Larry Harrison ditched retirement to improve trade shows, he says

This summer, Outdoor Retailer brought Larry Harrison out of retirement to help develop the relationships that will steer the show into the future. Harrison, former director of sales for adidas Outdoor, has been in the industry for more than 40 years. He has worked with brands such as Eagle Creek, JanSport, Lowa, Rockport, Sierra Designs and Wilderness Experience. In his newly created position, Harrison will use his extensive experience in the industry to listen to the needs of OR’s varied participants and solve some of the show’s most vexing problems.

Larry Harrison. Photo courtesy of Outdoor Retailer
Larry Harrison. Photo courtesy of Outdoor Retailer

What is your new position?

Larry Harrison: My biggest job is to listen to the community in all its dimensions—retailers, reps, brands, manufacturers and suppliers—and determine trends that affect Outdoor Retailer. We want to meet the needs of the entire market. That might range from big changes, like adjusting show dates and reengaging advisory councils, to helping a newly hired rep get a hotel room. I will be meeting with brands and attending regional rep shows to ply my new trade. When you have spent almost your entire career in our wondrous industry, it’s apparent that no one wants to leave. We listen and grow, experience and change, yet want to remain a part of the business. I hope the retail, sales, management and board jobs that I have held equip me to understand the positions that many individuals hold, not just the loudest voices.

What have you been working on?

LH: My first job has been getting to know the people at Outdoor Retailer. I’ve been wandering the offices and I’ve never seen more bike riders, runners and hikers. Certainly the fight for the shower around here will make you stronger. I’ve also been learning about what Outdoor Retailer is involved with and what new directions might be worth exploring. The commitment to specialty retail is formidable here—that should be the overriding thought when someone thinks about Outdoor Retailer.

What Do you hope to achieve?

LH: World peace [laughs]. Like any group, we have different constituencies. If I’m in apparel, for example, my membrane manufacturer might say that I need to have an extra three months of lead time to make the products that incorporate it. So, I need time to accommodate that. It’s my job to hear that need and help create reasonable answers that benefit the whole community. The trade show is a complex ecosystem. Everyone comes for different, if similar, reasons. A great show forms them all together and makes the industry better.

How did they pull you out of retirement for this?

LH: At adidas Outdoor I was pleased with what we had accomplished. There is a superb team there, poised for real growth, and I felt it was time to move on. While I had looked forward to spending a little more time in the redwoods than another office, life had other plans. In talking to a number of old friends, I spoke with one who was concerned about the timing of trade shows. I felt a kinship to the concerns I heard, having experienced it all before. I called Marisa Nicholson, the show’s director, and began a conversation that resulted in this role. I hardly spent a day in retirement and wasn’t connected to it yet. I hadn’t sold my house, I didn’t order my new Sprinter van … I didn’t get my leisure suit.

You’ve been to Every OR Show. Tell us about the early days.

LH: I’ve been to 61 shows in total, I think. I was not a fan of the first show, though. I wrote a column for a trade magazine of the time stating that the dates were wrong and Las Vegas was the wrong place. Walking through smoke-filled casinos to get to an appointment seemed wrong. When the show moved to Reno, the outdoor community really began to develop. Traditions like the infamous JanSport Shake ‘n’ Bake took hold. Because we were together as an extended family, our interconnectedness became apparent and our connection to the natural world became an imperative. Relationships flourished between all of the stakeholders in the business, who founded nonprofits and developed partnerships with attendees. Brands and retailers were discovered. Advocacy bloomed. The media learned of the story that is the outdoors and rushed to cover it. The Outdoor Retailer show fed this synergy and is an integral part of the wonderful community that developed around it.

This story appears on page 38 of the Outdoor Retailer Daily Pre-Show Edition.