ve forgotten where their roots are in servicing the reps and the retail community. I’ve always been against that.”
“We’re up one thousand buyers over last year,” gushed an NSGA official at the close of the first day of this year’s show. If that statement is true, the NSGA must have hired buyer look-a-likes to get in under phony store names. On the floors of McCormick Place, it was dead. Dead because almost all the good old boy hunting crowd, the backpacking crowd and the watercraft crowd have left the dying show.
>> Re: Walking as sport -- Danner Boots new owner Erik Merk thinks walking is going to be the new sport for Americans. “The next to be discovered sport in this country is going to be walking. It’s already happening and we’re going to take the technology we developed in lightweight hiking shoes and develop the definitive lightweight walking shoe.” Also noted by SNEWS – Rockport thinks walking is also going to be big and is planning a major ad and promotional campaign.
>> Re: Mountain bikes – Study up on these. They are no longer just a California / Colorado fad.”
>> Re: Inexpensive rain gear – As a Wisconsin retailer noted at NSGA, “Forget Gore-Tex and Entrant, if a rain jacket costs over $10 our customers don’t want it.”
Waterproof/breathable fabrics come and go
Klimate is gone. Entrant looks like it might give Gore-Tex some competition. Polypore is struggling with a lot of hype and no deliverable product thanks in large part to a company that is full of scientists but not people who know much about the rag trade. Sealcoat is Patagonia swimming against the current with the statement there is no such animal as waterproof/breathable and introducing a fabric that is guaranteed waterproof. Storm Shed is good, but no competition for Gore-Tex. Savina is too expensive meaning it might work for fashion, but not as a functional fabric. Gamex is more for the running crowd and, the industry says, has limited use. Gore-Tex has solved the quality-control issues and a third generation is on the way. Industry comments “too much advertising clout to fight.” SNEWS said…why fight it…?
The much-rumored rotomolded sea kayak is a reality and will be marketed by Aquaterra, the company formed by Perception to market their inexpensive Blazer kayak. Bill Masters and Co. purchased the Aquaterra name from spray deck and paddle jacket maker Brian Hull who subsequently renamed his operation Multiplex.
They said it: Tim Boyle of Columbia
As part of a much longer Q&A, SNEWS asked Tim Boyle, “What kind of trends to you see happening as far as clothing goes in the outdoor industry?”
“Clothing, in general, is getting away from the basic. It is getting a lot more fashionable. What’s going to be the challenge for us is to stay current because there is going to be a lot more fashion than there ever has been before for us…especially in the ladies area.”
They said it: Richard Humphrey of Oregon Mountain Community
On outdoor ego at trade shows, “Too often, people act as if they’re doing you a favor selling you their outdoor line. On the other hand, traditional clothing manufacturers make you feel welcome to look at what they’ve got. They treat people in a more professional manner and can answer questions more clearly. When outdoor line sales people make their presentation, they should look at it as a mutually profitable venture. They should be knowledgeable about the shop’s business. They shouldn’t say that ‘gee, I had a great time climbing with this.’ They should relate it into dollars and cents. At the ski shows, for example, everything is always ‘fantastic, super or great.’ The outdoor companies that are doing well, however, are very professional.”
“I’d bet that 90% of those Patagonia buyers never read Backpacker or any outdoor magazine. We sell a lot of Patagonia stuff because it’s a trendy item like Merona or Vaurnet.”
On tents, Humphrey said, “Geodesics of all types sell. Lightness and price are important. Last year, we sold a tremendous amount of cheaper tents. Ultra-lights? Who wants to pay twice as much to save a few ounces?”
To read the full PDF version of the first issue of SNEWS, click here.