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The 2021 version of Outdoor Retailer Summer will go down as one of the strangest in its long history—replete with mask wearing, thin crowds, and a scaled-back exhibitor list—but the overall mood during the three-day event was overwhelmingly upbeat as the industry was giddy to gather in person for the first time in a year and a half.
Thursday was the slowest of the show’s three days, though the last day of any trade show is always mellow. Still, by mid-morning, there was a palpable buzz on the floor as buyers and brands connected for one final meeting, one last celebration together, before packing their booths and heading home.
An observation that more than a few attendees made was that this year’s event was reminiscent of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in November 2018—a show that was eventually scrapped as OR downsized from its planned three-show schedule to just two.
A positive to emerge from this event, as well as that show three years ago, is that the slower pace allowed for more meaningful conversations. The leisurely flow was indeed a welcome change for many attendees. One difference: Many brands reported writing orders this week.
But as the industry bids adieu for the time being, plenty of questions linger. What will the vibe be like at Outdoor Retailer Winter in January? Will Covid still be raging across the U.S.? Will international travelers return? Will the big brands return? And does the show have a longer future in Denver now that Outdoor Retailer’s contract is nearing its end—or will it return to Salt Lake City (or perhaps some other locale)?
Those are topics for another day, which OBJ will cover if and when they arise. In the meantime, here’s the final installment of our Outdoor Retailer Summer daily recap.
Long renowned for making premium ski apparel, Spyder is becoming a true head-to-toe brand with its launch into the footwear category. Spyder Footwear is owned and operated by Fenton, Mo.-based Footwear Unlimited, and is a licensee of the Spyder brand. The footwear company is separate from the Spyder apparel brand, but the license for both is owned by Authentic Brands Group. Spyder Footwear will launch with products in three categories: mountain sport, everyday active, and lifestyle. The women’s Tempo ($115) was one of the many items popular with dealers this week, said Spyder Footwear’s VP of sales, Andy Duemling, who added that the shoes will be sold in a variety of channels—direct on spyder.com, e-tailers, department stores, and outdoor specialty shops—beginning this fall. The footwear brand will have its own landing page on spyder.com in the next few weeks—and be sure to look for more on the Spyder’s footwear foray in a future issue of Outside Business Journal.
Camp Sunglasses, a new line of more affordable shades from Schwood, pack a lot of value into a $79 price tag. The frames are made from plant-based castor bean oil with real wood inlays for some serious style and the lenses are high quality and polarized. The glasses also come with a cute mini sleeping bag case and a retainer cord.
Aetrex is in the business of creating happier customers. More specifically, they do 3D foot scanning, sell orthotics, and make footwear recommendations. Here’s how it works: Retailers buy a scanning unit and computer for about $3,500. That investment allows them to engage customers in a unique way, potentially resulting in trust and customer loyalty. Customers stand on the unit for about 15 seconds while a complete profile of the foot is created. Aetrex then matches the customer with an appropriate off-the-shelf orthotic, but here’s where it gets cool. The computer syncs with the retailer’s point-of-sale system and can make specific footwear recommendations (running shoes, hiking boots, even ski boots) based on the customer’s scan and the footwear that the retailer has in stock. (Fun fact: Aetrex signed up seven new retailers during Outdoor Retailer.)
Cool new brands we discovered
It might be Tear Mender’s first time at an outdoor trade show, but that doesn’t mean they were born yesterday. The company was founded in 1932 and has mainly served the farm, automotive, and hardware industries since. But they would like to break into the outdoor industry, according to marketing manager Brittany Bettonville. Their flagship product is the Tear Mender, a liquid fabric adhesive that’s perfect for myriad in-the-field fixes: tears and rips, blown seams, insoles, straps. A permanent, secure fix takes only three minutes, and it’s available in 1-ounce bottles, perfect for any backcountry repair kit.
Squirrel’s Nut Butter was created when Chris and Stacey Thornley wanted to find a solution for their daughter’s eczema. They concocted an all-natural, four-ingredient (coconut oil, vitamin E, beeswax, cocoa powder) salve that worked so well that they started to use it in other ways. Today, SNB solves all sorts of common problems for the outdoor athlete: chaffing, blister prevention, dry skin, and more.
Hot takes from the show floor
“In spring 2022, the Full Circle Everest Expedition 2022 will make history as the first all-Black-and-Brown Everest expedition. This is important because we need greater representation in the outdoor industry. Everest is an iconic mountain. Every April, people look at it from all around the world. We’re not doing this to bring representation, we’re doing it because it’s an obvious next step for folks on our team and myself as the leader of the team and to include Black and Brown people into the history of American mountaineering in the Himalayas. Right now, there are very few of us.” —Phil Henderson, expedition leader
“Even though people are taking precautions because of Covid, those who showed up make such a great community to network and talk to and hang out with. We’re all outdoorsy, and it’s cool to see so many like-minded individuals.” —Jessica Newton, Founder, Vibe Tribe Adventures
“The show is a lot smaller than previous years, but for the size of the show, the energy is fantastic. We’ve had more meaningful, deeper conversations that we wouldn’t have likely had if there had been a lot more traffic. For coming back from Covid, it’s worked out really well in our favor in terms of catching up with people we haven’t seen in a while.” —Cory Tholl, President and CEO, Klymit
Spotted: Eric Larsen
We bumped into polar explorer and all around bad-ass Eric Larsen on the floor of the show today. Larsen has been enjoying the summer in Crested Butte with his family in between rounds of treatment for colorectal cancer. Larsen, 49, received the diagnosis in January 2021. We profiled Larsen in the summer issue of our print magazine, where he spoke candidly about the fear, pain, and exhaustion of his brutal treatment regimen, and what traveling to the world’s most inhospitable places has taught him about survival.
Inspiration Award Winners
On Wednesday night, the recipients of the 11th annual Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards were announced. The awards recognize the “champions of outdoor recreation and changemakers in the outdoor community.”
“The outdoor community is inspired and stronger because of the incredible work of the individuals and organizations celebrated at the Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards,” said Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer senior vice president and show director. “This year’s finalists and recipients are dedicated to driving change, promoting community, and increasing our connection to the outdoors. They are nurturing the future of our industry.”
Category awards were presented for individual, emerging leader, manufacturer, retailer, and nonprofit organization. The recipients were determined by a panel of judges based on impact, leadership, community engagement, philanthropy, sustainability, and other factors.
The 2021 recipients:
- Individual: Tyrhee Moore, founder of Soul Trak Outdoors
- Emerging Leader: Monserrat Alvarez Matehuala, community activist, ambassador and mentor
- Manufacturer: Cotopaxi
- Retailer: Slim Pickins Outfitters (Stephenville, Texas)
- Nonprofit: Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps
Poll of the day
On the final day of OR, we asked 100 show-goers a simple question: Was the show worth the trip? The response was overwhelmingly positive, with the vast majority of respondents saying the time, money, and effort put into the show was worth the return on investment.
Stay tuned tomorrow and next week for a Q&A with show director Marisa Nicholson dissecting the successes and challenges of the event, a recap of the final day’s education sessions, a roundup of the show’s most unexpected exhibitors, and more.