If we build it, will they come?
Exhibitors at Tuesday’s Open Air Demo got their answer after concern hung heavy in the air when show officials moved the event from Lake Jordanelle to Pineview Reservoir just two and a half weeks ago due to low water levels. Manufacturers were worried that demo-goers would be put off by the eleventh-hour venue change, but their anxiety was misplaced as the demo went off little a hitch.
“It’s a little worrisome because it’s farther than Jordanelle,” said Chuck Patterson, national team manager for Naish. The trek from Salt Lake City to Pineview takes about an hour, as opposed to Lake Jordanelle’s 40-minute drive. “But this is business,” he said. “You have to go with the flow.”
Joan Dollen, sales and marketing manager for Bug Band, feared buyers might have trouble finding the place. “It we were confused, then I’m absolutely concerned” about retailers, she said.
But the last-minute change didn’t faze the buyers, who braved a dusty breeze to mill around the waterfront displays of stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and other aquatic gear. “The shuttle was going to take us to the location, regardless [of where it was],” said Jake Meredith, sales manager for Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters. Some exhibitors lamented losing easy access to Park City on Demo Day for other non–Summer Market activities. “The only issue here is that there’s nothing for my family to do outside the venue,” said Alan Foster, a buyer for Headwaters Adventure Company.
Despite any hassles, attendees agreed there was no other choice. “Water is better than no water,” said Paul Abernethy, a Canadian distributor for Focus Hawaii and Body Glove. And Pineview’s sandy beaches — as opposed to Lake Jordanelle’s rocky shoreline — were preferable for easier water access. “It was a nice save,” said Jeff Crosetto, product line manager for Chaco. “I’m glad to see the team was so proactive in finding an appropriate venue. It was a good, quick reaction.”
Pineview drew generally positive reviews from exhibitors and retailers alike. “It’s prettier [than Jordanelle], and everyone’s all in one area,” said Craig Mintzlaff, trade show coordinator for Endurance Sports Marketing. “I think it should stay here.” Jane Mauser, division marketing director for Seal Line, agreed. “It’s better for traffic flow.”
For future shows, Outdoor Retailer officials said they will take account of water conditions in March or April, opting for Jordanelle in high-water years and Pineview in low-water years.
That makes sense, said Bill Kueper, vice president of Wenonah Canoe Inc. “When you hold a demo in the desert in the late summer, you have to be flexible.”
Helly Hansen Marketing Representative Andy Held was sold on Pineview this year, despite having to scramble to re-plot the course for the Helly Hansen Train with Confidence 5K Trail Run. “It worked out better for the race,” he said. “This venue is actually easier to put on a 5K because there aren’t as many trail choices.”
A few drawbacks rocked the boat: Some exhibitors wished for quicker load-in access to their booth locations. “It’s a hell of a way to hump the boats,” said Mark Hall, director of sales, marketing and product development for Riot Kayaks and Seaward Kayaks, among other brands. “I didn’t bring half my boats out.” Chaco Marketing Specialist Ashley Killgore also found the setup challenging, but the ample parking evened out water-access issues.
Despite a last-minute location change to Pineview Reservoir, retailers came out in droves to run, splash and paddle products at the Outdoor Retailer Open Air Demo Tuesday. “You wonder how many times you can reinvent the wheel, and let me tell you …” said Gen Smith, buyer with Tough Creek in Cardston, Alberta.
Long-time attendees and newbies alike were excited to test the latest and greatest. Robert and Sharon Prescott, who run a fly-fishing “production” in Springbrook, Calgary, have been to roughly 30 Outdoor Retailer shows, yet they still get wrapped up in the thrill of new products. “Just being here is so exciting,” they said.
As the sun beat down and temperatures soared up into the 90s, the water began to look more and more attractive. “I get excited about getting into the water the warmer it gets,” said Chris Thompson of Sandy, Utah’s Western Expeditions.
Buyer for Aquan Sports in San Carlos, Calif., Vincent Pau similarly mixed business with pleasure. He came out to “see how many new SUP companies there are. And to play a little bit of course.” No surprise to anyone, SUPs were the hottest product with retailers. Of those on the water, SUPs outnumbered all other vessel types — roughly two to one.
In SUPs, new noses, new cuts and new companies made a splash with retailers. “I tried the hard versus inflatables. Inflatables are so much more forgiving,” said Barry Nichols of DW Gear, based in Lake Saint Louis, Mo. They’re also great for lending to friends, quips Nichols’ colleague Doug Winters, remembering the many times he’s had to lecture buddies for not using his gear correctly. “I want durability, usability,” he said.
Only two years ago, Rocky Mountain Aloha was the only store in Park City, Utah selling SUPs, said Betsy Risner, a shop affiliate and a world champion paddle boarder. Now, nine shops have hopped on the bandwagon. The sport is gaining traction abroad as well. Jarrod Bryant of Anaconda Stores in Melbourne, Australia mentioned that his store has been one of the early adopters in his region. For him, “the big focus today is paddle sports.”
Alpenglow Mountainsport buyer Chuck Cremer came looking specifically for a new SUP line for his outfitting store. “SUP is still on the growth,” he said, adding he was most excited about finding quality boards at a lower price point. Another draw: fishing kayaks, a “big area of growth” because of the “family aspect” they promote.
Not that everybody is on board with SUPs. “They’ve kind of dominated the open air demo,” said John Whipple, outdoor leadership coordinator with Colorado Northwestern Community College. “It’s a craze, but I’d like to see more variety,” he added, noting a desire to try more canoes and rafts.
New techno gadgets also charged onto the Open Air Demo scene. Many of the participants in Helly Hansen’s 5-K race gave the MIO Alpha, a heart rate monitor sans chest strap, a test run.
Self-proclaimed “gadget guy” Brian Waspi, buyer with Clear Water Outdoor in Lake Geneva, Wisc., has seen his clientele get excited over new ways to power their i-products, even in the outdoors. “Going into nature” has evolved. He calls himself and his fellows in the outdoor industry “idealists about wanting to get away.”
One entrant to the charger market drew plenty of interested attendees. The Flame Stower, an 8-ounce device that captures energy from a campfire or camp stove, connects to any USB device for an energy top-off. It joins the existing BioLite wood-burning camp stove collection, which also debuted its new Kilopot, a 1.5-liter pot with a kettle top.
–Courtney Holden and Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan