By Eric Smith

At last year’s January Outdoor Retailer Snow Show, brands and buyers alike were giddy over what wound up being a historic season for snowfall.

Powder days aplenty drove positive business trends for manufacturers, retailers and especially resorts, but those same industry stakeholders also harbored concerns over what they perceived to be a glut of trade shows. After all, the industry had gathered less than three months earlier for Winter Market.

So when Outdoor Retailer announced last August it would reduce the annual outdoor trade show cycle to two shows from three, OR attendees rejoiced. And last week’s Outdoor + Snow Show, as it’s now called, indeed had a different energy.

Snow isn’t as plentiful this season, but at least there is mostly satisfaction over the rightsized OR calendar—one show in January, one show in June.

That’s not to say there aren’t pressing concerns. A rather large disruption has hit the industry—the entire world, in fact—casting a pall over the trade show floor. The coronavirus emerged as our top takeaway from the show because of the impact it’s already having on the supply chains and travel plans for snow sports and outdoor brands.

SGB Executive attended all three days of the event at Colorado Convention Center, meeting with dozens of brands, retailers, reps and association personnel to discuss every aspect of the industry, and we’ve listed below our key takeaways from the event. In the coming days and weeks, look for additional coverage, including industry news, category trends and executive Q&As.

In the meantime, here is a recap culled from SGB Executive’s notebook on the bounty of business news that emerged during the show:

China again top of mind for outdoor and snow sports industry—for a different reason.
The trade war rages on, even with the prospect of near-term relief and long-term resolution, but the specter of something much graver happening with China took hold at the show and is affecting the snow sports and outdoor industries.

Yes, the most serious consequence of the coronavirus is the death of more than 400 people and the prospect of more fatalities before it’s contained. But from a business perspective, it’s also proving disruptive. The pandemic has led to numerous trips to China being canceled and could wreak havoc on supply chains in the coming weeks and months.

Brand executives said their upcoming plans to visit factories in the country have been scrapped, while events such as Snowsports Industries America’s third trade mission to China, scheduled for early March, were postponed. One major reason: many airlines have stopped flying there.

The same brand execs said they were closely “monitoring” the situation, which won’t be known for certain until China’s government decides if Chinese New Year is extended further. Right now, it’s due to last a week later, until February 9. Additional delays could begin to affect production.

“We know that they’re going to prolong the Chinese New Year right one week to try to get the situation fixed,” said Bjorn Fjellstad, managing director for Norwegian-based helmet and goggle brand Sweet Protection. “Besides that, we’re just tracking the situation. We might experience a time lag, but it’s too early to say.”

While many brands have diversified their supply chains, especially in light of the now two-year U.S.-China trade war, many still have exposure there because they have worked with Chinese manufacturing partners for a long time. Those that have any connection to China—production, material supply, distribution, etc.—can expect some pain points.

“It’s brutal, to put it lightly,” said Jon Frederick, country manager for Rab.We have canceled trips to check in on our factories. I’ll be in Europe for two weeks in March to meet with other country managers and look at first-round samples for winter ’21 and second-round samples for summer ’21—but we don’t think we’re going to have anything because a lot of stuff is being shut down. It’s going to have a massive impact.”

Jon Komp, an analyst with Baird, said the firm is keeping an eye on three China-related risks: Direct sales within China, global tourism and supply chain disruptions.

Of the last one, he said, “We have heard many factories intend to stay shut through 2/9, which is a manageable timeline for brands we have spoken to. The greater risk would be any broader shutdown that’s longer-lasting than the timetables currently contemplated or direct impacts to specific factories (VF Corp. highlighted most of its production is in Pearl River Valley, not in core impacted areas), and to a much lesser extent any disruption to typical product development cycles as most brands typically are collaborating for 2021 and beyond product with their manufacturing counterparts (given restriction of non-essential travel, work disruptions on the ground).”

Trade show calendar revision brings back some buzz, but the story is still unfolding.
Thanks to Outdoor Retailer canceling Winter Market in November and combining that show with the January event, the buzz was back at last week’s retooled Outdoor + Snow Show—for the most part, anyway.

While the overall energy didn’t quite match the 2018 show, the first one after OR bought the show from SIA the previous year, it exceeded 2019 and easily surpassed November 2018’s Winter Market. Many booths were busy, the aisles were often crowded, and events and education sessions were well-attended.

“I felt like the energy was really high,” said Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer senior vice president and show director. “Walking into the breakfast on the first morning with it packed out was, I think, an indicator of what was to come for the rest of these three days. It’s 3 o’clock [on the final day] and retail buyers are still walking around and we close in an hour. It’s insane. We saw the attendance numbers coming into the show. We knew that it was going to be up, and it was. People are here and they showed up in droves and we’re super excited about it.”

Of course, the show director was upbeat. But most of the brands SGB Executive spoke with reported decent traffic at least for the first two days of the event. The attendance totals from Outdoor Retailer will be reported soon, but as of the Sunday before the show, more than 1,000 exhibitors, 1,200 designers and 9,700 retail buyers were registered. The total number of attendees is expected to surpass last year’s show.

Toss in some education sessions—most of the panel discussions and seminars this reporter peered in on were well-attended—and a host of events and happy hours, and the vibe seemed mostly upbeat.

“We’ve had a great show,” said Drew Saunders, country manager for Oberalp Group, parent of snow sports brands Dynafit and Pomoca. “We’ve had good traffic in the booth and good buzz around our products. And we had a nice party with a DJ and a lot of folks here [in the booth]. So it’s been a great show for us.”

While lauding the energy of the show, many also said he show has taken on a different meaning than past events. It’s no longer just an order-writing or line-presentation trade show but instead a chance to connect with existing buyers, maybe get in front of some prospective ones and generally reconnect with industry friends.

However, plenty of brands, such as Elan Skis USA, said they still stick to the original trade show script while also adapting to the new approach to these events.

“It’s both,” said Ben Fresco, the company’s marketing and product manager. “Some dealers write orders here or they leave at least prepared to write the orders, and then the orders roll in over the next 60 days.”

There could be some trade show shakeout this summer with the arrival of The Big Gear Show in Salt Lake City, UT. It’s too soon to tell how successful it will be, as many brands told SGB they aren’t sure if they will exhibit, at least not the first year. They do plan to walk the floor and see what kind of buyer presence it draws. SGB Executive will continue tracking the shifting landscape of trade shows in the coming months.

Climate change takes center stage.
The climate focus at Outdoor + Snow Show was apparent all week. Before the show, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) announced the launch of the Climate Action Corps, which was designed to “support any brand, retailer, manufacturer or supplier—regardless of size or internal resources—to take a real, immediate, proactive and individualized approach to shrinking its own footprint.”

“The Climate Action Corps is not just another promise, pact or pledge,” said Amy Horton, OIA senior director of sustainable business innovation. “This is our industry’s commitment to take action to address the most pressing issue of our time, and to hold ourselves and our peers accountable.”

The Day 1 kickoff breakfast, “Business As A Force For (Climate) Good,” drew a standing-room-only crowd as executives from a variety of outdoor and outdoor-friendly businesses discussed their commitment to lead on climate change and to outline achievable strategies that every business can act on right now.

The sustainability buzz was also palpable throughout the trade show hall, with many brands touting their commitment to green their supply chains, incorporate environmentally friendly materials into their products or manufacturing practices, and support such popular causes as the Plastic Impact Alliance or Protect Our Winters.

But perhaps the biggest sign of the importance of climate change to this industry came as the show was wrapping up. Attendees of the 2020 Climate Rally, organized by the Outdoor Advocacy Project, demonstrated outside the Colorado Convention Center on Friday afternoon before marching to the state capitol building.

The organization said on its website, “Being able to go outside for recreation is a privilege that most people in the world don’t have. It is imperative that we recognize our privilege and do everything we can to protect the environment, expand outdoor access and create a community with more representation and inclusion.”

Participation also top of mind as stakeholders seek new solutions.
The fewer people who participate in outdoor activity, the fewer people who buy the products exhibited at events like Outdoor + Snow Show. And as last week’s event began, the industry received some grim news regarding this obvious fact.

Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), on the opening day of Outdoor + Snow Show released the latest Outdoor Participation Report, showing about half the U.S. population participated in outdoor recreation at least once in 2018, including hunting, hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing and biking among many more outdoor activities.

The report also highlighted the “alarming trend that just under half the U.S. population does not participate in outdoor recreation at all.”

“Unfortunately, the barriers to getting outside are greater for Americans living in cities or in areas with fewer transportation options,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director at Outdoor Foundation. “This is why Outdoor Foundation, along with OIA and other like-minded organizations, is working to reach new populations of Americans who don’t get outdoors often or at all or don’t see themselves in the outdoors and encouraging them to get—and thrive—outside.”

Resorts have made skiing more affordable—relatively speaking—with the rapid rise of multimountain passes. And brands say they are doing their part too. Many at Outdoor + Snow Show showcased new products designed to make skiing more accessible such as Nordica’s new rear-entry boot targeted at older skiers and Marker’s crossover bindings that allow a skier to swap between alpine and alpine touring options.

Plenty of other backcountry-focused products—skis, boots and bindings—were on display to match the demand from the rise of skiers looking to “earn their turns,” and some brands have upped their junior softgoods and hardgoods offerings.

Beyond gear, Snowsports Industries America (SIA) is beating the drum on its recent challenge to stakeholders to match or exceed SIA’s $40,000 donation to Share Winter and bring 100,000 new youth on snow by 2028. Two weeks before the show, Head USA “made a significant contribution” to Share Winter, but that’s not enough, said SIA President Nick Sargent.

“I think we’re gaining traction—slowly,” he said. “There’s still a hesitation for people to open up their checkbooks and invest in our next generation of participants. We need to be doing a better job of talking to our members and constituents about the benefits of investing in participation. Share Winter is a solid platform, and the quantifiable ROI is greater than anything this industry has ever seen in its history.”

For example, Share Winter takes donations and, in turn, contributes to grassroots organizations like SOS Outreach, the Eagle, CO-based nonprofit that helps kids “gear up for life” by introducing them to sports and other community

“It is something that takes everyone coming around the table, and you need the dollars to put the people in place to get it to work,” said Seth Ehrlich, SOS Outreach executive director.

The question remains: Are brands doing enough to innovate?
For some, innovation is front and center at Outdoor Retailer. The event showcases dozens of progressive products at its Innovation Awards, which also drew an SRO crowd and which Yakima won Product of the Year for its CBX Solar cargo box.

Other manufacturers are bringing new features to their skis, snowboards, boots, bindings, snowshoes and even waxes to consumers, as evidenced by 13 other winners chosen from the list of 30 finalists:

  • Allied Feather & Down — Optix iMirror by Allied Feather & Down powered by Nobal Technologies
  • Ecco — DriTan
  • Ghosts Apparel Studio — G13LJ-X8/SR 3-Layer Shell Jacket
  • Hustle Bike Labs — REM Pedal System
  • Ignik — Gas Growler
  • LifeStraw — LifeStraw Max
  • MountainFlow Eco-Wax — Plant-Based Ski Wax
  • NEMO — Flyer Self-Inflating Baffled Air Pad
  • Oru Kayak — Inlet
  • PrimaLoft — PrimaLoft P.U.R.E. Manufacturing Technology
  • RECCO — RECCO SAR Helicopter Detector
  • Salomon — Salomon Recyclable Concept Shoe
  • SEED Peoples Market — Retail
  • The CrazyCap — CrazyCap

But the investment community continues to question the true innovation happening in the industry, with many still lamenting how indistinguishable many products are aside from their labels.

As one investment banker told SGB Executive, the industry has fallen into a “stairstep” pattern of innovation. A lot of cool new technologies arrive within a short period, and then things flatten out for a while. We’re stuck in that latter phase.

Some of the biodegradable products—primarily insulation (PrimaLoft) but now some hardgoods like snowshoes (Crescent Moon)—are making a little noise, but are brands convincing consumers they need these items? In other words, as is often the case, it comes down to messaging. Which can be hard when there’s so much noise surrounding sustainability.

Other items from SGB Executive’s Outdoor + Snow Show notebook
Business news occurred before and during the show, and SGB Executive broke two news items last week involving brands exhibiting at Outdoor + Snow Show.

As SGB Executive first reported Tuesday, apparel brand Royal Robbins is launching a brick & mortar initiative that kicks off in two strategic U.S. locales, said the company’s CEO Michael Millenacker. Dubbed “travel outfitting” stores, the first two locations in the brand’s owned-retail launch are set to open this summer in Denver, CO, and Seattle, WA, with potentially more stores opening in other cities down the road.

And, as SGB Executive exclusively reported last Thursday, Bollé Brands has a new corporate headquarters for the company’s U.S. operation and a heightened focus on the North American market. It signals a strategic shift sparked by the 2019 acquisition of Spy Optic and coincides with a newfound emphasis on what Bollé considers to be its primary growth opportunity moving forward.

Those weren’t the only news items announced last week. SIA revealed that it has rebranded the two consumer shows it purchased last fall to Snowbound. The events will be held November 6-8 in Denver, CO, and November 19-22 in Boston, MA.

And longtime active lifestyle PR and advertising agency CGPR has been acquired by Raleigh, NC-based French/West/Vaughan (FWV), a national, independently owned company.

“We had been looking for ways to increase what we have to offer,” said CGPR’s Chris Goddard. “I’ve been doing it for 27 years, and the industry is changing. It was important to me that we stayed relevant, so we were looking for a partner that would give us love and attention and the resources that we need. We found each other and here we are.”

SGB Executive attended the first day of the On-Snow Demo at Winter Park trying out some 2020/2021 ski offerings. Attendance was decent but not great, which spoke to the issue that buyers have with the event—the two-day gap after the trade show and the difficulty of being out of their stores during a winter weekend. SIA’s and WWSRA’s hands are tied, though, since the demo wouldn’t be possible at any Colorado resort on a Saturday or Sunday.

Also, on the Monday after the show, Emerald Expositions Events Inc. announced it has changed its name to Emerald Holding Inc.

Photo courtesy Emerald Holding