Outdoor Retailer is so big sometimes I wonder why it’s not in Vegas. But no, Salt Lake City is the perfect setting for this fun, extravagant and energetic national tradeshow. With mountains only a short drive away, SLC is positioned perfectly to host this confab of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country (and around the world). There’s so much going on in the outdoor industry that they hold the show twice a year: once in winter and once in summer.
The recent OR Summer Market took place the week of August 4th at the Salt Palace Convention Center. On Tuesday, attendees were invited to an Open Air Demo at Huntsville, Utah’s Pineview Reservoir, tucked neatly in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest just down the road from Snowbasin Ski Resort. The OAD was packed with 100-plus small exhibitors crouched under branded canopies, many of them offering free tryouts on kayaks, paddleboards and more. After a brief downpour mid-morning, the rest of the day turned into a fun, engaging and playful event.
As for the tradeshow itself, several acres of floor space at the convention center are occupied by the biggest show of the year in Salt Lake City, resplendent with top-notch exhibits, some as large as 100’ x 70’ that dominate the area. Keen, Merrell, Thule, Timberland, The North Face, Cascade Designs, Mountain Hardwear, Columbia and more came to Outdoor Retailer ready to show off their new goods – and no doubt spent a pretty penny with HUGE exhibits.
So what caught attendee’s eyes? For me, it was solar power. Lots of solar chargers: foldable, portable and powerful. Solar power is coming into it’s own and in the next half a decade or so it should explode as the cost of creating a kilowatt of power via solar will continue to plunge below that of the cost of typical energy. It seems that every time I turned a corner there was another solar-powered gizmo.
And the booths? Well, let’s have a little fun with some awards, shall we?
Best brand representation: Keen Shoes. Yes, this is a category with a lot of tough competition, but Keen is so over-the-top with recycled pallets for walls, recycled windows, hand-made booth elements and funky swagger that how can you NOT give this award to Keen?
Walking Dead Re-birth: Kelty. Yes, the Walking Dead were used as inspiration for having to carry around a crappy backpack, so you’d better get fit with a really good Kelty Pack!
Best Use of Stuffed Dogs to Show Off Your Products: Ruffwear. You might be surprised, but there were a LOT of stuffed dogs used to show off gear. Ruffwear managed to do it with style with gear made exclusively for dogs. Talk about focus!
Best Tent Campground. Lots of tents at OR, but The North Face took over nearly a quarter of an acre with tents. Lots of tents. It felt vaguely like a Grateful Dead concert, missing just the tie-dye and herb.
Best use of Brick: Carhartt. The faux brick surface made it look like the two-story booth that represented a storefront had been built one brick at a time. Beautiful.
Best ‘Stop Dead in Your Tracks’ Booth: Brunton. Use of bright colors, back lit panels and shapes that grab your attention did indeed stop people in their tracks. Hard to capture in a photo, but I gave it a try.
Best Product Demo Video: Coast Portland. It took a little patience, but after viewing the video shot near Oregon’s Coos Bay showing off the company’s flashlights, you came away convinced that they were the best you could buy.
And finally, Most Iconic Use of an Icon: Leave No Trace’s Bigfoot, who posed for photos and invited attendees to tweet selfies for a chance to win footwear!
I spent two days of the show jotting notes on my clipboard, doing booth assessments: subjecting almost two dozen booths to a closer exam that I call the Tradeshow Booth Performance Test. I’ll be sharing that information with those companies in the few weeks – always a great learning experience for both (I hope!).