“In this industry, everybody’s a participant. They’re not just fans or consumers, they’re actually enthusiasts, they live this lifestyle. With outdoor recreation, it’s all about touchpoints. You have to meet the consumer where they’re at and let them be part of that process.”
–Sean Smith, Show Director, Outdoor Retailer
2024 is set to be a year of growth for Outdoor Retailer (OR). The 40-year-old b-to-b outdoor sports trade show will introduce an updated format for its shows, developed through feedback gathered from exhibitors and retailers. Rolling out at June’s OR Summer 2024, the new features include launching a large-scale Hosted Buyer program, reimagining and expanding the sourcing area into a new co-located Outdoor Design + Innovation show, and introducing a simplified booth space plan and new pricing structure to support exhibitors.
Starting next year, OR will host dedicated hours for both buyers and exhibitors. The first two days of each show will open with specific morning hours for buyers and exhibiting brands. After buyer hours the first two mornings, and for the full third day, all attendees can explore the show floor, which saw more than 720 exhibitors at Summer 2023. OR will also continue to offer expert-led education sessions and networking events, while celebrating the industry with the annual Innovation Awards and Inspiration Awards.
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“The overwhelming consensus was that one of the main reasons to be at a show is to meet with retailers, and for every brand, it’s different. Some are there for pure commerce, some are there for marketing, and some are there to continue to build and strengthen relationships,” says Sean Smith, show director at OR. “That’s where retailers really get to spend time with c-suite leaders from brands where it doesn’t happen at any other show.”
Smith says the Hosted Buyer program was established to remove industry-wide obstacles that may have kept retailers away from the show, such as travel-related challenges, increasing prices and staffing issues. Through the program, qualified retail buyers can apply for an opportunity to access available funds to offset the costs of attending OR. The participating buyers will have avenues to schedule in-person meetings with exhibitors during the shows.
“The brands will benefit from buyers coming to take a look at what their store needs to carry to best serve the outdoor recreation consumer,” Smith says. “In addition, it will allow us to focus on getting the right number and the right buyers by show category. Camp & Hike is a big section. We need a lot of buyers who specifically are there for Camp & Hike, and the same goes for Lifestyle, Snow or Water.”
An Expanding, Evolving Show Floor
With discovering what’s new being a big draw at the shows, Smith says exhibitors have evolved how they present themselves and conduct business on the trade show floor. In the past, established brands would set up a closed-off booth that allowed entry by appointment only, keeping reps on schedule as they met with their key accounts. But over time, that approach has broken down, and now, exhibitors are creating more open booth spaces that invite all attendees to walk through.
“I think a lot of brands have seen that it just benefits the whole outlook of the outdoor industry, which is about inclusion. Everybody’s welcome,” he says. “The other thing that we’re starting to see is where brands are thinking a lot about who they’re next to. It used to be, ‘I don’t want to be next to them; they’re a main competitor.’ Now, we are seeing this bit of collaboration in terms of booth space being near like-minded or somewhat related brands and products that complement what each other does.”
In 2024, the new co-located Outdoor Design + Innovation (ODI) show will debut as an enhanced sourcing area showcasing domestic and international suppliers of raw materials, along with businesses delivering current technologies in manufacturing and sustainability across the supply chain. ODI will operate side-by-side with OR in the Salt Palace over the same dates with separate registrations and offer its own education sessions, workshops and networking activities.
“We want ODI to become a stopping place for any company that is looking for technical materials, technical add-ons to products or new trends, thinking about the next innovations that are going to make things better, lighter, safer,” Smith says. “To be positioned next door to OR just widens the whole breadth and depth of our community ecosystem—who we’re serving, not just the buyer and seller, but the designer and the product manager, as well.”
Reaching Consumers with a New Festival
When OR’s parent company Emerald acquired Lodestone Events, producer of the Overland Expo series of vehicle-based, adventure travel consumer shows, in January, it gave OR the chance to branch out into a new market—consumers. Outdoor Adventure X (OAX), Emerald’s new consumer lifestyle event for the outdoor recreation enthusiast, took place in June at Snowbasin Resort in Huntsville, UT, the weekend preceding OR Summer 2023 in Salt Lake City. The new festival, operated by Lodestone Events, featured outdoor activities, clinics, demos, camping and live music, all while connecting consumers with 150 gear vendors, a win-win for both brands and OR.
“That omnichannel approach is what we want to be doing in the outdoor industry,” Smith says. “So we have the design and innovation piece of the business [with ODI], we have OR for brands selling into retailers, and now we have an opportunity for brands to reach the consumer and see what that touchpoint looks and feels like to get their feedback, let them test and touch their product.”
Timing is important for capturing the greatest number of exhibitors and attendees—a learning Smith says the team took away from hosting the first OAX festival, as it hit Father’s Day weekend, which usually keeps families together at home. Another consideration is drawing attendees from a place like Salt Lake City, where climbers, backpackers and hikers actively spend the weekend outside. Smith points to spreading the right message, finding the right location and choosing the best dates to bring outdoor enthusiasts of all levels into OR’s events.
The Summer and Winter shows are now at the beginning of their respective seasonal sales cycles, and The Summit by OR, running concurrently with Winter Sports Market in January 2024, will provide more business opportunities and bolster the winter buying calendar.
“In this industry, everybody’s a participant. They’re not just fans or consumers, they’re actually enthusiasts, they live this lifestyle,” Smith says. “With outdoor recreation, it’s all about touchpoints. You have to meet the consumer where they’re at and let them be part of that process.”
Photo credit: Keith Fearnow