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OR Summer

High-profile cancellation won’t deter Outdoor Retailer’s optimism

Citing concerns over growing cases of Covid-19, footwear maker KEEN is no longer exhibiting next week, yet many brands and retailers remain on board as the event draws near.


KEEN this week said it’s bowing out of Outdoor Retailer Summer, the outdoor industry’s signature trade event, due to rising concerns over Covid-19. The Portland, Ore.-based brand on Wednesday alerted dealers and press members that its team would not travel to Denver despite initially planning to exhibit at the show. The news quickly rippled through outdoor aisles of the Big Gear Show in Park City, Utah.

“As you know, KEEN made the decision to return to Outdoor Retailer with a small, but meaningful presence at the show,” KEEN wrote in the email. “The team did a great job of being agile and creating an experience that would make us all proud. As the new Delta variant continues to spread throughout the U.S., we’ve made the difficult decision not to attend the upcoming Outdoor Retailer next week. This decision was not made lightly. We’re very proud to be a member of this great outdoor industry and want to continue to support it every way we can. At this time, we feel we cannot attend the show and keep our people safe.”

The brand is instead scheduling virtual meetings with retailers and reporters the week after Outdoor Retailer.

While KEEN’s decision is certainly a high-profile one—adding to the list of brands who decided to forego the industry’s signature event, mostly for safety reasons but also because of its spot later in the buying cycle—the event, set for Aug. 10-12 at Colorado Convention Center in Denver, is still generating buzz across the industry.  Everyone is eager to see who shows up, who doesn’t, and what the vibe will be like inside the confines of the convention center. 

As of press time, almost 400 exhibiting brands and more than 12,000 people—including 5,000 dealers—were scheduled to attend, according to Outdoor Retailer spokesperson Lisa Ramsperger.

The goal is to give them a safe and productive trade show environment that might not have the size of a normal Outdoor Retailer Summer market but should have the vibe that brands and retailers have been missing for the last year and a half.

“Throughout this year, our goal has been to work with exhibitors and attendees to find solutions and opportunities for them to safely return to the in-person show,” Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer senior vice president and show director, told Outside Business Journal. “For those that are eager and ready to gather again, we anticipate this to be an incredibly valuable show. We also understand ongoing concerns around the impacts of the pandemic, and decisions to attend or not attend, are both a business and personal one.”

“We’re here to support the outdoor community right now and in the future, and to help our industry take steps forward in ways that best help their business,” Nicholson added. “We are committed to ensuring the health and safety of everyone at the show this summer, and we look forward to welcoming the community back as they feel comfortable.”

The number of exhibitors and retailers might be lower than normal, but the stoke appears high for attendees. Jon Frederick, U.S. country manager for Rab and Lowe Alpine, is among the exhibitors who are enthusiastic about the show’s return.

“We are happy to be attending Outdoor Retailer Summer next week and are encouraged by the number of meetings we have with retail and marketing partners from around the country,” Frederick told Outside Business Journal. “The road to the show has been complicated as retailers face continued staffing challenges and uncertainty around Covid begins to grow, but we are looking forward to getting together with the industry in Denver and think the show will provide many positive interactions for those in attendance.”

Others expressed hesitation, like Mitsu Iwasaki, CEO of American Alpine Club. OBJ spoke to Iwasaki at the Big Gear Show. “We’re going to go in and set up our booth on day one and leave our collateral on the table, as well as our phone numbers,” said Iwasaki. “We will ask anyone who wants to meet with us to text us and we’ll meet them outside. We’re not going to spend time inside.”

Covid cases in Denver Country have been on the rise since late June, with Denver Public Health reporting 726 new cases last week. At a press conference on Monday, Governor Polis said, “We expect it to get worse before it gets better.”

“Our original plan was to be there,” said Iwasaki. “But the Delta variant continues to spread, and now the CDC says Denver Country has a significant risk of transmission. But I don’t know how Outdoor Retailer will enforce its mask guidelines and I can’t expose my staff with good conscience to optional masking when  we’re seeing breakthrough cases with the Delta variant. I also think about it in terms of the halo of people around my employees that they might be taking it back to. I just can’t do it.”

Outdoor Retailer has recently updated its safety guidelines, which can be found by clicking here. The biggest change from when it released guidelines a few months ago is regarding masks. OR is implementing new face mask requirements, per current CDC guidelines. Specifically:

  • Attendees who are not fully vaccinated must wear a face mask at all times (masks will be provided if needed).
  • Attendees who are fully vaccinated are encouraged but not required to wear masks.
  • Outdoor Retailer initially had a “no contact” policy in place that was part of a companywide edict from parent company Emerald Holding Inc. When CDC guidelines changed around Memorial Day, Outdoor Retailer relaxed its own rules regarding contact.

For more, including safety measures and guidelines before traveling to the show, while checking in, and during your time inside the convention hall, visit Outdoor Retailer’s Health + Safety page.

And to see Nicholson discuss the show, including the latest safety guidelines, head over to Outdoor Retailer’s Instagram page and click on the video she recorded Friday morning.