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Trade Shows & Events

The dating game: OR, OIA, GOA discuss scheduling shift

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Amy Roberts, Rich Hill, Marisa Nicholson
From left: Amy Roberts, Rich Hill, and Marisa Nicholson. // Photo by Caveman Collective

The shifting show days may feel upending to brands accustomed to the current schedule, but it’s all part of a plan to make the industry more cohesive, say the three major stakeholders, who started talks about schedule changes two years ago.

The industry has never been more of a powerhouse than it is now, which has been demonstrated in no small part by the bipartisan support the industry has received in Congress. Outdoor Retailer is the biggest gathering of policy wonks who have made the outdoor industry a force in Washington, gear manufacturers who influence their elected officials, and activists working to improve sustainability and fight climate change.

“That was the outcome we wanted: that our members see a business return, but that we also have a venue to come together and work on all the other issues,” says Outdoor Industry Association Executive Director Amy Roberts.

Starting in 2018, Outdoor Retailer will hold shows in January, June, and November, with the latter two coinciding with Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect, which will be held immediately before Summer and Winter Markets. All GOA members are expected to attend both shows.

GOA’s shows are about retailers doing business with vendors they already know, says Rich Hill, President of GOA. Outdoor Retailer presents an opportunity for members to discover new brands and products. The new schedule improves efficiency for retailers, he says, and the co-location cuts down on travel time for East Coast retailers who find it difficult to regularly make it out west. GOA is cutting its events by one day, and ultimately retailers will have more days in their stores even after attending the nine days of GOA Connect and Outdoor Retailer each time.

“There’s no date that works for everyone,” Hill says. “But the new dates are optimal for 75 percent of our businesses.”

Moving up the schedule by a full two months will be hard for the smaller businesses, Hill said, but ultimately it means they’ll be exhibiting in front of retailers before they’ve placed orders, offering them a new outlet for sales.

One sector of the industry that has been openly against the move from August to June for Summer Market is the paddlesports industry, which is breaking off to start its own independent show next year. But Outdoor Retailer has been working with a paddlesports advisory group (consisting of representatives from 10 to 12 brands) to try to find a solution that works for them.

“In 2018, we’re hearing from brands that will still support the show come June, because they understand the need and want to be part of the full industry show,” says Marisa Nicholson, VP and group show director for Outdoor Retailer. “There are others who have determined it doesn’t work for their business.”

The buying cycle has crept up, year after year, as vendors seek earlier commitment from retailers on pre-season orders. That has made Outdoor Retailer less of a traditional buying show and more of an industry gathering, says Roberts. So OR and OIA held countless meetings and interviews with show attendees, exhibitors and other stakeholders to determine the best schedule.

The industry has been changing for quite some time, and it’s not going to stop, Nicholson says. But now, the show can adjust more quickly to what the market and industry need. The process of changing the dates has brought GOA, OIA, and OR together in a way that hasn’t happened before, so that these three forces can continue to call on one another.

“We have a shared values set,” Roberts says, “so we want to work on issues together, whether it’s making more places to play for people, or bringing new customers into outdoor. We’re going to have the three organizations working together, and I think that’s going to be more powerful than individual groups working alone.”

This story first appeared on p. 9 of the Day 1 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily Winter Market 2017.