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The Big Gear Show

The outdoor industry is split on The Big Gear Show concept

Some are in, some are out, some are still on the fence. With budgets locked in for 2020, exhibitors and retailers are still considering whether or not it’s worth attending another summer show.

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Following The Big Gear Show announcement on Monday, the outdoor industry has voiced mixed response to the new hardgoods-only event with a consumer day and reduced footprint in Salt Lake City in July 2020.

Some say that another show further splinters an already-fractured industry, while others point out that there’s nothing to lose by trying something radically new since the current national trade show model isn’t perfect.

But by staging just three weeks after Outdoor Retailer, show organizers Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush, the team behind Paddlesports Retailer, could face an uphill battle in getting brands and buyers to commit—even if the timing is ultimately better for hardgoods manufacturers, even if the product mix is curated, even if costs are lower, and even if the consumer aspect and on-floor demos are attractive.

Timing is everything and so is cost and who else attends, according to a recent SNEWS survey.

“I really like the concept and feel it is very progressive,” said Jason Lawrence, owner of sales and consulting agency Water Mountain Sports. “I love the fact that consumers can buy products directly from the companies, which ultimately has a direct tie to the stories and sustainability impact…On the flipside, timing is everything and this is three weeks after Outdoor Retailer, which might have a huge impact on brand’s participation, but not necessarily consumers.”

Lawrence also said he’s not sure if now is a good time to get a new trade show going or to rather support Denver, Outdoor Retailer, and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), and grow for the long term. Another show doesn’t solve all the industry’s problems, others say.

“The outdoor industry’s collective voice is strong and most effective when we are working together hand in hand,” OIA Board Chair Nora Stowell said in an email to SNEWS. Much of OIA’s revenue depends on Outdoor Retailer, which faces its own struggles with timing and unifying. “While the entire outdoor industry may not be together under one tradeshow roof, OIA continuously collaborates with softgoods manufacturers, hardgoods manufacturers, retailers, nonprofits, associations, policy makers and other partners to further our work in policy, climate change and outdoor participation. The health of our entire industry depends on working together as a force!”

Outdoor Retailer Show Director Marisa Nicholson said it’s too soon to know what a new show means for them and the industry. “We don’t have enough information about the concept yet, but what we do know is that the industry experience is about more than gear,” Nicholson said. “The outdoor industry is diverse—we’re specialty retailers and advocacy organizations, we’re gear manufacturers and sustainability experts, and in the end, we all benefit from coming together to support the success of the entire industry.”

Who’s going so far?

The Big Gear Show is targeted at hardgoods buyers and brands in the camp, climb, bike, and paddle categories. Apparel and footwear, unless there’s a super technical element, won’t be included, which will exclude more than half of the Outdoor Retailer exhibitors. 

Not surprisingly, Salt Lake City-based Cotopaxi is going. Director of Wholesale Heath Christensen said they haven’t formally signed a contract, but have earmarked 2020 budget funds for the show. He said they plan on having a smaller booth and showing mostly packs.

“As a sales director I’ll be curious to see which retailers and buyers will be attending,” Christensen said. “In a perfect world the show would be getting us in front of potential new accounts that we might not see at either the OR show or GOA Connect. If there is a fair bit of overlap then it could be a productive wrap up show. Regardless, the consumer side of the event will make it worth our time especially given the fact that we are a Utah brand.”

Sterling Rope is in. Cascade Designs, LifeStraw, and Kelty said they are not attending.

SNEWS has not yet heard back from a number of hardgoods brands, including Primus, NEMO, Vista Outdoor’s Camp Chef and bike brands, Nite Ize, Zeal Optics, ORCA Coolers, YETI, and Utah-based Black Diamond, Petzl, and Goal Zero

Many brands say they are still deciding if the new show will even fit into their budgets, something The Big Gear Show organizers were aware would happen, Bacon said.

“Yes, we fully expected many budgets to already be committed,” Bacon said. “However, the brands we’ve spoken to are enthusiastic with our affordable pricing structure, inexpensive logistics, low stress around booth sizes, plus the consumer exposure day. Of course with any new show, our challenge is going to be getting the word out about our unique value proposition. The first week has exceeded our expectations and we’re excited about bringing this show to market.”

Meteorite PR’s Eric Henderson said his brands—The Oberalp Group, Kokopelli Packraft, and others—are interested in participating after the first year. “Given the timing and that resources are already tapped into for the June show in Colorado, we need to see how this shakes out,” he said. “I plan to go and walk the floor, see if media are there, get a feel for dollars being spent, and then report back to clients based on impressions.”

On the retailer side, River Sports Outfitters President Ed McAlister said he’s going. So is Kent Cranford, owner of Motion Maker Bicycle Shop. 

REI said it’s too soon to say. Black Creek Outfitters Co-owner Joe Butler said he’s waiting to see which paddle brands commit before he registers. Alpenglow Sports Owner Brendan Madigan said he is intrigued by the idea, but is especially critical over how another show increases the industry’s environmental footprint. 

“If our industry is so green, and I admit to being a hypocrite and complicit myself, how about invest in VR goggle concept that allowed there to be much less travel, a reduction in our collective footprint and would save everyone, particularly brands, a lot of money that they could then turn around and support great retailers doing great activational things,” Madigan wrote on Facebook. “Sure, I’m biased as a retailer but without us, the historical lifeblood of the industry, it is a sinking ship.”

The bike industry is also struggling to accept a new show, even though they don’t have a national trade show anymore. Marc Sani, industry longtimer and publisher of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, also wonders if there will be enough exhibitors to sustain the show, but he applauds Bacon and Bush’s efforts to try something new.

“I do think the bicycle segment of that show could be far bigger than the other segments, if the bicycle industry embraced it at any level,” Sani said.

Predictably, Utah is excited to welcome another national outdoor industry show after Outdoor Retailer’s departure in 2017. Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation Director Tom Adams, who is rejoining Petzl in January, said there are more trade show choices than ever before, for both order writing and for gathering, presenting both challenges and opportunities.

“On a personal level, if I put on my industry hat, there is some real value in having an industry-owned and run trade show where the costs are better, it helps those brands justify the ROI,” Adams said. He was unable to confirm whether Petzl will be there. “We’re in a consumer-based industry. We know customers like options and brands are customers, too. They want to do what’s best for them.”

Only time will tell.