Do as I say, not as I do. 

Is this week’s announcement about retailers and brands threatening to boycott the Outdoor Retailer Show if it returns to Salt Lake City a good business move or just hypocritical PR hype?

The Conservation Alliance (TCA), made up of more than 270 member companies, said in a press release this week that it opposed the move of the Outdoor Retailer Show (OR Show) back to Salt Lake City in 2023 after the show’s contract with the Colorado Convention Center expires. The group accused Utah’s leaders of once again trying to remove protections for national monuments and public lands. TCA claims the conversations about a move of the OR Show come despite widespread industry objections. But the organization may want to check the Utah and OR Show credentials of its own members.

As part of its release, TCA included a list of 24 companies that signed on to boycott the show. It added another six members to the list the next day and three more members by day three. Twenty-seven brands, two retailers and four services companies, including two PR firms were included.

It sounds like a real problem for OR, right? Not so fast.

Based on a quick analysis of OR Show exhibitors, only two of the 27 brands that threaten to boycott the OR Show have signed up to exhibit at the next Outdoor Retailer Show in June — in Denver. The others may cite COVID in their decision not to exhibit, but four of those brands, Alpacka Raft, Arc’Teryx, MSR, and Therm-A-Rest, have not had a booth at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market since well before the pandemic, according to publicly available exhibitor lists dating back through 2019. Very few of the boycott-threat brands have attended the show since 2019.

So what is the threat? We’re STILL not coming back?

Notably absent from the list of those threatening to boycott are TCA member companies Altra Footwear, Black Diamond, Gregory Mountain Products, Petzl, and Salomon, which are all based in Utah.

Of the two retailers that signed on to the boycott threat, REI Co-op and Public Lands, REI hasn’t sent more than a handful of executives to the OR Show since the show was last located in Salt Lake City, and Public Lands, the new outdoor specialty offering from behemoth Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS), is only a year into its business plan and only has two doors open to date.

Some supporters of a potential show move suggest hypocrisy in the boycott threat. They point to REI, which is at the top of the boycotting company list released by The Conservation Alliance. REI has three retail stores in Utah and appears to be just fine with conducting business in the state on a daily business basis. Dick’s Sporting Goods, the parent of the new Public Lands retail concept, has four stores in Utah. No signs of boycott there either.

In addition to the retail signees, SGB Media found that a number of the larger brands also have a retail presence in Utah. Patagonia, for one, continues to operate an outlet store in Utah.

“Our position on the location of the Outdoor Retailer trade show remains clear and unchanged,” said Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert in the TCA release. “The show belongs in a state whose top officials value and seek to protect public lands.”

Some question why Gellert has not taken the same position for his company’s own store located in Salt Lake City, UT.

But maybe it’s just trade shows that are the problem. 

The TCA release said, in part, “We’ve joined together in stating that we will not support, or attend, a trade show event in Utah so long as its elected officials continue attacks on national monuments and public lands protections.”

But even as LaSportiva and Scarpa threaten to boycott a Salt Lake City, UT-based OR Show, they see no problem with signing on, again, to exhibit at The Big Gear Show in Park City, UT this summer, based on information available on that Show’s website.

A TCA membership list on its website also includes nearly a dozen companies exhibiting at The Big Gear Show but were not on the boycott list. 

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance (GOA), the outdoor specialty retailer membership group, is a TCA member and also supports The Big Gear Show as the recommended paddlesports show for its members.

Scarpa appears to have a real affinity for Utah shows this year even as it threaten a boycott after also recently exhibiting at the latest Winter Sports Market (WSM) Show in Salt Lake City, UT this year. 

Icebreaker, another boycott listed brand, is also listed as an exhibitor on the WSM website and other TCA member companies that were not listed in the boycott threat.

The Winter Sports Market is an event that has been running since 1994 and managed by the SMC and SSL Snow Sports Buying Groups. It was, until recently, co-located with the SIA Show and with the OR + Snow Show in Denver after Emerald Expositions acquired the Show from Snowsports Industries America in 2017. The Show was moved to Salt Lake City, UT, this winter and expanded to include invited brands and non-buying group members and set dates for late January 2022, January 2023 and January 2024. If OR wants to move back to Salt Lake City, it would be ironic to see them in the same place as the Snow Show that slipped through their hands after a $16 million acquisition. They failed to recognize that you need retailers for a successful show. If the recent OR + Snow Show exhibitor list and its lack of snow sports brands is any indication, the winter brands have already decided to move back to Salt Lake City.

But if the industry is expected to get behind this Utah boycott effort, some question why any of the show boycott brands are doing ANY business in the Utah. They are all selling products through retailers that generate sales taxes and other revenues for the state.

Based on store finder information on their websites, Arc’Teryx has 32 retail stores selling their products in Utah, while Patagonia sells through 27 retail locations in the state in addition to its outlet store. VF Corp’s (NYSE:VFC) family of brands sells product through many locations in Utah, including boycott-threat brands Smartwool (39 stores), Timberland (25), The North Face (20), and Icebreaker (12), according to their website store finders.

Looking at the history of this issue, the outdoor industry took a strong stand after Utah lawmakers asked President Trump in February 2017 to repeal the newly-designated National Monument status for Bears Ears. Thirty outdoor companies objected, and the Outdoor Retailer Show eventually announced, after much industry debate, that it would move from its longtime home in Salt Lake City, UT to Denver, CO. Some suggested that the move to Denver eliminated any leverage the outdoor industry had in Utah and eliminated a key negotiating position. Many, at the time, had long argued that a move out of Salt Lake City was more due to limited exhibition space and hotel rooms. The Bears Ears issue pushed the argument over the top, and OR relented and inked the Denver deal. The following December, Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. Patagonia sued and declared on its website, “The President Stole Your Land.” President Biden has since restored those protections, but The Conservation Alliance said Utah’s leaders are still trying to undermine the monuments.

Now the OR Show may be small enough once more to work again in Salt Lake City. Other shows have since moved into Utah, including the aforementioned nascent Big Gear Show and Winter Sports Market.

Denver’s five-year contract with Emerald Expositions, Inc. expires after this summer’s Outdoor Retailer semi-annual show, and a decision must be made on its future, location and otherwise.

“In 2017, REI Co-op strongly supported the decision to move the outdoor industry trade show out of Utah when the state’s leadership refused to protect duly designated national monuments and natural treasures,” said Ben Steele, executive vice president, chief customer officer, REI Co-op. “Although those protections have since been restored by President Biden, Utah’s leaders are again aiming to undermine those monuments and their protections. As a result, REI will not participate in any OR trade show in the state—nor will we send members of our merchandising or other co-op teams—so long as Utah persists in attacking our public lands and the laws that protect them.”

REI has not made any statement concerning the continued operation of its stores in Utah or if its merchants would be allowed to attend the other two Utah shows.

While well-intentioned, it appears that The Conservation Alliance, along with a couple dozen brands that no longer exhibit at Outdoor Retailer, plan to boycott a show in Utah that they don’t intend to attend anyway while many of its member companies are busy exhibiting at two other trade shows that have set up camp back in, you guessed it, Utah.

Sounds like the mid-2010s outdoor industry circular firing squad for mutually assured trade show destruction all over again.

The following companies are listed by The Conservation Alliance as calling on Outdoor Retailer parent company Emerald Expositions to support tribes and public lands:

  • REI Co-op
  • Patagonia, Inc.
  • The North Face
  • Public Lands
  • Keen Footwear
  • Oboz Footwear, LLC
  • Kelty
  • Sierra Designs
  • Peak Design
  • Toad&Co
  • Scarpa
  • Miir
  • Nemo Equipment
  • Backpacker’s Pantry
  • Smartwool
  • Therm-A-Rest
  • MSR
  • Timberland
  • Helinox USA, Inc.
  • GU Energy Labs
  • La Sportiva N.A., Inc.
  • Alpacka Raft
  • Icebreaker
  • Arc’teryx
  • Nomadix
  • Lifestraw
  • Backbone Media
  • Grayl, Inc.
  • TripOutside
  • Bergreen Photography
  • Tread Labs
  • Verde Brand Communications
  • Swen Products, Inc. Sven-Saw