I attended Outdoor Retailer (“OR”) Winter Market in Denver late last week, and while a light snow provided some seasonal cheer and ambiance, the show itself was “meh.” While understanding the rationale for an inaugural November OR show –namely allowing larger retailers (and influential members of the OIA) to get an earlier view of what brands and vendors have coming earlier in the selling season, this was a significantly smaller show than the traditional winter and summer ORs. The footprint of the show itself was limited to the upper floor of the Colorado Convention Center and a reasonable, diligence pace allowed me to canvas the entire show in a matter of hours. Given a limited number of exhibitors, lower attendance and lack of booth floor and booth traffic, there was an element of “snORe” in this OR. Thursday and Friday morning had, relatively speaking, the most activity, but by Friday afternoon and certainly by Saturday, the crowds had really diminished (except for the “Life is Good” show late Friday – fantastic turnout!). A significant number of exhibitors expressed disappointment in show activity and the rationale behind a show in the first place (particularly with OR’s Snow Show coming up in late January – two months from now). It will be interesting to see if this show is viewed as viable and sustainable, and/or if significant changes are implemented next year.
Notwithstanding the above commentary, a few themes were prevalent:
- Tariffs – Tariffs on imported Chinese goods continues to be a major concern and will remain so until further clarity (and hopefully resolution) is provided. Companies are grappling with a litany of issues from attempting to push through price increases, making input changes and / or shifting production out of China, forecasting their own businesses and evaluating the impact on competitors and potential acquisition targets.
- Sustainability continues to be a large focus of the industry. Plenty of environmental and eco-friendly materials (e.g., PrimaLoft) and products were on exhibit.
- Transparent, mission-driven, “pick-a-side-and-take-a-stand” brands and companies continue to proliferate and play well.
- Diversity is on the rise. Messages of diversity, openness, access and inclusion (e.g., Merrell’s “many paths, one trail”) were prominent in panels, booth photos and marketing messages, etc. The potpourri of body types, gender, races and affiliations was great to see.
- Softgoods and apparel dominated the show (including Asian textile manufacturers who, at least from my vantage point, appeared to be a significant percentage of exhibitors), with a relative scarcity of hardgoods. In particular, adventure travel gear, in general, and bags, specifically, were in vogue. The much-maligned fanny pack seems to be making a comeback (I always thought they made sense – until George Constanza ruined them for me). Kathmandu, recent acquiror of Oboz, and a first-time exhibitor at the show, embodied many of the themes discussed here.
- Also notable were those companies and individuals not at OR. Of note, companies that are moving towards, or have moved entirely, towards DTC models were, not surprisingly, in short attendance.
- Venture Out – always one of my favorite sections of the show, while smaller and in line with the rest of the show, once again delivered some super cool, functional innovation. In particular, love the HydraCell Power Cube!
- With a few exceptions, attendance from the private equity investing world – a cohort out in force for the January and July shows – was sparse.
All in all, OR was still a good use of time for two days (a bad day at OR is still better than a good day in the office!) but certainly room for improvement going forward. See you in January!