OIA's 12th annual Rendezvous sells out, ups retail attendees

While a “lucky” 13 Outdoor Industry Rendezvous is just around the corner, the 12th annual event, the annual conference by Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), had much to celebrate. For the first time in its history, the gathering sold out with 350 industry participants in attendance -- a reported 28 percent increase over 2006's attendance of 270.

While a “lucky” 13 Outdoor Industry Rendezvous is just around the corner, the 12th annual event, the annual conference by Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), had much to celebrate. For the first time in its history, the gathering sold out with 350 industry participants in attendance — a reported 28 percent increase over 2006’s attendance of 270.

“Besides the dramatic increase in attendance, the content has truly become world class. We are investing more in high caliber speakers and the improvement was noticeable,” Frank Hugelmeyer, OIA’s president, told SNEWS®. “The Rendezvous challenges us to take the time to discuss mega issues and initiate positive change on our companies and industry that will address those issues. The impact is immediate and long term.”

The roster at the event, held Oct. 3-5 in Vancouver, Wash., was chockfull of networking events, keynote presentations and breakout sessions on topics as diverse as consumer behavior and a hydrogen economy to trademark counterfeiting and hiring practices. Overriding themes of the Rendezvous were sustainability, climatic change and youth. And, for the first time, the Outdoor University Retail Workshop preceded the Rendezvous with an afternoon of retailer-centric sales training seminars.

OIA selected Vancouver, just across the Oregon border from Portland, as its host city because of its development of active outdoor recreation and sustainability ethic. Mayor Royce Pollard even kicked off the first night’s opening reception at the Vancouver Hilton, explaining the area’s history and touting the recreation benefits and environmental commitment of “America’s Vancouver.”

First-time attendee Todd Walton, Outdoor Research’s PR manager, said a number of folks over the years have told him that the Rendezvous was a great event and he should attend.

“My hope was to utilize the networking opportunities, have some fun with friends, and learn a few things in the breakout sessions…typical reasons,” he said. “In retrospect, that seems too simple. I walked away inspired and wanting to share all the information I took away with everyone back here at Outdoor Research.”

Doug Faude, president of Molehill Mountain Equipment, has attended the event three to four times over the years to re-train his focus on something bigger than his immediate surroundings.

“Getting exposure to other people who are facing much the same issues that I face on a daily basis is comforting. I need to get away from the details of my day-to-day business and do some big picture work,” Faude said. “I know from past experience that the breakouts and the keynotes really do a good job of doing that for me.”

Many long-time attendees agreed the Rendezvous has consistently upped its game year-to-year, improving the speaker roster and logistics, and providing great networking opportunities, like this year’s dinner cruise around the Willamette River on the Portland Spirit.

“I always like to attend the Rendezvous because you never know who you’re going to sit down next to and have a chance to have a conversation with, where their guard is totally let down,” said Abe Hayes, national sales manager of Nalgene. “It can create either a great opportunity to learn something new to benefit your overall business or create a cross-promotional opportunity.”

“Of the previous Rendezvous I’ve been to, this one I found to be the most impactful and powerful. OIA is pulling in some fantastic speakers and really relevant topics as well for our day and age,” Tommy Knoll, managing director of C.A.M.P. USA told SNEWS®. “The Rendezvous is becoming more relevant for the leaders of our industry to attend.

Learning curve

In having the Outdoor University just prior to the Rendezvous, OIA’s objective was to encourage retailers to attend the Rendezvous as well, which has had notoriously low retailer attendance over the years (33 in 2006, 19 in 2005, 35 in 2004, and 20 in 2003). Participation for the Outdoor University portion of the event was around 40 — 98 percent of which reportedly stayed to attend the Rendezvous.

“Our goal was to expand the number of retail seminars and, ultimately, the retail attendees,” Hugelmeyer said. “While there is still room for improvement, I felt that we made great strides in both areas.”

Retail veterans like Jersey Paddler’s John Durrua and Fontana Sports’ John Hutchinson were drawn to the three-day double bill. “It was great having the Outdoor University before the Rendezvous as it made the entire trip worthwhile,” Hutchinson told SNEWS®.

Rendezvous newcomer Steve Sutorius, owner of Wildernest, said he gleaned good ideas about business and marketing from the workshop, and lauded the sessions by Bob Negen of Whizbang Training.

“I wished some of the sessions were longer. There was a lot of experience there,” he said, adding that he was surprised there weren’t more retailers in attendance.

Just a two-hour drive away in Olympia, Wash., The Alpine Experience sent an eight-person contingent of senior and junior retail staff to attend the Outdoor University, some of which stayed for the Rendezvous. General Manager Steve Hyer said he and his staff had mixed reactions to the event.

“Some of my staff thought Outdoor University was a little above some of the other staff that we sent. We almost expected a little more clinics, little more lower end for the extra four that we had come down just for that,” Hyer said. “For a lot of the older staff in many ways it’s an inspiration, thinking about bigger things beyond the store. We’re always looking for the big idea, what do we do next. That opportunity is most of what we’re looking at.”

Doing a service

The site of this year’s service project was Blandford Canyon Trail in the 3.5-acre Dubois Park, a residential area that provides close-to-home recreation opportunities to the neighboring residents. With close to 150 volunteers, the group made short work of renovating the half-mile trail, clearing brush and grading, leveling and edging the pathway.

Along with OIA, the Washington Trails Association and Vancouver-Clark County Parks coordinated the work, as well as explaining and thoroughly demonstrating the various tools to be used (many among the volunteers good-naturedly joked about how much they learned about tools that day).

Outdoor Research’s Walton — and president of the Washington Trails Association board of directors — said that with so many budgets being cut and parks becoming neglected, the improvements the volunteers were able to knock out in an afternoon will have an impact for years.

“I have to say that the OIA crew was amazing to work with and we blew away not just the crew leaders, but the parks department. They are so appreciative to have that kind of person-power behind the project,” he added. “It was important to the volunteers from the Rendezvous to step out of the conference and get physical in the outdoors, have some fun and do some work — not just in our heads, but with our bodies.”

In picking the Dubois Park, SNEWS® was told the hope was to encourage the local Vancouver community to get outside and experience area trails, and inspire more trail maintenance and care of local resources.

“The service project personifies the spirit of the Rendezvous,” Roland Beliveau of Darn Tough said. “We spend a lot of time in meetings never really talking about our outdoor experiences and the service project brings it home. Being outside and making a difference we can all see the results of. Seeing what can happen when we collectively focus on a goal.”

Molehill Mountain’s Faude agreed, adding, “It’s really cool to see outdoor leaders out there working hard together. It’s a totally different environment that you ever get to talk to people in.”

Next year’s Rendezvous, scheduled Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2008, will be held in Boston, Mass.