What recession? Germany’s OutDoor show sets new attendance record - SNEWS

What recession? Germany’s OutDoor show sets new attendance record

It wasn’t until the doors swung open the first morning of the 16th annual OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen and retailers crowded through the turnstiles that organizers could let go of nagging worries: Flouting a global recession, the show that closed July 19 broke its retail attendance record by 2 percent in the end, on top of also increasing its exhibitor numbers by more than 2 percent.
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It wasn’t until the doors swung open the first morning of the 16th annual OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen and retailers crowded through the turnstiles that organizers could let go of nagging worries: Flouting a global recession, the show that closed July 19 broke its retail attendance record by 2 percent in the end, on top of also increasing its exhibitor numbers by more than 2 percent.

Those positive results – and, yes, retailers are still buying too, global manufacturers of all sizes told SNEWS® as we roamed the aisles at the show – helped kick off in style the grand opening of the two new exhibit halls, new parking areas and new east entrance and foyers with additional meeting rooms.

Expansion officially opened

Excited to show off the new facilities, which had just been given a final primp for this show, Germany's Messe Friedrichshafen hosted local and state politicians for a round of speeches, congratulations, thanks and tours. Although delayed by a traffic jam on the freeway, the governor of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Guenther Oettinger, swept in with bodyguards and his entourage, telling the crowds that this was a “clear sign in the recession” not to be depressed.

Without wasting a moment after the ceremony, the group of suited officials, including show directors who normally come attired in jeans and trail running shoes, marched en masse through the halls, as attendees turned to gawk and whisper, “Who is that.… What’s going on?” Heads turned since that many suits – or even one suit – aren’t normal at this casual show. Oettinger made stops at Leki, Deuter and Jack Wolfskin, where oh-so-coincidentally CEOs were on hand to greet him. (In the photo to the right, Oettinger, far left, speaks with Wolfskin CEO Manfred Hell, far right, as EOG executive director, Mark Held, second to right, listens.)

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New in the EUR 49 million expansion (USD $69 million in today's dollars) were two halls at the east end (A7 and B5), as well as the new east foyer and entrance, which has tall ceilings and is flooded with natural lighting, making a perfect area for demos such as climbing. The 161,500-square-foot expansion was announced in SNEWS® in November 2006 (click here to see that story), and construction started about two years ago. The addition brings the Friedrichshafen conference grounds on Lake Constance, also home of the early September Eurobike show, to 915,000 square feet. 

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Despite unusually rainy and gloomy weather for Southern Germany in late July, the festivities weren't overcast and the show still shined. At the end of its four-day run, it had clicked through 19,300 visits by retailers from 90 countries, compared to last year’s 18,900. (In Europe, traditionally, one "visit" is equal to one retail buyer entering the show on one day, meaning for example three "visits" could be the same retailer coming on three different days. Manufacturers, media and other VIPs are not counted.) Perhaps that was not quite the 12 percent jump last year; nevertheless, with brows furrowed and hands being wrung around the world because of the turbulent and troublesome economic state, it was more than enough to bring out the champagne at the board meeting on the last afternoon.

“With the economic situation being so weak, nobody really knew what the retailers would do,” show director Stefan Reisinger told SNEWS, also noting that pre-registration had been up but show management is aware you never really know who will actually show up. “The results are overwhelming really. If we’d even just matched last year’s numbers, we would have been very pleased, but this is great.”

Even the buying groups reported positive revenue numbers for Germany, while the European Outdoor Group (EOG) noted positive industry growth overall, although some countries are doing better than others. (Look for more reports coming in SNEWS as we provide coverage of the European economic condition and the economic state of the industry in Europe based on various sources.)

“It comes down to the fact that our industry here is more affected by the weather than the economy,” EOG executive director Mark Held told SNEWS. “Everybody seems to be remarkably happy.”

Rainy days for the show meant one thing: A more authentic trail running demonstration and competition on the open-air courtyard between the halls where overflow booths, outdoor lounges and numerous slackline companies were also setup. Trail running sponsor Gore-Tex had set up a remarkable course with banks, hills, log jumps and dry "creek beds," shown in the photo to the right.

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Exhibitors gain elbow room

Inside the halls, most exhibitors were protected from the elements, of course. Overall numbers reached 810 (up from 787 in 2008), coming this year from 38 countries. Reisinger noted one small difference this year that he saw was a slight increase in exhibitors from Germany and a slight decrease in those from outside the country, perhaps one indication of a few cutbacks from areas that were harder hit by the recession. He also said that some Asian countries weren’t as strongly represented as normal due to worries about the swine flu.

Still, per usual, the show became the venue for many global product debuts and strategic announcements, with the likes of Marmot, Garmin, Mountain Hardwear, Suunto, Vasque, Vaude, Osprey and Asolo, among many many others lifting the cloak on new packs, hydration system, electronics, apparel and footwear here before this week’s Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. adidas returned, too, announcing its long-term plans to re-enter the outdoor arena. (SNEWS will cover product highlights in further OutDoor reports, as well as in reports after the U.S.’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.)

Mostly, manufacturers saw retailers eagerly looking at new lines and indicating plans to place orders in the next few weeks – although some told SNEWS many retailers are still being conservative. They are worried, we were told, that the economic situation could still worsen for them, and they want the manufacturers to take the risks and keep the inventory, allowing them to place smaller orders (sometimes because cautious banks aren’t willing to lend as much) but still leaving them the ability to come back for more.

“There is an expectation that the issues we’re experiencing in the U.S. may still ripple through here,” said Mike Wallenfels, president of Mountain Hardwear. “The buyers and distributors are being cautious.”

Nevertheless, the customers showed up, said Marmot President Mark Martin. “For us, the customers are here, and we’re coming to do business. They aren’t pulling the sheets over the heads at least.”

Small companies in the back of halls still found a reason to smile too. For example, Guyot Designs was at the back of the climbing hall in its European debut (re-debut actually since founder Josh Guyot said the company came in 2006 and realized it wasn’t ready for that kind of expansion).

“It’s been busy but just the right amount of busy for us,” said Guyot, who said the company’s emphasis was seeing and signing distributors as well as meeting with additional manufacturers. “It’s a nice first step into this market.”

Looking ahead

One of the biggest challenges confronted at the show was the need for some companies to divide and conquer, or do the inter-continental scurry and leapfrog, since OutDoor ended the evening before Outdoor Retailer’s pre-show open-air demo, meaning there was only one full day between shows. Sales managers, presidents and other executives left via rail, ship and air starting Saturday afternoon, depending on when they had to be in Salt Lake City and their route. Some told SNEWS they were making 12- to 18-hour pit stops at home to grab a pre-packed OR suitcase and give a significant other a squeeze. Creatively, Wallenfels said he had a second suitcase in his car at the airport pre-packed and would just exchange suitcases before jumping back on a flight.

“Crazy,” “nuts,” “why are they doing this,” and “ridiculous” were some more polite ways to describe the sleepless scramble that could result in extra business at the coffee carts at the Salt Palace (or a chance for some entrepreneur to do booming business in little bottles of 5-Hour Energy). Get ready for some jet-lagged personnel at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, which, in close collaboration with the Outdoor Industry Association, made the decision in June 2007 to move its dates forward into July – click here to read our editorial, “SNEWS View: Is Outdoor Retailer Summer Market's move to July in 2009 necessary?”

In 2010, OutDoor, which always announces its dates several years in advance and has now released them through 2012, will be July 15-18. Outdoor Retailer will be July 22-25, with the demo on July 21. That leaves three days between shows compared to this year’s single day (not counting the demo day in both cases).

Even with the tight schedule and the need to scurry out of Friedrichshafen to travel to Salt Lake City (certainly not exactly two global transportation hubs), the OutDoor show is continuing its upward climb, starting from rather humble beginnings in 1994 with 5,490 attendees and 231 exhibitors.

“Outdoor is booming,” show director Reisinger said at the opening press conference the first day. “Its best days are probably still to come.”

--Therese Iknoian

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