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Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

Trade show jockeying: Grassroots to expand its events; Outdoor Retailer considers location/date changes

The winter and summer outdoor trade show season could look a little different in the coming years.

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The outdoor trade show season could take on a new schedule in the coming years.

The Grassroots Outdoor Alliance recently announced it plans to expand its semi-annual trade shows to include double the brands and retailers (with former Outdoor Retailer Show Director Kenji Haroutunian leading the way). Meanwhile, Outdoor Retailer officials say they are not only looking for the best location, but the best timing for its shows as well.

As order deadlines continue to move up — with retailers making buying decisions as early as November and June — there’s been plenty of talk that the industry’s spotlight shows are behind the times. Many retailers say 80 percent of their orders are complete by the time Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and SIA (in late January) and Summer Market (in early August) roll around.

Shifting show dates earlier might seem to be the easy fix, but the realities of an evolving and growing industry with a diverse and competitive audience present a more complex picture.

Reality No. 1, specialty retailers and industry reps tell us time and again: There is no single, perfect show or timing — it’s a buying a season. While apparel and footwear brands might be prompt for line showings in June/November, many hardgoods aren’t ready until July/January. Larger, established brands and retailers have the ability to show and commit early; smaller, niche brands and retailers need more time. Reps get the ball rolling early with rough line drawings and concepts; marketers finish it off with refined images and stories.

“We think there can be a set of trade shows for the complete buying cycle,” said Wes Allen, president of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. The organization represents growing number of outdoor retailers (57) and brands (77) with focus on the independent specialty outdoor retail business. “The buying cycle can start at Grassroots with those first previews and end at Outdoor Retailer with all the marketing and merchandising,” Allen told SNEWS.

For several years, Grassroots has been conducting its semi-annual Summit events for its members in June and November. They tend to be smaller affairs, but heavy on business and education. It’s evident more brands wanted in. Starting in November 2015, Grassroots will continue its regular Summit event (Nov. 9-11) for members, and then open things up to to non-members at its new Connect event (Nov. 11-13). The expansion will more than double the show’s roster with about 100 retailers and 100 brands, Allen said.

Leading the effort for Grassroots will be its new show director, Kenji Harotunian, who, until last November, held the same title at Emerald Exposition’s Outdoor Retailer. 

While officials at Garssroots and Emerald say their relationship remains “cooperative” and “symbiotic,” there’s some evident jockeying for outdoor trade show dollars.

Emerald Executive Vice President Darrell Denny told SNEWS Outdoor Retailer has its options open for 2016 and beyond. It plans to survey brands, retailers and reps in the coming weeks on a number of issues, including the location and timing of Winter and Summer Market. The latter means considering dates in June, July and August for summer and December, January and February for winter, he said.

“There is some concern of not wanting to be too late in buying period,” Denny said. “But at the same time, we have to balance the realties of the entire industry, including the hardgoods side of the business and marketing and merchandising. They will never be an absolute consensus on the perfect date.”

Emerald was approached to play role in the Grassroots show, but “it didn’t feel appropriate,” Denny said, to pick one of the many smaller shows that surround Outdoor Retailer, such as the numerous Eastern Outdoor Reps Association shows.

In theory, the idea of an earlier and cooperative trade-show season could work, but there’s a danger, here, retailers and reps tell SNEWS, and it comes down to reality No. 2: Everyone wants to leapfrog the competition. It’s much like primary season in politics, where states hold earlier primaries to gain more sway over the national scene. In the outdoor industry, earlier show dates could lead to even earlier order deadlines as brands move up their schedules to get ahead of the competition. That ultimately shifts more inventory risk to retailers and production lead times further from eventual consumer demand.

–David Clucas