Outdoor Retailer Winter Market ‘11: Buyer confidence means busy show, plus key trends and don’t-miss special reports

Winter Market busted all records, with attendance up 16 percent, and buyer numbers up 11 percent, according to preliminary numbers supplied by show management. To keep you in-the-know, SNEWS got feedback on the show and reviewed trends in wintersports, apparel, footwear and accessories that we covered in our Outdoor Retailer Daily.

There was one complaint from manufacturers exhibiting at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, held Jan. 20-23, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah, that may sound odd: They were so busy writing orders in their own booths, most weren’t able to see the rest of the show.

“I expected this show to be slower than the summer, but this show has rocked,” said Beau Shrum of Open Air Brands, which distributes Fenix Flashlights. This was just the second show for the group, and it far exceeded expectations. “We have been slammed from the word ‘go.’ We’ve added two major chains, and we’ve had editors, buyers, professional athletes all coming in. It’s has been an important balance.”

It should be no surprise Winter Market was so busy. Overall attendance was up 16 percent, and buyers were up 11 percent, according to preliminary numbers supplied by show management. The show sold the most floor space ever for a Winter Market: nearly 350,000 square feet, up from last year’s 318,000. “That’s indicative of the strength of the market and also indicative of the faith in Outdoor Retailer,” Kenji Haroutunian, Outdoor Retailer’s show director, told us. “People know they are going to get business from this show.”

Established brands reported the same success on the show floor. Pete Hixson, co-owner of Pistil Designs, which held steady during the recent economic downturn, also didn’t have time to leave his booth; accessories continue to score with buyers and consumers. At Outdoor Research, a strong fall 2010, when the brand sold through its lines, led into a busy Winter Market.

“It’s been constantly busy. Fall 2010 ended on a high note since we had lots of snow,” said Alex Kutches, Outdoor Research’s vice president of sales. “The vendor base has been conservative because of the economic climate. They didn’t have the barometer to buy aggressively. Now, people are optimistic as they buy into things from next fall. It’s been good for us.”

Despite talk of regional shows keeping buyers closer to home, retailers, for their part, still seem to see Winter Market as relevant as ever -- simply because it spreads so many brands and innovative new products out in front of them.

“There are a ton of great new products out there,” said Kip Roberts, general manager of Onion River Sports in Montpelier, Vt. “Here you get to see everything at once, talk to designers, product people, which is invaluable. You can actually influence the production run.”

Show management also reported that more than 1,300 buyers hit the slopes for a day of wintersport product previews, hands-on gear testing and outdoor events at the All Mountain Demo in its new location, Solitude Mountain Resort, on Jan. 19. Nearly 40 exhibitors -- up slightly over last year’s count -- showcased their wares for the day-long event held Jan. 19, the day before the show opened.

For a quick rundown of the hot trends and product launches at Winter Market, check out what SNEWS snooped out and reported in o.r.d., the Winter Market’s trade show daily, this year “powered by SNEWS.” Go to www.snewsnet.com/ordaily to find all referenced articles by day, plus more.

Trending: Backcountry skis

(Day 1, page 19)

Manufacturers embraced backcountry skiing with a slew of skis designed to be lighter yet still handle powder and varied conditions. The skis distinguish themselves from traditional alpine wares by balancing lightweight constructions for boot-hiking and skinning without compromising off-piste performance.

Dynafit augmented its lightweight carbon-fiber randonee-race offerings with the new Baltoro -- narrow enough for lightweight climbing, yet wide enough to float, according to the company. Volkl charged hard into the market with a new collection of AT skis featuring rockered designs and integrated climbing skins.

While La Sportiva is a new player to the backcountry ski market and brought to market the 105 mm-underfoot Hi5, Rossignol continued its investment in the category with the new BC125, a lightweight, metal-edge touring ski with a thermoformed, waxless, positrack base, which eliminates the need for skins.

Trending: Avalanche safety

(Day 1, page 21; plus additional reporting included below)

A visible trend at Winter Market was the rise in avalanche airbags for backcountry winter sports. Companies like Snowpulse, Backcountry Access, and ABS debuted lighter, smaller and less expensive models of the airbag products they have been offering for years. And companies like Mammut previewed their entry in the airbag market with new products for 2011.

“When you look at the statistics, within a few years I think the avalanche airbags will become the same standard to carry, as carrying a beacon is today,” said Andres Lietha, Mammut’s head of the hardware business unit.

Beacon upgrades were also popular. Ortovox announced its new S1+ beacon with a smart antenna that can transmit its signal vertically or horizontally, depending on how the victim is positioned in the snow. And Pieps introduced its new Vector beacon with four antennas and GPS support. A fold-out design allows for simultaneous operation of both its antennas.

Trending: Fabrics & fibers

(Day 3, page 19; Day 4, page 17)

While much of the buzz at Winter Market centered on high-profile launches of expensive new waterproof/breathable technologies, three textile leaders, like Outlast and PrimaLoft, unveiled potentially game-changing, next-to-skin fabrics. They’ve been cooking up improvements and extensions that enable them to dip their toes into categories that could significantly grow their market position.

Outlast debuted a polyester version of its phase-change fabric, looking to combine its phase-change qualities with the moisture-wicking and durability superiority of poly. PrimaLoft rolled out Synergy, a multi-denier, continuous-filament insulation with approximately 25 percent more loft than Infinity -- its single-denier, continuous-filament insulation launched in 2009.

And, an increasing number of suppliers introduced new wares at the show or launched new fabrics along with manufacturer partners, including Unifi and Concept III Textiles. Pertex debuted a new light hardshell fabric, which combines ePTFE (eVent) membrane to a Pertex face fabric.

Also on manufacturers’ minds for 2011: expected textile price inflation. The price of cotton already is on the rise and that’s putting pressure on alternative materials as well. Predictions were that outdoor gear and apparel companies this year will likely pass on the extra costs to consumers, unlike how they swallowed increased costs in 2010 to keep prices stable. (To read more about prices in a post-OR SNEWS story, click here.)

More trending

In addition to the above, we also found, among other trends:

>> tele manufacturers charging forward with innovative designs in NTN boots and bindings (Day 2, page 17).

>> Nordic boot and ski makers rolling out significant design developments, including increased strength-to-weight ratios (Day 2, page 19).

>> high performance, high style and high prices being infused into technical outerwear (Day 2, page 21).

>> a leaning toward more eco-oriented footwear (Day 3, page 24).

>> Rando racing generating cutting-edge, adrenaline-oriented ski gear from key companies (Day 4, page 19).

And don’t miss these special features, also at www.snewsnet.com/ordaily:

The Outerwear Revolution – By Michael Hodgson -- A special report on the competing waterproof/breathable innovations launched at Winter Market, including three from Polartec, Mountain Hardwear and Columbia that put Gore-Tex in their crosshairs (Day 1, page 60).

Innovate or Die – By Therese Iknoian -- What counts as reinvention in this overhyped day and age? We surveyed leading outdoor designers for their opinions and to learn how innovation really happens (Day 2, page 60).

My Booth Is Where? – By Marcus Woolf – Few issues vex exhibitors more than location. Get a fly-on-the-wall look at the process of how show management maps the show floor (Day 3, page 60).

Does Green Sell at Retail? – By Erinn Morgan -- Eco-products are like sneakers on an icy trail: Still trying to gain traction. That’s the cautious (yet still optimistic) verdict from retailers and vendors interviewed (Day 4, page 60).

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market will return to the Salt Palace Convention Center, in Salt Lake City, Jan. 19-22, 2012.

--Doug Schnitzspahn with contributions from SNEWS® editors