The future of Outdoor Retailer beyond 2014 has come down to seven venues in five cities that could host the growing semi-annual trade show.
Salt Lake City, Denver, Las Vegas, Anaheim, Calif. and Orlando, Fla. — or a season-split combination of any two — are in the running to host the summer and winter shows.
Still, none is a perfect fit, officials say.
On Tuesday, Outdoor Retailer and Outdoor Industry Association took public what the groups have been not-so-secretly discussing since summer 2010: how to reconfigure a trade show that has outgrown its home of the past 16 years, Salt Lake City.
The debate goes beyond cities, convention centers and hotel rooms, said Kenji Haroutunian, vice president at Nielsen Expositions and Outdoor Retailer show director.
“The fundamental question is really about how big and broad do we want the industry to be,” Haroutunian told SNEWS. The inclusion of outdoor categories such as stand up paddleboarding, natural products, action sports and yoga largely have contributed to the growth of the show and the industry as a whole, he said. “They’re all areas of opportunity for outdoor retailers.”
To gather input from industry and show stakeholders, Outdoor Retailer and OIA have launched a “Collective Voice” initiative located online at www.outdoorretailer.com/collective-voice. The site will serve as center for information, surveys and group discussions regarding the future home and scope of Outdoor Retailer. More than 20,000 people — mostly those who have attended the shows in the past three years — will be invited to participate in the coming weeks.
“It’s a forum-style website to encourage conversation beyond just a cold survey of checking boxes,” Haroutunian said, adding that the discussion will be maintained with secure logins and firewalls.
Outdoor Retailer and OIA have retained former SNEWS President Michael Hodgson as its Collective Voice ambassador to help encourage and moderate the forum.
“It will be a heated and lively debate, but one that will lead to a better outcome," Hodgson said. “There is no ideal venue for Outdoor Retailer. Every venue will have to make changes for the trade show. The trade show will have to make changes for every venue.”
The new Collective Voice website outlines the pros and cons of expanding the show and of each venue. Some clear ideological debates appear set to emerge, such as the challenge of maintaining the event's outdoor culture while seeking out additional space and better logistics. Cities like Salt Lake City or Denver may be stronger on the former, while places like Las Vegas, Anaheim and Orlando are likely top contenders on the latter. Locations in Chicago, New York City, Houston and Atlanta were considered but ruled out because of expense, traffic or other challenges.
The list isn’t completely set in stone. A dark horse candidate could emerge if something were to change, Haroutunian said, but “Nielsen has 37 trade shows in the country, so we know the landscape pretty well.”
OIA Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lori Herrera said she expects outdoor culture to be a top priority for many stakeholders.
“We’re blessed to work in an industry with a passionate ethos for the outdoors," she said. “Utah is such a beautiful location, but at the end of the day, we need to provide the logistics and services to put together a successful show. OIA’s mission is to ensure growth and strength of the industry. The perfect solution would be if Salt Lake City expanded the convention center and increased hotel space.”
OIA and Outdoor Retailer officials are reaching out to local and state authorities in Utah and Colorado to discuss possible expansions on these fronts. If Salt Lake City or Denver could deliver, it might give the outdoor-friendly cities a leg up in the competition to host the show. Twice in the past 10 years, Salt Lake City funded expansions to keep the show there, Haroutunian said.
In its current form, Outdoor Retailer needs contiguous exhibit space of at least 900,000 gross square feet and the ability to support more than 25,000 people with hotels and restaurants, officials said. Convenient airports, transportation, outdoor demo locations and overall costs are other logistical factors.
While the Collective Voice forum and survey are slated to open in a few weeks, officials have yet to set an end date for the discussion. Outdoor Retailer’s contract with Salt Lake City expires after Summer Market 2014, but there are options for short- and long-term extensions through 2020, Haroutunian said.
While those options are available, officials said they would prefer to reach a more secure decision for 2015 and beyond by the end of this year.
“The easiest thing for some industry veterans to recommend would be to say, ‘Don’t change.’ However, we know that not changing is a recipe for disaster,” Haroutunian said. “By squelching the growth of the show, we’d be in effect squelching the growth of the outdoor industry. Without the infusion of new categories, products and ideas, no show, no industry, no business can survive.”