A Visit to the Outdoor Retailer Tradeshow

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From paddlers making it to the podium in a beer-drinking outdoor-industry-wide Flip-a-Cup competition (third place, just like Lance!) to an impromptu Town Hall meeting regarding Canoe & Kayak magazine’s feather-ruffling announcement to host its own paddlesports tradeshow next September, this year’s Outdoor Retailer tradeshow in Salt Lake City once again proved that, like the waters we paddle on, our industry is filled with inter-mingling currents.

Even with the down economy, this year’s event proved as raucous as ever, with as much business getting conducted in concert venues, restaurants and bars (Utah’s new liquor policy went into effect July 1) as on the showroom floor.

The action started at Pineview Reservoir on Monday, where attendees met to test the latest and greatest products (read: stand-up paddleboards), and participated in events such as the Wasatch Whitewater Chute-Out the Ogden River (with several local boaters on hand to poach the special water release), and a memorial paddle out onto the lake in honor of outdoor adventurer and retail buyer, Andy Knapp. From there, it was onto to the convention center, where more than 8,400 retailers representing 2,300 stores sniffed out product offerings from 960 exhibitors, and… the heralded Flip-a-Cup competition!

With loose-wristed ringers Joe Carberry, Nick Hinds and Dave Shively from Canoe & Kayak; Eugene Buchanan from Paddling Life, Tim Braun from Carbondale, Colo.’s B2 Inc PR firm; and wet-chested secret weapon Emily from the crowd, paddlers can take pride in knowing that their brethren left with a podium finish, winning 5 head-to-head battles before falling to the orange-shirted Tornados in the semi’s (who eventually lost to a bunch of guys in kilts). “I think all that wrist-rotating from paddling certainly helped,” says Braun. “Paddlesports had a good showing.”


Stalwart Flip-a-cuppers Nick Hinds and Dave Shively from Canoe & Kayak magazine en route to the podium.

There was also a good showing the next day once the industry caught word of Canoe & Kayak magazine’s plan to launch a competing tradeshow next September in Minneapolis. Offered as an alternative to the OR show’s expense and July timing, which is ill-served for the paddling industry, the announcement drew heat from OR executives, as well as an impromptu Town hall meeting at the Paddler’s Zone, where retailers, manufacturers and association heads butted heads on the idea (see press release response from OR below). Despite the opposition, publisher Jim Marsh held his ground. “The OR show doesn’t serve the retailers’ or manufacturers’ needs,” he said.

Indeed, nearly 10 paddlesports companies who exhibited last year didn’t attend, including Johnson Watercraft, whose brands include Old Town Canoe, Necky, Ocean Kayak, Carlisle Paddles and ExtraSport; Werner Paddles, Sea Kayaker and Canoe & Kayak magazines, and Nova Craft Canoes. Other paddlesports companies pulling the plug include Epic Kayaks, Boreal Designs, Sawyer Paddles, Yakpads, Esquif Canoes, Shred Ready Helmets and Peak UK.

But others, like SurfTech, Tahoe Paddleboards and Jackson Kayaks attended for the first time. “OR is delivering a whole new audience to us,” says Jackson Kayak’s Eric Jackson.

While admitting to a drop in paddlesports attendance, group show director Kenji Haroutunian remains upbeat about paddlesports’ presence. He adds that the attrition situation also wasn’t unique to paddlesports; other categories also looked closer at expenses this year. “The OR show has a retention rate of 75 percent, which is great for a tradeshow,” he says. “Plus, there are always new exhibitors making up for the ones that don’t come back.”

Illustrating this was this year’s crop of paddlesports newbies, including Jackson Kayak, Torqueedo, Tri-dent SUP, Rawson Boats, Otter Creek, Nookie Sport and New Zealand’s Tallon Marine. Still, while Haroutunian says this year’s exhibit square footage was about the same, he admits that overall the show saw about 10 percent fewer exhibitors than last year. Most of the attrition, he adds, stems from the economy and fewer start-ups.

For those who chose not to attend, it came down to a question of reach. Werner Paddles Marketing Director Jim Miller appreciates the retail side of the coin from his days at Alder Creek. But he says that OR just doesn’t draw the retailers Werner needs to justify the expense. “We took a poll at OR last year and half of our retailers said they wouldn’t be attending this year,” he says, adding that Werner is in a unique position because its reps are dedicated to the company’s line. “It’s an expensive way to get in front of customers. The show is great for the industry and serves its purpose, but if you’re not going to see customers, the cost per visit is very high.”

Werner has invested in new Webinar programs and video platforms to augment its dealer relations. “Not going isn’t a big change for us because we’ve always had a history of making contacts with our dealers,” says Miller.

Shred Ready’s Tom Sherburne also finds the show too expensive. “It’s too expensive to attend and risk dealers not showing up, especially now that it’s earlier,” he says. “I go for writing orders and showing product to dealers—magazines and athletes aren’t the priority. Tradeshows are the most cost efficient way to meet with dealers, but if they don’t show it isn’t efficient at all.” This year Sherburne plans to service its East Coast dealers through the Eastern Outdoor Reps Association (EORA) shows, and make personal visits to his key western dealers. He also plans to attend this year’s Kanu Messe tradeshow in Germany.

While the jury is still out on whether the new show will actually take place, one thing it did do is lead to the largest gathering of paddlesports executives in recent memory, with comments bantered from both sides and calls for a new paddlesports focus group to be formed as part of the Outdoor Industry Association to address the paddlesports’ industry’s concerns.

Apart from that, and the surprise no-show of Paddler Zone sponsor Paddler magazine, which announced the suspension of its May/June issue just two days earlier, it was business as usual at the show, from juggernaut Confluence’s usual commanding presence to industry jam parties lasting into the wee hours of the night – something paddlers can do as well as anyone. Outdoor Retailer also used the show to announces its Paddlesports Excellence Awards, which went to the Confluence marketing team for Innovative Brand/Program of the Year; Legacy Paddlesports for the Paddlesports Green Step Award; Big City Mountaineers for the Youth Outreach category; and KC paddlers for the Butts in Boats Award.

On the lighter side, as proof that other industries look up to paddlesports as an example, there was even a synchronized climbing routine held to music on the climbing wall, which, as Wenonah President Mike Cichanowski put it, “can only be likened to freestyle canoeing.”

How to end a journey to the industry’s biggest tradeshow? In fine PL fashion by hitting an eight-mile singletrack mountain bike ride on the drive home in Vernal, Utah, aptly named “Retail.”

Outdoor Retailer, OIA Press Release on Proposed Paddlesports Show

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailer Express Concern over New Paddlesports-Specific Trade Show

SALT LAKE CITY – July 22, 2009 – In response to the recent announcement by Canoe & Kayak Magazine about its new paddlesports trade show slated for September in Minneapolis, Minn., Frank Hugelmeyer, president of Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and Joe Flynn, vice president of Nielsen’s Sports Group, owner of the Outdoor Retailer trade show (OR) jointly express concern about what the new show means for the health of the industry as a whole.
“Both Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailer feel that a separate trade show at this time will split the industry when together we should concentrate more on growing the market,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of OIA. “Segmented trade shows are a failing model. To introduce one while paddlesports sales are declining is detrimental to the paddlesports segment and the overall health of the industry. We are committed to working through these challenges and will be searching for a mutually beneficial solution. We will be holding strategy sessions at our upcoming Rendezvous® held in San Diego Sep 29 – Oct 01, 2009,” he continued.

While there are some paddlesports-specific retailers, the majority carry lines from multiple market segments and need to be able to see a wide variety of product in one trade show venue. With the addition of a paddlesports-specific show, manufacturers and retailers will be forced to decide which show to attend, or may have to attend both, adding additional costs to their trade show budgets.

OIA and OR together have been working extensively with representatives of the paddlesports industry to address their trade show concerns. At the OR Summer Market 2009, efforts were made specifically for the paddlesports segment to expand trade show offerings and events. “Outdoor Retailer is North America’s largest gathering of active outdoor recreation manufacturers and retailers. Paddlesports exhibitors contribute greatly to the vibe and success of the show. Together with OIA, OR intends to work with a unified voice from the paddlesports industry to address their concerns and solve any unaddressed issues,” said Joe Flynn, vice president of Nielsen’s Sports Group, owner of the Outdoor Retailer trade show.