#ORshow Winter 2011: The Dragonfly Effect

Shortly after I arrived in Salt Lake for the 2011 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market last week, a friend of mine – Devaki Murch – handed me a magazine and said: “Read this.” For those of you who know Devaki – who has on more than one occasion been described as a “force of nature” – there’s really no other answer to this than,”Okay, I will.”

I mean, the alternative is just too frightening.

So I dutifully put the thick journal – the Stanford Social Innovation Review, of all things – in my bag and filed it away for later. As I put it in my bag, I noticed the title: “The Dragonfly Effect.” It was to be a busy week, and I wanted to give this article my full attention. I finally read it last night.

But more on that in a minute. Let’s talk about the #ORshow (as it’s hash-tagged on Twitter.) Many of you weren’t there, so let’s recap:

  • Record attendance crowded the floors.
  • Great energy in the aisles, even before the beer started flowing at 4:30.
  • Good friends, good fun, and too many stories to tell, once again.
  • Lots of new stuff, new ideas, and some great presentations.

Regarding the new stuff: Our brands were well-represented in that area. Atlas had new youth snowshoes and a new backcountry snowshoe called the Ascent. Adventure Medical Kits debuted their new SOL series in its final packaging, and even managed to add SKU’s such as a new utility blanket. LEKI showed-off the final version of the MicroStick, a foldable trekking pole that’s really slick. Montrail displayed new footwear using their proprietary OutDry technology, and – when combined with FluidPost midsoles – this created some serious buzz for a brand that’s already on fire. At Mountain Hardwear, the DryQ revolution was in full swing, along with updated gloves using OutDry technology. And Petzl displayed their interactive POP for new items such as the CORE battery, and the GriGri2. (We have pics in the slideshow, above.)

There was a lot of other new stuff at the show as well. It’s not that I’m oblivious to these things, it’s just that they are lower on my radar than other stuff. There are a number of great posts up or pending from some of the bloggers out there, and most of them will write about gear. The Gear Junkie already has his “Best in Show” awards up (Volumes I & II), and we know that TheClimberGirl has something up her sleeve, though she’s been rather secretive about it. (Something to do with this rad iPhone camera-thingy Sara was toting around and pointing at people…) GearGals has a post up explaining that she’s too tired to write about the #ORshow, but will soon. TheGearCaster made regular updates on gear at the show and may be writing a wrap-up post, and we expect content from ClimbingNarc, SplitterChoss, and UpaDowna sometime, too.

For highlights of the event itself, lots of people covered that. My favorite is the running travelogue from Lisa at the Alpine Shop, on the store’s Facebook page. Backwoods also provided the same sort of updates on Facebook, and their pics are fun. I really like the photos from GrizzlyAdam, as they are some very arty shots of ski and ride technology. Oh, and the Gear Junkie serves up some shots from the show, too.

The truth is, if you take a look at the #ORshow stream on Twitter, you’ll get links to all kinds of great content about what happened at the show, the new gear shown there, and maybe some good blackmail shots, too. (None of me, thankfully…) We also live-blogged many of the presentations that we attended: The OIA Thought Leaders Dinner, The OIA Breakfast, The Conservation Alliance Breakfast, Larry Pluimer’s “Channel Blending” presentation, The OIA Inspiration Awards Dinner (with Reinhold Messner), and Sara Lingafelter’s “Understanding Influencers” presentation. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can read our Twitter feed from last Wednesday onward and get a great sense of what happened. And – next time – be sure you follow along in real time. (Note: Gotta join Twitter for this; it’s worth it!)

But I’ve got dragonflies on my mind. Dragonflies are messengers, in Native American lore. They bring news from other spirits, telling tales of new winds blowing and then carrying those winds with them, too. In my daughter Emma’s room, there’s a dragonfly that I made for her from papier-mache when she was five. It hangs from her ceiling. My wife painted it with runes and symbols from the American Southwest Desert. We revere dragonflies in our family. (Maybe not as much as CanoeLover – but, hey! – who can?)

A chance conversation with Frank Hugelmeyer in the Petzl booth towards the end of the show brought up the central themes of the Outdoor Industry Association in this coming year. There are four of them:

  1. Supply chain disruptions at all levels – from manufacturing of raw and finished goods to transport and trade issues – have an immediate impact on #OIBIZ.
  2. Rising state deficits have a potential impact on recreational infrastructure, as state governments cut funds to parks and recreational services (and this in spite of their record popularity.)
  3. Technology is changing consumer expectations; as mobile marketing and sales gain an even greater foothold in everyday life, there is the potential for “Epic Disruptions” (as Larry Pluimer describes them.)
  4. Sustainability of the specialty store business model.

Frank said: “You know, it’s been a crazy few years, and after a bunch of frenetic energy just trying to – you know – survive, it seems that folks are lining up in the same direction, finally. I think we’ve got all the oars in the water and everybody is rowing in the same direction.” We talked a bit about this some more, what it meant, and what it meant for the industry.

As an industry, we have some real challenges, and there’s much at stake. This was hit home to me by the OIA Thought Leaders Dinner, and the Conservation Alliance Breakfast. At dinner, they laid out the OIA’s four focus goals for 2011, with a special emphasis on the second one: The challenge to recreation and wildlands infrastructure due to the deep state deficits. At the Conservation Alliance Breakfast, Craig Childs gave us an hour-long poem about water. Mostly, it was about his love of water, but it also outlined threats: Pollution, development, drought, climate-change. Larry Pluimer’s “Channel Blending” was basically case-study after case-study of how technology has turned full industries – music, film, computer – on their respective heads, and how mobile technology has the potential to be far more disruptive than any technology we’ve yet seen. All of these speak to two of the four OIA targets, and touch on a third: Threats to state recreational resources due to rising deficits, technology changing consumer expectations at retail, and how these things relate to the sustainability of the outdoor specialty store business model.

There were also presentations – many – on the disruption of the supply chain. I wasn’t able to attend these, but the takeaway is that goods are going to be harder to get, and also more expensive. The raw material costs are rising, as are the labor costs, the costs of shipping goods, and there are trade-wars brewing. We as an industry need to be prepared to sell more expensive goods, perhaps by speaking truth: Quality goods are durable, allow you to have more fun, and are a better value over time than cheap ones.

We can also tell stories that engage our customers, and this is what we must do. Sara Lingafelter’s presentation “Understanding Influencers” gave some insight into who to target, and how. (Hint: It involves social media…) Larry Pluimer’s presentation about disruptions was not all gloom-and-doom. Mobile technology has the potential to disrupt, for sure, but it also allows engagement at deeper levels. There’s hope, in other words, and possibility.

And this is spoken to quite clearly in “The Dragonfly Effect.” From the article:

“Why the dragonfly? The dragonfly is the only insect able to propel itself in any direction when its four wings are working in concert. It symbolizes the importance of integrated effect…To us, the Dragonfly Effect shows how synchronized ideas can be used to create rapid transformations through social media.”

There are four main steps to creating this change: 1) Think Focused – concentrate on a singe out-come rather than “thinking big”; 2) Grab Attention – get noticed by your target audience; 3) Engage – get your target audience emotionally involved in your cause; and then 4) Take Action – spur your audience to actually act on behalf of your cause.

And when I read this last night, the image of Frank’s rowers in a long scull – all pulling in the same direction – morphed in my mind into a giant dragonfly. We have four goals in the Outdoor Industry, and we have four steps to creating the change we need. We have four powerful wings: Vendors, Retailers, Reps, and Media. If we all move in the same direction, it should be a piece of cake.

Well, maybe not “cake,” but we got this, right?

(Say “We do,” or I’ll tell Devaki…)

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