By Eric Smith

As Outdoor Retailer Summer Market prepares for the event’s Denver debut next week—the first summer show after leaving Salt Lake City—the event’s director, Marisa Nicholson, has a message for the brands, retailers and outdoor industry partners heading to Colorado.

Welcome home.

“From a cultural standpoint, this is going to be a good home for us for a long time,” Nicholson told SGB. “We felt the industry would support the move to Denver, and that’s ultimately what drove the final decision to move here.”

While Outdoor Retailer’s first trade show in Denver happened last January with OR + Snow Show, that event had already been taking place in the city under the direction of Snowsports Industries America.

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market—which runs Sunday, July 22, through Thursday, July 26, at the Colorado Convention Center—is a more important and even bigger spectacle, bringing 1,400 brands, thousands of attendees and millions of dollars in economic impact to the state.

The event not only has the distinction of being Outdoor Retailer’s inaugural Denver summer show after a long run in Salt Lake City, but the show also continues the momentum created back in January and helps solidify the Mile High City’s status as the industry’s unofficial basecamp.

“I think the January show was a really good indicator of the kind of excitement and energy we can create here in Denver as our new home,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson sat down with SGB in Denver a few weeks ago to discuss the long and winding road to Outdoor Retailer calling Colorado home. That journey included navigating a public lands dispute in Utah, hearing prominent brands like Patagonia vow to boycott Salt Lake City shows, opening up an RFP process for a new host city to accommodate the growing industry and then taking what should have been a one-year-plus planning process and condensing it into four months.

Add to the mix Emerald Expositions (Outdoor Retailer’s parent company) recently going public and the acquisition of Snow Show from SIA, and the last year and a half has been a roller coaster ride for Nicholson and her team.

One prominent example is that some brands and retailers have expressed confusion over the three-show format and aren’t sure which of the three Outdoor Retailer shows—Snow Show, Summer Market and Winter Market—they should attend. But as Nicholson pointed out, the calendar isn’t much different than years’ past. All three shows are now run by Outdoor Retailer and held in Denver, as opposed to when one was run by SIA and held in Denver and the other two were run by Outdoor Retailer and held in Salt Lake.

Whichever shows companies have attended in the past should guide which ones they attend in the future, although there could be some advantages to adding shows to their calendars, Nicholson said.

“Now you have three trade shows that can actually serve the needs of your reps,” she said. “We know shows are more efficient, and they’re more cost effective. You could see more people in less amount of time, so you can actually free up that time and consolidate it into these four days.”

Here is much more of what Nicholson shared with SGB about the locale change, the three-show format and how Outdoor Retailer is working to enhance the value of the trade shows for everyone.

Take me through the decision behind leaving Salt Lake City. We had already decided we were going to put out an RFP for a new show location [starting in 2019], not because we weren’t happy with Utah—it’s been a great place to have the show—but because of the logistical side of it. We were getting so much feedback from people who were frustrated about lack of hotels and restaurants and cabs, and the cost flying in and out of the airport had become more and more expensive, especially internationally. Our contract was coming up, so we thought, “Let’s just take a step back and do an RFP, go to different cities to figure out where the new show location should be.” We had just put out our press release that we were going to be looking at potential new homes for Outdoor Retailer when, maybe 12 to 24 hours later, Patagonia put out their press release around boycotting the show [based on objection to the state’s treatment of public lands].

How did that change the trajectory of the RFP process and subsequent decision to leave Salt Lake? People were saying we need to move the show earlier than 2019 and move it in 2018. So we took that timeframe of moving the show and shortened it down to four months. And while there were a lot of cities that fit from an industry ethos, with Denver we really took to heart that the show would be a good fit here from both a logistical and cultural standpoint.

This is Denver’s first Outdoor Retailer Summer Market; what are some advantages that the Colorado Convention Center and the city have as hosts? Does the proximity of demo day at Confluence Park on Sunday (July 22) help? It’s going to be more convenient for more people to be able to go. Before, you had to get off the plane, rent a car and drive an hour someplace to the demo. Now you can check into your hotel, take public transportation or walk down to check out the demo. You don’t feel like it’s a huge obligation, but yet it’s an opportunity to maybe see it when you haven’t been able to before. The convenience of it and the opportunity for the whole industry to participate in it is part of our emphasis on inclusiveness. This is outdoor space for everybody and it can happen anywhere. You don’t have to go off to a faraway lake to experience it. You can do it in your downtown parks and your local communities—and we really want to amplify that message.

With Outdoor Retailer now running three shows in Denver each year, how should a company—maybe one that has only gone to one or two shows annually in the past—decide which ones to attend? The easy answer is that if you’ve traditionally done Outdoor Retailer Summer Market and Winter Market, then the summer show and the November show (Winter Market) are probably the right shows for you because this is when the retailers want to see your product. There are going to be situations where some companies are only doing Winter Market in November and some are only doing Snow Show in January, but there is crossover on the brand side and retailer side that were already always doing both shows. If you really simplify it, this is when the industries said they wanted the shows. These shows serve the marketplace’s buying and selling cycles. We don’t dictate when products are being introduced, so the show dates are designed to serve companies’ needs. That was the intention behind the changes, which came through in the survey and research we did around it.

The calendar changes slightly in 2019—Snow Show in late January, Summer Market in June and Winter Market in November—and stays like that for four years. How did Outdoor Retailer determine this was the right cycle for brands and retailers? We’re excited about getting into that right cadence and that right timeframe—January, June and November—and the next four years after 2018 will be set that way. This is the schedule that serves everyone’s market needs. Our job is to continue to listen to everyone’s needs, to make sure that as things are evolving and changing as they always do, that we’re paying really close attention to it and that we’re adjusting with the marketplace. Our retail relations team is always working with retailers to understand their needs. Our sales team is always on the phone talking to the brands about what their needs are. And our marketing team is helping to support both of them and making sure that the education that we’re providing, that the business tools that we’re providing, that all the different things we bring to the show are valuable and meeting the business needs of the industry.

Speaking of education, content is a critical component of the trade show; how did Outdoor Retailer choose the education sessions and keynote speakers for Summer Market? Part of our partnership with OIA [Outdoor Industry Association] is around providing education for the show. Our marketing team works very closely with them in aligning what sessions we do. They really work on the programming that best fits the needs of everyone. We try to have more retail-focused education in the spaces on the show floor so that it becomes very easy, accessible and convenient for the retailers to not be pulled away during show hours. And then we do more business sessions through Outdoor University with OIA during the show hours. OIA really focuses on their three pillars—sustainability, policy and participation—and they do a lunch each day for their members based on those pillars. Feedback from retail partners over the years has helped us understand how we can provide the right type of education for retailers. And from a brand side, we’ve always had sales reps that are working with the brands, and that feedback has always trickled back to our marketing team, which has been able to find the right content for serving the brands.

Moving show locations, rearranging dates, buying Snow Show and even Emerald Expositions going public provided quite an interesting journey over the last year and a half; what’s next that you think you’ll have to adapt to? We don’t ever really know until it smacks us in the face [laughs]. All of the change may seem like there’s uncertainty on our part, but in reality, it’s just us listening and being nimble and reacting quickly. Somebody made a pun that this was like turning the Titanic, but if you use the Titanic example, then we wouldn’t still be here. This story isn’t about us. This is about the industry and how we can help the industry. We’re in this together.

Photo courtesy Outdoor Retailer

Eric Smith is Senior Business Editor at SGB Media. Reach him at or 303-578-7008. Follow on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.