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Outdoor Retailer show shifts dates dramatically. Bigger changes on the horizon?

Published November 8, 2016

By Doug Schnitzspahn

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — Emerald Expositions, the company that owns and puts on the Outdoor Retailer trade show twice a year in Salt Lake City, dropped some major news on Election Day. In response to attendee feedback and ongoing surveys, Outdoor Retailer announced new dates for the shows starting in 2018. The Summer Market will take place in mid-June; Winter Market will run in mid-November.

That's not all. The Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, a group representing the interests and voice of 62 key, specialty independent retailers will move its invite-only Connect show to Salt Lake City, to take place just before OR. Together the two shows hope to revamp the cycle, taking place closer to crucial order-writing periods and joining forces to appeal to the attendees OR values most, those specialty shops.

Emerald Expositions also is owner of Interbike and that management is considering a possible move of the bike show to earlier dates and to another venue. Emerald owns Bicycle Retailer, which is operated under license by NBDA Services, Inc.

This shift in the trade show schedule should come as no surprise. Emerald Expositions, the company that runs Outdoor Retailer, made allusions to big changes on the horizon over the fall and it has been serious about taking attendee feedback into account when it comes to the future of the show.

The grumbling about the timing of the trade show has been going on for a long time in the halls of Salt Lake City's Salt Palace Convention Center where the shows are held. That unrest only increased last winter when OR moved its dates from the end of January to just after the holidays in order to appease calls for the show to take place closer to when retailers write orders and be more relevant. As it stands now, many retailers have already ordered the next season's merchandise at regional rep shows or during private visits from manufacturers. But the new dates did not seem to please everyone and attendance dropped off.

"The ROI comes from the retailers attending the show. If they are not coming, the cumulative ROI goes down. For the last few shows, I've been asked by retailers about taking our show spend and redirecting that investment towards other projects that they feel would be more beneficial," said Bruce Old, Patagonia vice president of global wholesale. "Conversely, it is still a great opportunity to see multiple retailers and have productive meetings, all in one place. The conversations that take place at the shows between retailers and exhibitors have great value."

Last season, new dates were just a warm up for big changes from Outdoor Retailer however. The show has been busy with in-depth surveys, aimed at finding out just what retailers and other attendees want out of the trade show and how OR can work to make the system work better. In May, OR wrapped up a longterm qualitative survey of key industry brands, suppliers and retailers, conducted by Chicago-based research firm, Stax, and launched a web-based survey with an even broader reach that would help it gauge new dates for the trade show. In response, OR shifted it's winter market dates once more for 2017: It will run a bit later and for just three days rather than four, January 10-12 (with the All Mountain Demo on January 9), after the holidays and avoiding the weekend as attendees requested.

"Retailers were very clear in our post-show surveys—and in discussions during the 2016 Winter Market—that they wanted the show during the weekdays and not over weekends," said Darrell Denny, executive vice president of sports and apparel and e-commerce at Emerald Expositions "Retailers value weekends as being larger sell opportunities with good reason. People working for companies would rather recreate and/or be with their families on weekends, too. That is why the show shifted a few days. As for the show moving to three days, we've been watching preference for Winter Market duration move from four to three. Clearly, we reached the tipping point and that preference is now a clear majority."

"Of course we are concerned about potential overlap with the many important events that take place in the outdoor space," said Denny. "It is almost impossible for Outdoor Retailer to move to any time and not conflict with some event somewhere, unfortunately."

Changes have been on the platter at the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, too. This summer long-time industry vet Rich Hill took the helm as president. Few players in the outdoor industry have walked the line between executive and disruptor like Hill, whose career has included stints as VP of Sales at Patagonia, President of Ibex, and Vice President at Prana. But Hill has also worked as a consultant for Amazon, created his own car-camping brand, and been one of the anonymous authors behind The Piton, a blog that poked critical fun at the industry.

"Grassroots Outdoor Alliance has been working closely with O.I.A. and Outdoor Retailer for the last 18 months to coordinate a show calendar that benefits both specialty retailers and our vendor partners. Being co-located in Salt Lake City at the beginning of the buying cycle gives our retailers a chance to spend four focused days at Connect with our top 100 brands, participate in a full day of retail education, then roll straight into Outdoor Retailer where we will be able to interact with another 600-plus brands in a big show environment. It’ll be a long pull, but having the opportunity to knock out such a huge amount of work in single trip enables our members to work more strategically with brands, and allows us to spend more time in our stores."

Editor's note: Schnitzspahn is a contributor to the OR Show Dailies and editor of Elevation Outdoors magazine.

Topics associated with this article: Tradeshows and conferences

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