The SNEWS® View: Is Outdoor Retailer Summer Market's move to July in 2009 necessary?

On June 26, Outdoor Retailer made official what SNEWS® and others in the industry have long known or suspected -- Summer Market dates are sliding forward into July. The explanation varies somewhat, depending on who you speak with, but the overriding force driving the change to July is an industry feeling that Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is losing its relevance to the market as a vital national trade show simply because it is too late in the season for many exhibitors. Order dates and buying cycles have been moving earlier each year to such an extent that show management and Outdoor Industry Association, which derives a significant portion of its revenue from the trade show, were becoming more concerned about exhibitors bailing out of the show en masse since it wasn’t as necessary to their business. While we don't argue that the show is at risk of losing relevance as a buying show (what trade show isn't), does moving dates into July really change that trend?
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On June 26, Outdoor Retailer made official what SNEWS® and others in the industry have long known or suspected -- Summer Market dates are sliding forward into July (click here to read the official press release.)

The explanation varies somewhat, depending on who you speak with, but the overriding force driving the change to July is an industry feeling that Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is losing its relevance to the market as a vital national trade show simply because it is too late in the season for many exhibitors. Order dates and buying cycles have been moving earlier each year to such an extent that show management and Outdoor Industry Association, which derives a significant portion of its revenue from the trade show, were becoming more concerned about exhibitors bailing out of the show en masse since it wasn’t as necessary to their business.

While we don't argue that the show is at risk of losing relevance as a buying show (what trade show isn't?), does moving dates into July really change that trend? Most apparel manufacturers say that any move forward is a positive step, but until the show is in June, those earlier dates -- even those in late July -- really do little or nothing to improve their buying and ordering cycles.

Some manufacturers have suggested to SNEWS® that this move was primarily made to solve a serious ordering and buying cycle issue for pack, sleeping bag and tent manufacturers, who, they say, are experiencing increasingly longer lead times from receipt of order to delivery. One U.S.-based pack manufacturer applauded the move by Outdoor Retailer as extremely positive for his business. And yet when we posed this challenge as a reason for the move to multiple pack, tent and sleeping bag manufacturers at OutDoor show this week in Germany -- both European-based and U.S.-based -- we heard a collective, "Say what?" Most we spoke with said they are bringing large containers of goods into the United States and Europe all year long, are in production much of the time all year in either China or Vietnam, and that the factories they are using are increasingly competitive with each other, moving to shorter and shorter lead times as a result. One large U.S.-based manufacturer of packs told us his company takes orders from retailers when the retailers need the product, and does very well filling orders as close to on-demand as possible. "Manufacturers need to be working with their factories and their business to find ways to better serve retailers within a highly variable buying climate, not pointing to a trade show's late dates as the reason for their delivery woes," he said.

It has also been suggested to us that the move into July was to get in front of primary order dates for footwear companies, and yet most of the footwear companies we have spoken with say that is not the case. It is no secret that for most footwear and apparel companies, the vast majority of their ordering has been written well before July.

As for paddlesports, moving to July is not exactly a popular idea. EORA, in addition to moving its rep show earlier in 2008, is planning a separate paddlesports show in September, because that is what paddlesports retailers and reps want, EORA has said.

Accessory companies we spoke with over the last several weeks and at the OutDoor show in Germany all have told us that a move in July is no help to them at all. It certainly doesn't hurt, but there is no benefit.

Frank Hugelmeyer, president of OIA, stated that a reason for the move to July was “to ensure the show’s timing is relevant to both large and small companies so we have the biggest celebration of the outdoor lifestyle we can at Outdoor Retailer. Maintaining and growing a high quality strong national trade show benefits everyone and will help grow the industry as a whole.

"The OIA board speaks often that it is not about the size of Outdoor Retailer, but the quality of the event that will attract more retailers, policymakers and major media coverage,” Hugelmeyer said. “Hosting a show that does not attract the major brands will not attract more retailers and attention. Relying on multiple small niche events will not solve the problem either. As a result, OIA is actively working with Nielsen (Outdoor Retailer's parent company) and Salt Lake to look at new ways to ratchet up the show's quality in a wide variety of ways. Holding a high value show that allows outdoor brands to see several thousand national and international retailers and creates the greatest annual celebration of the active outdoor lifestyle will ensure OR remains a worthy investment for all."

Now this we can fully agree with. The national trade show should and must be a celebration of the outdoor lifestyle, and a compelling place for manufacturers, retailers and media to gather to network, to publicly debut new innovations, trends and product categories, and to support the growth and future of our industry. But, no matter what dates are chosen, could the show ever really be a buying show anymore? That's certainly the million-dollar question.

The real issue to us is one of making the show relevant for reasons that go well beyond one of a buying show and its timing as it relates to the ever-changing ordering cycles of one or more constituent groups. No matter when the show is held, it should and will always be the only place where retailers, media and manufacturers alike can view products in the context of a larger arena, rather than through a myopic lens of regional or singular brand boundaries. It is the only place where new products can be discovered and new trends unveiled to a broad audience. It is the only place where the industry can be collectively celebrated and rolled out to a national media audience, which is becoming ever more important in light of flat participation numbers and the need to attract new customers, young and old. It is the only place where face-to-face meetings and brainstorming can develop businesses and relationships in a way that all of today’s technologically advanced communications can’t.

Moving a show forward by two weeks into July will make the show a little more relevant to some and a little less relevant to others. Moving the show by those two weeks, however, does not solve the broader relevancy issue.

What will make the show more relevant to all exhibitors is attendance by more retailers. Moving to July will not likely attract more retailers. Nor will it likely attract less. But let's face it. As the show continues to expand in terms of physical size and numbers of exhibitors, it is not expanding in terms of retailer numbers. Many retailers from east of the Mississippi are still not coming. A larger show with a static number of retailers means a show with a more diluted energy. And that is not good when you want to celebrate.

Outdoor Retailer and OIA could hold the show on Christmas Day and as long as it could guarantee a dramatic increase in the number of retailers, exhibitors would attend -- regardless of buying cycles.

And then we have the issue of the show's proximity to the Europe-based equivalent of Outdoor Retailer in terms of size and stature -- the OutDoor show, now in Friedrichshafen in Southern Germany.

Shockingly, in 2009, with the date change, there will only be one full day separating the end of the OutDoor show and the start of Outdoor Retailer. Not exactly a humanly healthy and logistically ideal scenario for the 45+ U.S. and numerous European companies who exhibit at both shows. In fact, we talked to some smaller European-based companies at the OutDoor show who said that meant they would simply not attend Outdoor Retailer -- and indeed found it rather pompous for the U.S. show to basically force a choice. We imagine some smaller U.S.-based companies may also be forced to make a choice. Nor is it healthy or ideal scenario for the select number of larger retailers from both continents who choose to attend both shows for a variety of business reasons -- and placing significant orders is not among them. Indeed, it could force a choice for some of these too.

"For smaller manufacturers, exhibiting at both will simply be impossible -- stifling the growth of new brands and the spread of innovation," said one U.S.-based manufacturer.

The announced dates for both shows in 2009 and 2010 are:

2009

OutDoor Show - Thursday, July 16 to Sunday, July 19

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market -- Tuesday, July 21 to Friday, July 24

2010

OutDoor Show -- Thursday, July 15 to Sunday, July 18

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market -- Thursday, July 22 to Sunday, July 25, allowing a slightly more sane three days between shows.

Certainly, we understand that if OIA and Outdoor Retailer feel that moving the show is in the best interests of the U.S. market for the most important outdoor show for that market, then the show should move. But have the U.S. show organizers not learned anything from the ispo and Outdoor Retailer dance over the last decade, or the SIA and Outdoor Retailer shuffle in recent years? Any separation of show dates less than three days just isn't healthy, wise or in the best interests of anyone, especially when you have in mind a celebration.

True, it is likely that about 80 percent or more of the participation at Outdoor Retailer is U.S.- or Canadian-based and, conversely, about 70 percent of the participation at OutDoor show is European-based. Both shows are, without argument, two separate buying markets with different market needs. OutDoor is and will always be the most "international" show of the two in terms of flavor and multi-national attendance by exhibitors and retailers, but it is not and likely never will be what one would consider a global show since it has a strong emphasis on broader Europe. And while Outdoor Retailer does attract international exhibitors and retailers, it is primarily a U.S. show for one of the most important markets in the world -- and we expect it always will be. Without question, exhibitors that have their eyes on the global market have to attend both shows and certainly also a China show now too and, as such, will have to deal with the shifting market realities in each region. And, sometimes, those shifts mean a change in show dates. But we would hope show management in each of the three major regions will work to ensure that travel between the shows and attendance of them is reasonable in terms of timing to ensure health, well-being and best business.

One very real issue is forcing the date changes for 2009. We understand that Outdoor Retailer wanted more separation, but an existing show at the Salt Palace made that impossible for 2009. So why the rush in 2009 when even Outdoor Retailer and OIA leadership have stated they realize the timing is not ideal? Why not wait until 2010 and keep the August dates for 2009? Three days of separation between a Germany show and a U.S. show in 2010 is at least reasonable and manageable while maintaining a level of health and sanity.

On behalf of many in both Europe and the United States, SNEWS® is asking Outdoor Retailer and OIA to reconsider 2009 for the well-being -- personal and professional -- of its most valuable assets -- human beings. Moving the show dates in 2009 will mean little advantage and, then, only for a very few, while causing a great deal of pain for a great many more. And that's just not a good way to begin a celebration.

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