By Amelia Arvesen
Outdoor Retailer Summer 2021 Recap
When Thread’s booth installation didn’t arrive in time for Day 1 of Outdoor Retailer Summer, the first-time exhibitor had to improvise. Using a spare $1,000 in cash, Founder Colby Bauer and his team decided to host a raffle giveaway to build energy for what was to come. Then once the pegboards and products were in place for Day 2, a crowd of 200 people saw the brand’s true representation—stylish and functional accessories made for creative expression.
“Even if we didn’t write a single order at this show, it was so worth it for us just for the face-to-face connections,” says Melinda Perry, Thread sales manager. “We started with a bang. Now, this is going to be a mainstay for us on our trade show circuit.”
The attendance numbers for Outdoor Retailer Summer 2021, which took place Aug. 10-12, may have been down, but they were still robust considering the ongoing pandemic. Over 7,600 attendees—including over 2,220 retailer buyers and importers/distributors—came to the Show from all 50 states and 29 countries. A total of 338 exhibitors, including 125 new exhibitors set up for three days in the Colorado Convention Center. That was a significant drop from the usual numbers, but that actually worked in the favor of those who chose to attend. Without the big corporations on the floor, newer and smaller companies like Thread, Noso Patches, Alpine Fit, and Alpinecho could shine on the upper level.
The floor space was largely cut back and many exhibitors that are normally downstairs and in hallways had the chance to share the main floor. Venture Out, where Summit Coffee was slinging espresso and affogato, was only steps away from the SOURCE materials area.
“It was super exciting to walk the show and meet many organizations committed to improving diversity in our industry. Now that it's over, the real work starts as we get back to our daily business of creating more sincere, meaningful, measurable, and sustainable opportunities for Black folks and people of color in the outdoor industry and lifestyle.”
Earl B. Hunter, Jr, Black Folks Camp Too
Looking at the attendee list, Trango was expecting a slow show. But Outdoor Retailer Summer exceeded its expectations, and employees said it was invaluable to show off their new collection of ropes, harnesses, shoes, and other climbing gear to dealers in person.
“One of the main reasons we came was for community,” said Chris Klinke, Trango’s president. “We had a lot of the working climbing media and a lot of local climbers stop by. It’s always fun to see people you haven’t seen in two years. ”
Trango also saw the potential to put new product in people’s hands. “As we started planning for 2021 we evaluated the state of the pandemic and discussed potential for a return to trade shows,” said Klinke. “We had the chance to be able showcase over 30 new products that we introduced or started shipping during the pandemic. Many dealers, media, and industry have not had an opportunity to see the products and we wanted them to have that ability in an in-person (and non digital) fashion to be able to really engage with the new releases.”
Other core outdoor brands experienced brisk business. “We had quality meetings with retailers and marketing partners from around the country and everyone was excited to be making the most of this chance to be back together,” said Jonathan Frederick, US country manager for Rab and Lowe Alpine. “With a show this late, writing orders was not an expectation but retailers came looking for product and we were happy to have a productive show in spite of the timing.”
And many small brands did relatively big business. “We will probably open up 20 to 30 new doors,” said Noso Patches founder Kelli Jones. “There were real people here doing the real work. There was so much energy. It was buzzing.”
“As a longtime member of the outdoor industry, we see Outdoor Retailer as an opportunity to engage with key community members, and a gathering place to exchange ideas and deepen relationships.”
Chris Klinke, Trango
The show’s smaller scale was also a big positive for discovery’s sake. Set up in Venture Out, the California-based sustainable surf and lifestyle brand Outerknown was bustling all three days, and the team hardly took breaks as they met with current and prospective accounts. “We would’ve been downstairs previously so it’s nice to be on the main floor right here in the hub of activity outside the coffee,” said Colin Hunter, a wholesale representative at Outerknown. “To be honest, the energy was really good at the show even though it's a quarter of the size that we’re used to seeing.”
His only critique: Because the show was delayed from its normal June timeframe, Hunter said it was a little tricky getting the whole team to the event since it coincided with other shows across the country. That shouldn’t be a problem in 2022 since Outdoor Retailer delayed to account for the pandemic, but returns to June next year.
At stations throughout the show, attendees could pick up pocket-sized hand sanitizer bottles from Dr. Bronner’s. “The feedback has been great,’” said Aaron Bravo, one of the brand’s regional sales managers. “A few people who didn’t really know Dr. Bronner’s have come by and then they go, ‘Wait you guys are the ones doing the hand sanitizers.’”
The soap maker also exhibited in Venture Out, where it was sharing samples of its newest product: organic and fair trade certified Magic All-One Chocolate. Crowds gathered there everyday for a sweet refuel.
Meanwhile, other show goers dipped into the fresh-squeezed juice cart at the Free People Movement booth, where the fashion brand debuted its freshest activewear. “This is the best market for us with outdoor accounts,” said Ellen Linman, East Coast account executive. “It definitely taps into the side of business that we’re working to enhance.”
Linman said the label is more well known in cycle and yoga studios, but they’re making a bigger push into outdoor lately with hiking clothes. At the upcoming Snow Show in January, she said, they’ll be exhibiting ski activewear.
Dave & Matt Vans also plan to return for the next show. Summer was the Colorado-based van conversion and rental company’s first show, and despite the chatter about it being smaller, Matt Felser was impressed by how Outdoor Retailer utilized the space. They also received a fulfilling amount of foot traffic, whether it was for business or just to admire their Promaster display.
Without back-to-back meetings, people had more time to explore. “Everyone who came over here enjoyed the ability to spend time with us to get to know the van, whereas usually they felt like they were running around hassled the whole time,” Fesler said. “As things go back, we’re excited to have been here at a smaller venue to have that attention and grow into hopefully a bigger show next year.”
“This is the best market for us with outdoor accounts. It definitely taps into the side of business that we’re working to enhance.” — Ellen Linman, Free People Movement
Most importantly, the show continues to be a place where the industry gathers to tackle big issues facing not just the outdoor community, but our society as a whole: conservation, climate change, inclusivity, managing public lands. To that end, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Joe Neguse walked the aisles and Outdoor Industry Association executive director Lise Aangeenbrug met with Neguse to discuss his plan for a new Civilian Conservation Corps with a focus on climate. And people of color took center stage at the 11th annual Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards gaining recognition for achievements and emerging leadership across the nation.
“The Show was small but delightful,” said Earl B. Hunter, Jr., founder and president of Black Folks Camp Too, who used to attend the Show as an exhibitor while vice president of sales at Sylvansport. “We were able to connect with our industry partner Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and share specifics of our partnered Noso Unity Blaze patch program. Our partnership will help to increase industry-wide diverse workforce talent and encourage folks to treat everyone, everywhere, equally.”
But the work of changing the face of the outdoor industry has just begun and it promises to continue at the January Show. “It was super exciting to walk the Show and meet many organizations committed to improving diversity in our industry,” said Hunter. “Now that it's over, the real work starts as we get back to our daily business of creating more sincere, meaningful, measurable, and sustainable opportunities for Black folks and people of color in the outdoor industry and lifestyle.”
Numbers at a Glance
Retailer Buyers and Importer/Distributors
Independent Specialty Retailers
National and Regional Chain Store
Climbing Gym and Guide Service
RETAILER BUYER BY BUSINESS
Catch up on what you missed! Outdoor Retailer Summer education is available on demand. Watch the pre-show webinars and many of the sessions held during the show in Denver at any time online.
The 11th annual Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards recognized the champions and changemakers of the outdoor community. Learn about this year’s finalists and recipients and the work they’re doing in the industry.
More than 20% of Outdoor Retailer's topline revenue is given to organizations and associations that support outdoor recreation. Booth space at each show is also donated to nonprofits with nationwide influence.
Investing in the
Investing in the
Editor Doug Schnitzspahn
Creative Director Andrew Kornylak
Design Jamon Exsted
Photography Lauren Danilek
Photography Scott Martin
Photography Carlo Nasisse
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at a Glance