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OR Summer

Outdoor Retailer Summer, Day 2: What you missed

New gear, hot takes, cool startups, and more from the second day of Outdoor Retailer in Denver.


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This year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer might be smaller than usual, but it’s still a huge draw compared to other outdoor industry events.

Still, the reduced size relative to years past has elicited a range of reactions from attendees when they first step onto the trade show floor.

Some are shocked to see far fewer exhibitors than they’re used to. Others can’t believe that big names like Black Diamond, Patagonia, and The North Face aren’t here. But plenty of buyers and brands alike have been overjoyed with their ability to meet who they want, when they want, with plenty of time to catch up in person after 18 months of virtual meetings.

Gone are the days—at least for this installment of OR—of being denied meeting opportunities because the product manager at a front-of-show outdoor behemoth is booked solid with only the largest national retail accounts. Because of this, the stoke has remained high even if the attendance hasn’t—and plenty of people told us as much.

With that in mind, those big brands do bring a sense of excitement to the floor that’s been absent in 2021—remember when Alex Honnold had a meet-and-greet in BD’s packed booth a few years ago?—and Wednesday’s poll question today asked if anything’s missing (or not) because those companies aren’t around. Scroll below to see what show-goers think.

In the meantime, Outside Business Journal’s reporters again emptied our notebooks after walking the show floor. Here’s what we heard and saw.

Notable gear

S’mores indoors, anyone? Need to warm up your #vanlife adventures? FLÎKR Fire (booth #38065-UL) has you covered. The three-year-old Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company makes portable, cement fireplaces that operate on just isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, safely bringing a small but heat-generating flame to the great indoors. Five ounces of rubbing alcohol will burn for 45 minutes to an hour in the six-pound fireplace. Company founder Travis Seera said the company makes about 1,200 fireplaces a day and has sold more than 400,000 units since hitting the market. But now he’s targeting outdoor specialty retailers with hopes of capturing new outdoor enthusiasts who maybe don’t want to lug around or invest in a propane fire pit, as well as vanlifers who want some heat and ambiance inside their rigs. FLÎKR’s fireplaces retail for $95.

Flickr Fire booth
This upstart brand specializes in portable cement fireplaces. Photo: Eric Smith

Rab (booth #41027-UL) has developed a 100-percent recycled sleeping bag line called the Solar Eco that company representatives say is the first fully recycled (and recyclable) synthetic sleeping bag collection the market. All bags in the line are made with ripstop fabric with a fluorocarbon-free DWR coating. Available in regular, wide, extra-wide, and long sizes, the bags are rated from 10 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and retail from $140 to $210.

Rab sleeping bag
The new Rab Solar Eco sleeping bags are made with 100 percent recycled materials. Photo: Andrew Weaver

Tyrone Hazen was drinking a beer at camp a few years ago when he grabbed a corner of his sleeping bag to use as a makeshift koozie to keep the beer cold and his hand warm. He thought, “Why doesn’t my beer have its own sleeping bag?” In that moment, Puffin Coolers was born. Fast forward to 2021 and the Bend, Ore., company (booth #VO327) is not only making koozies that resemble mini sleeping bags, parkas, and life jackets but is also selling them like crazy with orders galore during the first two days of its Outdoor Retailer debut. One of the brand’s co-founders, Christina Linton, said there are way too many beers being consumed at campgrounds around the world that aren’t wrapped in Puffin’s “drinkwear,” but the brand is changing that with each sale. “We’re just getting the party started,” she said. And while Puffin claims that its products work 20 percent better than a standard koozie, “that’s not the main purpose,” she added. “The main purpose is to create a smile.” Puffin’s drinkwear items retail for $12.95 and up.

Puffin
Puffin makes fun, funky drink koozies shaped like jackets and other gear. Photo: Kristin Hostetter

Cool new brands we discovered

Launched three years ago, Alpine Fit makes a variety of apparel and accessories using different fabrics such as merino wool and recycled poly and with inclusive sizing. The Anchorage, Alaska-based brand is not just Made in the USA brand but also Made in Alaska, and Alpine Fit was named 2020 manufacturer of the year in its home state—an honor the company proudly displays in its booth. The brand’s founder, Jennifer Loofbourrow, and product manager, Jamie Hirano, said they decided to venture down to the Lower 48 for their debut Outdoor Retailer show for a few reasons. The first, noted Hirano, was because “it’s our people here.” What’s more, Alpine Fit wanted to gauge demand for its products and land new retail partners. Mission accomplished on all fronts. The booth (#39050-UL) was constantly busy, and on the first day, the company even wrote a new order. That made the trip to Denver well worth it. “It’s the right place, right time,” said Loofbourrow. “We’re ready to grow our business.”

Alpine Fit booth at Outdoor Retailer
Alpine Fit specializes in Made-in-Alaska gear. Photo: Eric Smith

Klean Freak is a first time exhibitor at OR (booth #38064). The antibacterial body wipe brand launched in 2019 and is currently in more than 400 retailers around the country—mostly small gift shops, hospital shops, gyms, and boutiques. Nick O’Cain, account executive, says they are really hoping to tap into the outdoor adventure market with their individually-wrapped, biodegradable (in 30 days). The wipes, which are 11×11 inches and come in a slew of lovely scents like tea tree oil and citrus, seem almost perfect for backpackers, campers, cyclists, etc. The only rub: the wipes are individually packaged in plastic to seal in the moisture, but O’Cain says the company is actively seeking alternatives.

man at trade show booth
Klean Freak makes antibacterial body wipes. Photo: Kristin Hostetter

Hot takes from the show floor

“For the first time the show has some unexpected elements to it. One thing is that I see a lot more people of color walking the aisles. Before, you would assume they were here for the DEI panel. But this time they’re here to talk about their brands and see gear and make connections. I still don’t see many people of color working the booths, though. KWEEN WERK (@kweenwerk) posted a video [embedded below] highlighting some new faces which I’m excited to follow.” —Latria Graham, freelance writer

Latria Graham
Freelance writer Latria Graham said she’s excited to see a more diverse crowd at the show this year. Photo: Andrew Weaver

“We make a bluetooth wearable for action sports called Chubby Buttons that controls your phone remotely so skiers, snowboarders, and outdoor enthusiasts never have to pull out their phone while on the move again. In a world where we’re constantly staring at our screens, we’re a solution that lets people focus on the moment. —Justin Barad, Co-founder, Chubby Buttons

“We’re walking the show trying to figure out if we should exhibit this winter. The question is whether or not there are enough actual buyers to take a chance on a new brand like us. From what we’ve heard, retailers tend to talk to the brands they already know, and it can be difficult for new brands to poke through.” —Jordan Christopher, Co-founder, Chubby Buttons

Two men, on in black shirt, cap and bandana, the other in white t-shirt bumping fists at a trade show
Jordan Christopher (left) and Justin Barad, co-founders of the startup Chubby Buttons, are contemplating whether to exhibit at the winter show. Photo: Kristin Hostetter

“The show is slow for us. I hate to say it. It’s our first time here, so we didn’t know what to expect. We started in the golf category, and those shows are typically huge. Compared to that, the foot traffic here hasn’t been what I thought it would be. But we’re making some contacts and connections, doing what we can do.” —Katy Lim, Owner, VimHue (maker of hats “engineered by women for women”)

Vimhue
Katy Lim of VimHue said that for her brand, the show has been slow so far. Photo: Andrew Weaver

“This year’s show lineup is great for me because I’m here looking for some of the smaller brands to rep and help them get into the marketplace. I’m looking for unique brands with cool features and benefits, like a hat that a ponytail can come out the back, or a fire starter, or a rescue kit. Those types of unique brands are here. I feel like any buyer at this year’s show could find a diamond in the rough.” —Heidi Coble, independent rep, Next Level LLC in Wichita, Kan.

“The great thing about this community is its heart and soul, and especially its resilience. We have been through challenging times before. As with all trade shows that are being forced to adapt, it’s important to look at what’s working and build upon those successes as we look towards how we will evolve and best serve the needs of the industry.” —Chris Goddard, Founder, CGPR public relations

Chris Goddard
Chris Goddard of CGPR thinks trade shows need to adapt by looking at what’s working with the current model and building upon those successes. Photo: Kristin Hostetter

“It’s grim. When I walked in, I was like, ‘Whoa!’ But it’s to be expected with the shipping problems and the Delta variant. The smaller crowd is great for the little guys because they’re getting a shot. The smaller brands are usually stuck down there [on the lower level] and nobody gets to see them. No one pays attention to them, but this year it’s different. OR is expensive, and you want face time with buyers. When the big brands are here, the smaller brands don’t get that face time.” —Jose Rodriguez, Sales Rep, Mad Rock Climbing in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

Jose Rodriguez
Jose Rodriguez of Mad Rock Climbing believes the limited show format has been good for smaller brands. Photo: Eric Smith

Social media post of the day

The activist and social media personality KWEEN WERK posted a video to Instagram this morning as she and some of her friends entered the show. “When you roll up with your crew and bring all types of representation with you,” she captioned the post. The result? Easily the best OR-related social content we saw all day.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by KWEEN WERK (@kweenwerk)

Lesson of the day: E-commerce is an imperative

Not surprisingly, e-commerce sales grew during the pandemic, and analysts are forecasting that brands’ and retailers’ digital channels will continue on an upward trajectory in the back half of 2021 and beyond. That was one of the key takeaways during NPD Group’s “Outdoor Retail Trends and Consumer Insights,” which kicked off Day 2 of Outdoor Retailer.

E-commerce sales grew exponentially over the last 18 months and now represent more than one-third of sales across the active lifestyle industry at 38 percent, according to NPD analyst Matt Powell.

Both brands and retailers are ramping up their online sales capabilities, noted Powell, who advised retailers, especially, to provide a robust digital channel to their customers or risk losing them.

“I think we will continue to see a march toward more e-commerce,” Powell said. “It’s imperative that every retailer has an e-commerce presence. Otherwise, you’re going to be missing out on a significant chunk of business.”

Another important point made during the hour-long presentation—and one which brands and retailers have been hearing ad nauseum since the pandemic struck—is that keeping newcomers to the outdoors is critical to maintaining this current sales boom. This is especially true as traditional consumer brands look to launch outdoor collections, like when OXO recently unveiled its camp kitchen product line.

Click here to access the full report, including NPD stats on which categories have been growing the most amid Covid.

However, for a more complete story on outdoor data, be sure to read the latest print issue of Outside Business Issue (download the digital edition of the issue by clicking here). In the article “Don’t Trust the Numbers,” Marc Peruzzi peels back the curtain on the outdoor data that informs so many of our day-to-day business decisions, discovering that numbers do indeed sometimes lie.

A different take on booth setup

Two state Outdoor Recreation Office booths are present at the show this year: one from North Carolina and one from New Mexico. These unique setups, which showcase numerous brands at once, allow attendees to get a flavor of business in a particular state. The North Carolina booth, for instance, has no fewer than 17 brands on display, all N.C.-based: Misty Mountain, Tsuga, Buena Onda, Blue Ridge Chairworks, Watershed Dry Bags, Farm to Feet, American Backcountry, Council Tool axes, Eno, Woox knives, Summit Coffee, Astral, Cane Creek, Industry Nine, Rockgeist bikepacking gear, Blyss Running, and Cashion Fishing Rods.

North Carolina OREC booth at OR
The North Carolina OREC booth at this year’s show has 17 brands on display at once. Photo: Andrew Weaver

Poll of the day

We asked 100 show-goers another question on Day 2: Are you happy or bummed that most of the big brands are absent from the show?

Spotted on the show floor: An invitation to an Ignik happy hour party that pokes fun at the absence of big brands at the show. Photo: Andrew Weaver

The responses were split about 60/40, with the majority of respondents expressing relief that smaller brands are getting more attention, and the rest saying the show just isn’t the same without the big brands present.

Graph

News from the outside world

While the show progresses, news from the rest of the industry keeps pouring in. Here are some of the noteworthy developments you may have missed.