Come summer 2020, the outdoor industry will have yet another trade show to choose from.

The Big Gear Show, a concept by longtime retailers Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush, the team behind Paddlesports Retailer, is slated for July 22 to 25, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The hardgoods-only buying show will focus on camping, climbing, paddling, and biking, with a consumer day and pre-show outfitting and excursion.

The Big Gear Show logo

The Big Gear Show will launch in Salt Lake City, Utah, in July 2020.

In some ways, it’s similar to what’s already out there: a gear buying show that brings together people from various corners of the industry. But in other ways, it’s going to be drastically different, and Bacon and Bush say it will challenge traditional trade show norms.

Last week, an op-ed by NEMO founder and CEO and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) executive board member Cam Brensinger called out the need for trade shows—namely Outdoor Retailer—to refocus on community. His recommendations also included limiting booth sizes, encouraging the exchange of ideas, and ditching order writings. Brensinger wrote that Outdoor Retailer “seems unlikely to survive long-term without a major reinvention.”

And maybe that’s the Big Gear Show. Or maybe not. With Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver staging only three weeks before the Big Gear Show, some are skeptical about how it will shake out and how it threatens to further splinter our industry with more trade show options. Others think it will be a serious competitor for Outdoor Retailer.

Sutton Bacon, Rich Krause, and Darren Bush at Paddlesports Retailer

Sutton Bacon, Rich Krause, former CEO of Confluence Outdoor, and Darren Bush at Paddlesports Retailer.

How The Big Gear Show will differ from Outdoor Retailer

Bacon and Bush, who have both served on the board of OIA in the past, profess deep respect for the management of both OIA and Outdoor Retailer. “We were actually some of the voices that were on the OIA board trying to keep paddlesports as a part of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market show,” Bacon said. They understand that if Outdoor Retailer doesn’t succeed, OIA, which relies on shared revenue from OR, faces serious trouble. And they believe in the important policy and advocacy work that OIA does on behalf of the outdoor industry. But in launching BGS, they aim to solve many of the problems that retailers and brands—in particular paddlesports and bike brands—have expressed with the Outdoor Retailer show: the too-early timing, the excessive expense, and the lack of connection to the consumer. 

Here are a few differentiating factors:

The Big Gear Show will be hardgoods only. 

Climbing gear, bikes, tents, sleeping bags and pads, hydration, electronics, roof racks, optics, and other hardgoods are in; footwear and apparel are out. Bacon and Bush want to bring the focus back on to gear—specifically for paddle, bike, camp, and climb—and keep the product mix highly-curated. They're anticipating 450 exhibitors and 1,500 unique stores, with one to four buyers from each store. By comparison, summer OR has about 1,400 exhibitors. 

Bacon said, “Hardgoods are completely different than soft goods. The way they’re sourced, manufactured, prototyped, produced, and purchased is radically different. The margins and the business model are totally different. The sales velocity is totally different. There are already several outstanding trade shows focused on apparel and footwear, like Outdoor Retailer, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect Show, and regional rep shows. But we’re focused exclusively on gear.”

The Big Gear Show will be considerably less expensive. 

Exhibitors will pay between $12 and $15 per square foot, compared to the nearly $40 per square foot charged at Outdoor Retailer. If qualified retailers register by a certain date, they’ll receive a partial reimbursement on travel based on the number of days they attend. These incentives are a carryover from Paddlesports Retailer.

The Big Gear Show will be in Salt Lake City. 

Outdoor Retailer and OIA pulled out of Utah in February 2017 after outdoor industry leaders met with Gov. Gary Herbert, who expressed different perspectives on public lands. It didn't include Utah in its request for proposals and moved to Denver starting January 2018. 

"Let’s be clear, the outdoor industry never left Utah,” Bacon said. “This state is home to some of the world’s most innovative outdoor companies and most treasured natural resources. Yes, managing public lands can be complicated and positive change takes time, but we feel it’s better to embrace the community and encourage change from within. Furthermore, retailers and brands love Salt Lake City; it just feels like home. It’s affordable, we all know the city well, it’s friendly, and the community is eager to welcome us back.”

The Big Gear Show will feature a consumer day. 

On the last day of the show, July 25, the doors will open to the public. Brands will get to engage with fans, and if they choose, sell product. 

Bacon said, “Consumers are a missing, but crucial voice in an industry celebration like this. Our vision is that the consumer day is first and foremost a brand showcase, with selling as optional and at the brand's discretion. Brands with local specialty distribution must work with local dealers, while other brands may sell direct to consumers. The consumer day gives small and upcoming brands unparalleled access to thousands of consumers and industry media. Bringing in consumers will also amplify media interest in the show. And the resulting buzz from media outlets, consumer-driven social media, and word of mouth will result in better return on investment for all show participants.”

The Big Gear Show will integrate demos and experiences in a new way.

See, try, buy. That’s the order Bacon says makes the most sense for a demo experience. Instead of trying first during a pre-show demo day, attendees will have the opportunity to connect in smaller groups for outdoor excursions on July 21st (the day before the show opens) in Salt Lake City’s backyard. Then, paddle tanks, indoor and outdoor bike tracks, and a climbing wall will allow buyers to test gear on the show floor—after they’ve seen it.

Bacon said, “Exhibitors and retailers have consistently told us that the appropriate pattern for gear demos is see-try-buy, not try-see-buy. It just doesn’t make sense to have the demo on the first day. So we'll be offering highly-technical on-site demo experiences throughout the show including multiple paddles tanks, indoor and outdoor bike tracks, and climbing and bouldering walls. We’re also offering Explore Utah excursions throughout the event, so buyers and their families can enjoy the best of what the state has to offer.”

A birds-eye-view of the Paddlesports Retailer show floor

The 2019 Paddlesports Retailer saw 122 exhibitors, more than 200 stores, and more than 350 buyers.

What the industry needs, according to Big Gear Show organizers

Three years ago, just after Outdoor Retailer announced that it would move its Summer Market to June, a timeframe too early for many, Bush and Bacon launched the Paddlesports Retailer. For 17 years, Bush has owned and operated Rutabaga Paddlesports in Madison, Wisconsin. Bacon, an outdoor industry long-timer and former retailer, sits on the show’s board of directors and is the former chairman and CEO of the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

The feedback they received affirmed that Paddlesports Retailer was the right show at the right time. But they also repeatedly heard two suggestions that laid the foundation for the new show: Exhibitors wanted more foot traffic from more diverse buyers (not just paddlesports buyers), and retailers wanted to see accessories and hardgoods beyond paddlesports to maximize their travel expenses and time. In other words, they wanted it to be bigger, broader, and busier.

 Thus, The Big Gear Show was born.

“The outdoor lifestyle is a way of life for tens of millions of people, but our industry is at a crossroads,” Bacon said. “Big boxes are failing our brands. Amazon is suffocating our local gear shops. The big are getting bigger. And private equity and Wall Street investors are threatening the soul of our industry.”

But, he said, “The Big Gear Show is a show for the rest of us—the innovators, the start-ups, the domestic manufacturers, and the local gear shops. By saving our exhibitors over 50 percent in exhibition fees, our pricing structure keeps money in the pockets of gear companies, who simply don't have the margins to afford expensive trade shows.” 

Full aisles at Paddlesports Retailer

The Big Gear Show will be a place for business, according to those who have already committed to the show.

Is The Big Gear Show the answer to the “trade show crisis”?

Any summer show that fills the industry’s unmet needs is going to be a natural competitor to Outdoor Retailer, said Wes Allen, owner of Sunlight Sports. “It was completely inevitable that another show would pop up,” he said.

Timelines for shows are everything. Hardgoods have a completely different buying cycle than footwear and apparel, one that’s later and gives brands more time to receive samples, Allen says.

"OR Summer Market is hardgoods focused…there are a lot of clothing and footwear companies there but the stars of the show are hardgoods," says Allen. Yet it's a timeline that doesn’t work for hardgoods and it's in a format that doesn’t work for line showings." That's why BGS will be effective, he says. "Because they’re not trying to be all things to all people.”

Allen believes that we need OIA and the work they do on behalf of the industry. And because OIA gets funding from Outdoor Retailer revenue,  OR has an important role. "But for OR to fulfill that role, it needs to reimagine what it provides and focus not so much on wholesale line showing as its core mission, but talk about the other benefits that it brings to the industry [like bringing together the whole community]. Otherwise OR will have to move out of the June time slot." 

Carolyn Brodsky, president and founder of Sterling Rope, is going to BGS. She said Outdoor Retailer has become less of a place of business and more of a place for her to reconnect with people in the industry and for her marketing team to talk with media and sponsored athletes about future products.

“When we first started [attending OR], we had probably 200 appointments at that show and maybe six of those were marketing,” she said. “Now my marketing folks are booked solid and my sales guys are twiddling their thumbs...I don’t need to spend that kind of money to be solicited.”

For now, the bike industry is just excited to have a show again, since Interbike was cancelled. Already, the National Bike Dealers Association has endorsed BGS as the official national trade show of the industry, said Brandee Lepak, president of the organization.

“We love networking, we love coming up with ways to work with each other, and not having the space to connect yearly has left a tremendous void,” Lepak said. “What I’m really excited about with this show is that it’s mostly focused on hardgoods and it’s going to be put on by retailers, for retailers. This show is going to be a healthy environment for us to do business and work with all of the other industries on putting together an education platform that will benefit all of us.”

Kent Cranford, chairman of the NBDA board and owner of Motion Makers Bicycle Shop in North Carolina, said July is perfect timing for the bike industry. By July, most companies have already announced their new products, so BGS will be a time to see them in person and make their buying decisions. It’s a show he’s planning on attending to get work done.

“I will not come alone,” he said. “I used to complain about summer events, but the reality is, it’s also the time of the year we have the most staff...I’m one of those people who feels like trade shows are important. They’re great places for me to reconnect with my peers and with my vendors and to get out of the store and see what’s going on.”

One thing is for sure: It won’t be business as usual next summer.


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