By Charlie Lunan

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is considering a schedule change that could shift the trade show up to two months earlier, starting in June 2018, in a bid to keep key stakeholders in the fold and better coordinate with other industry trade events, SGB has learned.

According to sources close to the discussions, one scenario would involve outdoor specialty buying group Grassroots Outdoor Alliance moving its Spring Summit to Sandy, UT so that its members could attend both events during a week in June. Grassroots, which represents about 70 retailers generating more than $250 million in annual sales through about 100 points of sale, has been working to enhance Outdoor Retailer’s appeal to independent specialty dealers in a more formal way since July 2015, when it signed a memorandum of understanding with show owners/operators Emerald Expositions and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).

While declining to confirm either report, the show’s top executive told SGB September 29 that Emerald, OIA and other stakeholders hope to announce dates and other details for 2018 in the coming weeks.

“We are eager to share those details as soon as we can, but there are some things in play that preclude us from commenting at this time,” said Darrell Denny, executive vice president for sports and e-commerce at Emerald Expositions. “For a show like OR there are literally hundreds of individual contracts that have to be constructed. We are doing contracts with dozens and dozens of hotels and every single one of those has to be completely redone. If disclosures are made before that, you start to lose leverage.”

Denny, who also oversees the Interbike and Surf Expo shows, said he was responding on behalf of OIA and Grassroots, which SGB also contacted Thursday for comment.

“We are working toward a forward thinking solution that will be better for the outdoor industry as a whole,” Denny continued. “It’s important for us to talk about the full solution that we have in mind and not come out with partial answers, which we think can lead to questions that we simply can’t answer yet.”

Could Winter Show Be Next?
Among those questions is whether Emerald and OIA are also considering changes to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. Even after moving up two weeks to early January, Outdoor Retailer Winter Market comes weeks after major apparel brands’ pre-season order deadlines, which are creeping earlier and earlier as the industry pushes for more timely delivery of seasonal goods.

By the time the show arrives, many retailers have already placed their orders, particularly with softgoods, through one-on-one meetings or regional rep shows. It’s the same pressure faced at Snowsports Industries America, which operates the annual SIA Snow Show. Officials there previously tried to move up its 2017 event to early December. That met backlash from many hardgoods brands, forcing a retraction by SIA to return to its mid- to late-January timeframe, at least through 2018.

Some major retailers and exhibitors have urged SIA to collaborate with OIA and Outdoor Retailer to minimize duplication and costs for both vendors and retailers. One suggestion calls for SIA Snow Show to focus on hardgoods and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to focus on softgoods.

A Victim Of Its Own Success
Trade show logistics are always complex, but Outdoor Retailer Summer Market’s are challenging due to the breadth of the show and diversity of its stakeholders. The show seeks to attract national retailers like REI, Cabela’s and Gander Mountain, who plan their apparel and softgoods merchandising two years in advance, as well as thousands of independent specialty retailers who would rather delay such decisions as long as possible. It is also the primary venue for smaller retailers to see tents, kayaks, climbing gear, stoves and other hardgoods brands for the upcoming season.

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market has grown in the last decade by expanding to accommodate fly fishing, paddle sports and other brands looking for a home after Nielsen Expositions — Emerald’s predecessor — closed trade shows focused on those categories. It has also attracted many athletic footwear brands. To keep the show in Salt Lake City, the state of Utah has spent millions of dollars in recent years subsidizing the cost of erecting three massive tents to house exhibitors who can’t fit in the Salt Palace and created an Office of Outdoor Recreation within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Larger retailers and vendors tend to cheer the show’s expansion, saying it provides a much more comprehensive view of the market and unparalleled opportunities for collaboration and networking. But many smaller retailers say it’s tough for them to leave their stores for four days in late July/early August, particularly given the tight lodging market in Salt Lake City.

Death By A Thousand Cuts
Some have opted instead to attend shows closer to home organized by regional rep associations and buying groups, including Grassroots, which opened its biannual buying shows to non-members for the first time last year.

“We’re done sending clothing buyers to OR,” said one prominent independent specialty dealer. “Our two clothing buyers go to GOA. I may go to OR for a few days just for business meetings, but there’s no reason to look at product there.”

While Grassroots limits the shows to 70 member vendors and 30 non-member vendors, those vendors generate the vast majority of sales at outdoor specialty stores. That and the timing of the shows that occur weeks before Outdoor Retailer, toward the beginning of the sell-in season, make those 30 spots especially coveted.

On a global front, Outdoor Retailer also has to consider events such as the annual OutDoor Friedrichshafen show in Germany. Organizers there announced the show was shifting its dates ahead one month earlier to June 18-21, starting in 2017.

Outside of the outdoor industry, other trade shows are attempting to adapt as well. To reach more retailers east of the Mississippi, Interbike will hold its first ever East Coast event next month at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC. Nearly 700 retail buyers from more than 400 independent bicycle dealers had preregistered to attend Fall CycloFest presented by Interbike as of last week. More than 100 brands, most of which exhibited at Interbike in Las Vegas last week, are participating in the event, which runs from October 20-23.

In July 2015, Emerald and OIA announced they would keep Outdoor Retailer at the Salt Palace through at least 2018. The next Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is scheduled to take place July 26-27 next year. The next Grassroots Spring Summit is scheduled to take place June 12 -13, 2017 in Albuquerque.

“What we want is to be really forthcoming,” Denny said of the Outdoor Retailer dates for 2018. “There is a large group of people who have done a lot of work and we are all anxious to talk about it. We don’t think it will take a whole lot more time, but still have some things to do and some of those are contractual in nature.”

Photo by David Clucas