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OIA Rendezvous garners record attendance, huge smiles

The Outdoor Industry Rendezvous, an annual Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) event, this year hosted more than 250 outdoor industry members at the Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. Attendance was up 25 percent overall with more sales reps (13 in 2004 compared with 6 in 2003), more retailers (35 in 2004 compared with 20 in 2003) and more manufacturers (90 in 2004 compared with 57 in 2003). OIA told SNEWS® that 31 states, as well as Europe and Canada, were represented.

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The Outdoor Industry Rendezvous, an annual Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) event, this year hosted more than 250 outdoor industry members at the Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.

Attendance was up 25 percent overall with more sales reps (13 in 2004 compared with 6 in 2003), more retailers (35 in 2004 compared with 20 in 2003) and more manufacturers (90 in 2004 compared with 57 in 2003). OIA told SNEWS® that 31 states, as well as Europe and Canada, were represented.

Billed as a professional development conference, this year’s Rendezvous featured four keynote speakers, 12 breakout sessions under the headings of trends, marketing and business, as well as a service project (read our story, Oct. 4, 2004, “Outdoor industry serves at the town of Red Cliff during Rendezvous,” live music and entertainment, laughter, and more networking opportunities than any one human being could possibly manage in only three days. All in all, OIA proved to the industry that once again that it is simply impossible to not walk away from the Rendezvous with more than you came with.

A thank you to the sponsors from OIA and the industry
Sponsors included: REI, Spenco Medical Corporation, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Timberland, Outdoor Retailer, Cascade Designs, The North Face, JanSport, CGPR, Merrell, GearTrends®/SNEWS®, Dunham, ispo China, Hooked on the Outdoors, The Forest Group, Sierra Magazine, Nike, The Whiting Group, W.L. Gore, Celestial Seasonings, Manzella, Kinesys Sunscreen, Honey Stinger, GU Energy Gel, Liberty Mountain, Superfeet and Nalgene.

First-timers were thrilled
John Bales of Northwest River Supply told SNEWS®, “This was the first Rendezvous I’ve attended. I thought it was fantastic. I’ve sat through many conferences asking myself why I came. Not this one. It was well-organized; the individual seminars we’re insightful, and the keynote speakers were very interesting. At the Rendezvous I was able to meet new industry friends and enhance relationships with old ones. I also greatly appreciated that everyone left their sales pitch at the door. Everyone was easy to approach and communicate with. I would definitely sign up for next year and recommend it to others. Well done OIA!”

Another first-timer from outside the industry, John Taylor, business development for Glass McClure Advertising, said, “I thought the Rendezvous was exceptional. This was my first Rendezvous event and it was refreshing to see a genuine camaraderie among all of the attendees. I personally enjoyed being part of such a passionate group of outdoor enthusiasts who are just as interested in the growth of the outdoor industry as a whole, as they are their own businesses. Point in case…the Annual Timberland Service Project. It’s not everyday you see the CEO of a market leader push a wheel barrel and spread mulch. I was very impressed.”

Added Tommy Knoll of CAMP USA, “The Rendezvous was fabulous. This was my first time attending and thought the agenda afforded many opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions with influential industry peers. I will definitely attend again simply because the event allowed a comfortable environment in which to share strategy, tactics and an outlook for the future that is unavailable, on a large scale, in the outdoor biz.”

“Although there were only 35 retailers, the keynotes and breakout sessions were appropriate to retail as well as wholesale interests and concerns — a pleasant surprise,” added Rob Santa, president of Sturtevants in Ketchum, Idaho. “Speakers were thought provoking — Walter Robb of Whole Foods was particularly effective in drawing a strong parallel between the outdoor industry and his own — with a shared commitment to the enhancement of health, fitness, and the environment.”

Every other first-timer we spoke with responded with similar themes. The only negative commentary revolved around the price for attendance which was considered a bit pricey by more than one attendee, though those attendees also acknowledged that OIA was probably not making any money and that putting on such an event was, doubtless, quite expensive.

Hard to say goodbye in front of friends

OIA president Frank Hugelmeyer got a bit choked up when saying goodbye to Norma Hansen, who is moving on for a new challenge at Smartwool. Longtime OIA friend and associate Myrna Johnson of OIA was all red-eyed in the audience as Hansen took the stage where she promptly told us – heck, we were all getting a bit teary-eyed — that she wouldn’t look at Myrna because then she’d start crying too. Added Hansen, “It’s a great industry and a great association, and thank you all for a great 12 years.” No, Norma, we thank you!

Location was nice, but a bit ironic
Said one attendee in a follow-up email to SNEWS®, “A touch of irony in the choice of location — beautiful as Beaver Creek is, it seems a contradiction to the ethos of the Outdoor industry. A gated and guarded community, and the very first example cited in Hal Clifford’s book “Downhill Slide” which speaks to the negative effects of the corporate ski industry on skiing itself, ski towns, and the environment. Clifford writes on his first page, ‘Welcome to Beaver Creek, the apotheosis of the American corporate ski resort.’ Having said that, it’s still a beautiful place, and it may be better to have boutique hotels, underground parking, and a concentrated walking village than sprawling single-family starter castles, flat subdivisions, and clusters of fenced ranchettes.”

We echo the sentiments shared by the above and others who spoke with us that, if at all possible, we hope OIA will move the conference next year to a nearby, but less gated and more inviting location with a real town that’s less Disney-like. There were times when we really thought that we’d overhear someone calling down from a control tower, “OK, OIA members are driving up so cue the deer…. Great, now cue the fox and start the background noise of birds chirping and water running….”

Signature Project entertains and challenges
No matter what those who viewed Patrick Dunning’s multi-layered Signature Project — — might have thought when the lights came back on, there is little arguing that ultimately the presentation was a great metaphor for the outdoor industry. We are all intertwined somehow working towards the greater objective of being involved and passionate about the outdoors. The attendees represented the various layers – all essential in the making of the industry. Thank you Lee Fromson and Cascade Designs for bringing Dunning’s show to the Rendezvous.

Keynotes challenged thought and provided inspiration
No doubt about it. OIA hit a home run with the scheduling and organizing of its keynote speakers for the Rendezvous.

Opening Keynote: Election Year Economy
Carl Steidtmann, chief economist, Deloitte Research
Kicking off the event, Steidtmann discussed the current economy — and certainly not in a snore-producing way that most of us remember from our economy classes! In sum, he said what we all know — that sporting goods retail has been in a bit of a recession since 2002 but is now coming out of it, and that the holiday outlook is good, suggesting even double-digit growth. But then he foresees a bit of a slow down, but that then only means back to single-digit growth. As he quoted Winston Churchill, “The future is just one damn thing after another.” Steidtmann did manage to piss off a few attendees by advocating that jobs heading oversees to China was not really a bad thing — in fact, from a purely economic view, it was good, he said. Overall, though, Steidtmann provided, according to one attendee who emailed us, “an interesting macroeconomic view of the U.S. economy as well as some great insights regarding some of the geopolitical and economic issues that we are facing today and how they may or may not affect our business.” As for the few folks who were grumbling about Steidtmann — those who made comments like “how could the OIA bring someone like that to speak to us, he shares none of the values that we have” — we point out the following from a SNEWS® subscriber and Rendezvous attendee with a different take: “In my opinion it is my responsibility as a business leader to not only have a strong understanding of our industry but additionally at a minimum have a working knowledge of the major global issues that may or may not affect my business directly. The outdoor industry is a small and passionate industry, which is one of the reasons I have chosen to make it my career; however, we are doing ourselves a disservice if we fail to open our eyes to the greater world around us. We may not always agree with the opinions that folks such as Mr. Steidtmann present, but we should be open to listening and questioning them.”

Saturday Keynote: Apricots to Aspirations — Observations of a Natural Food Retailer
Walter Robb, co-president and COO, Whole Foods Markets
It wasn’t just the fresh, sweet, and smooth-to-the-palate pears Robb brought in from a local grower the company has established a relationship with that endeared him to the breakfast crowd. What made the time pass so quickly with Robb speaking was that his quiet and folksy speaking style and his passion for promoting business practices that ensure the health of the business, the well-being of its employees and the satisfaction of its customers challenged many to immediately begin to reflect on ways to improve the manner in which each approach their own business. It is true, as REI’s Matt Hyde said when introducing Robb, that often the best ideas we can put into practice in our own lives come from observing companies on the periphery of our industry. Robb encouraged all in the room to establish a “workplace based on love and respect.” We imagine that more than a few executives are right now trying to determine how best to implement a “culture of empowerment and self-responsibility,” in their own companies as Robb has done in his. In describing his attitude towards merchandising and creating a store environment that is welcoming to both employees and customers, as well as protective of the environment, supportive of the community, and acceptable to the investors, Robb stated, “We are missionaries at retail, not retailers with a mission.”

Closing Keynote: Corporate Lessons from Harley Davidson
Andy Smith, Springboard Solutions
First of all, we have to give Smith big kudos for not just whipping in and out to do his keynote and the previous day’s seminar. He actually dipped right in and took part on Saturday afternoon in the Timberland Service Project, getting dirty with all the rest of us. And there he was again, on the closing morning, giving his talk on corporate lessons, ethics, values and success, unfortunately to a smallish crowd since many attendees fly out Sunday morning or even Saturday evening. A pity, we dare say. “A successful company has a successful culture,” he began. And also cited Harley’s mission statement that is pretty simple, starting with, “We fulfill dreams through the experiences of motorcycling….” Not that the company sells freedom or sells motorcycles, but the FREEDOM. Understanding the company was selling freedom helped make it the success it became after its turnaround 20+ years ago. Smith cited seven signposts to success: Encourage discretionary effort, provide top quality products and services, insist on awareness, involve all stakeholders, competence in critical areas, commit to mutual success, and build trust and integrity. What’s wrong with outdoor, he asked. “It’s a bunch of great people selling great products to a bunch of people just like them.” He advocated talking about the value of products based on how the customers perceive it. For example, it’s not about camping out in the cold and dirt, but the freedom and breathing space. It’s not about the long drive to car-camp, but about spending time with the family.

Came a question at the end: How can the outdoor industry create living this dream? Smith said, first, to make sure the retailers understand it (most think as he put it they are selling shorts and shoes). He also said to discuss it constantly, and then realize you as a company must fulfill the dreams. That could mean by running events at stores, creating community, offering education, and otherwise causing a “viral” effect about the events. As Smith said, “Get more involved in your customer.”

*Next week, SNEWS® will wrap up its coverage of the Rendezvous with summaries from each of the seminars and perhaps a bit more to say regarding parties and the social scene.