Quarante: The 2012 OR Winter Market

Skiing in support of the Big City Mountaineers, aprés Outdoor Retailer.

This OR Winter Market was my fortieth Outdoor Industry tradeshow. I began going to the shows in the summer of 1991 (that year it was in Reno), and I’ve been at almost every one since. I missed one after having a serious bike wreck on the day before I was supposed to leave for the show.

So this was number “40,” for me, or “quarante” as they say in French. That’s a nice round number that makes me think.

So much has changed, so much has stayed the same. There are LOTS of new people, tens of thousands of them, in fact. Booths are bigger and brighter, and there are hundreds more of them. The show has changed locations at least five times in these last twenty-plus years. The Salt Palace has changed, too. It is bigger, taller, brighter, and takes quite a bit more time and effort to walk.

But this isn’t really what’s on my mind, today. At some point I’ll write a there/then versus here/now remembrance of how it was back in the day. I’ll tell big stories, name names, and likely retire shortly after (if I’m not chased out of town.) That’s not today.

Of course, the gear pays for these shows, and it’s why we come together: To look at all the great new stuff. And there was a lot of great new gear at this show. Some of the show wrap-ups already up on the web highlight some of the best new stuff.

Outside Magazine has already announced the “Gear of the Show,” and you’ll see a familiar face there. Check out Gear Junkie’s “Best In Show Awards: Latest, Greatest Gear for 2012!” and their preview piece, too: “Gear for 2012: Outdoor Retailer Trade Show.”  You’ll find another gear wrap-up from the Adventure Post. And another from Feed The Habit. For a bit of humor and personality, check out Things You’ll Never Hear at the Show, courtesy of Verde PR, which also sponsored daily video wrap-ups from their Elevation Outdoors site. There were also a number of OIA Outdoor University presentations, many of which were recorded.

We at PEMBA make our living by selling products and brands, and these products and brands sell within a certain context. I have often said that we in #OIBIZ live like big wave surfers. We read weather reports, scan for signs of new swells, and then try to position ourselves for the next big ride.

This is why – for me – these shows have become more about people and ideas. These people and ideas provide the context, and the stories, that become the waves that power our industry. My most valued insights come through the voices of my peers and colleagues, in the ideas they talk about and the stories they tell.

So, here in no particular order, is what I took away from the show:

Our Industry is POWERFUL, And We Need To Be

At the OIA Thought Leaders Dinner, Outdoor Industry Association President Frank Hugelmeyer absolutely knocked it out of the park with the best speech I have heard yet at an industry function, by anyone. His point? We in the Outdoor Industry are one of the nation’s largest industries. We are a $730 BILLION dollar industry, in fact.

For perspective, Frank says,”We’re larger than NFL, NBA, NHL, and professional baseball, three times over!” Another way of looking at it as that we are the equivalent of the budget for the Department of the Interior, tripled.

Yet, we haven’t measured our value correctly, and nobody else does, either. The reason?: The metrics are based on out-dated industry category definitions from 1985, when we didn’t even exist as an industry. Federal, state, and local policy decisions are made using these outdated definitions, and these decisions will impact our industry going forward. We’re facing – in Frank’s words – “draconian budget cuts” to our outdoor recreation infrastructure. This is a HUGE threat.

There are cuts both current and pending to parks at all levels of government. There are budgetary threats to the environment, wildlife, and recreation infrastructure on both public and private land. There have been cuts to education at all levels. There is less public green-space in cities, as land is sold for development. All of these cuts are seriously going to impact our industry going forward. Yet, we are not only one of the largest industries, but we are also one of the only industries that’s growing and has grown in the current economy.

Says Frank: “We are growing at 2 to 5% and are being told that there’s no money for us. We’re LOSING!”

Many communities are fighting to protect our industry, and we need to help them. The OIA has traditionally been focused on the federal level, but the state and local levels are where it’s happening. It’s a multi-front battle. The Outdoor Industry Association’s goal is to be in all 50 states. And we need to be.

This is a story that needs to be told. There’s too much at stake, and this is a battle that we can’t afford to lose. You’ll hear more about this – here and elsewhere – going forward, for a long time to come.

We Had A Roast

This Winter Market marked a major transition when Michael Hodgson and Therese Iknoian retired from SNEWS. There was a great roast in their honor, which  was also a fund-raiser for the Big City Mountaineers.

When it was my turn to speak, I edited down my presentation to half of what it was. Many knew Michael and Therese better than I did, and – frankly – many speakers went on and on about it. I cut my comments to a few short jokes. (That’s “short” as in “height,” not “time…”) But here’s part of what I left unsaid:

“There are many ways to measure stature that go beyond the height of a person. In a time when this industry has fewer creators, and more polishers and perfecters, Michael is one of the few people in this room of tens of thousands who have actually built something that we all depend on and use – if not every day – then likely every week. SNEWS has become the default Outdoor Industry media hub, where we gather to talk and learn about ourselves. And it’s an amazing legacy in and of itself.”

And this really is the state of the industry in a nutshell. We’re mature. It’s also time for some new ideas. We need innovation, in product, in media, in politics, and ways of doing business.

Michael, Therese, and others like them brought this to us, once. In many cases, companies that were founded by people like them are now in the hands of polishers and perfecters, executives who make existing companies more profitable. These people have different skill-sets than those who were founders, and – honestly – there are lots of people in the world who can polish or perfect something that has already been built.

As a percentage, we seem have fewer people in our industry who are good at building things from scratch. When many of my friends who are now of retirement age were my age, they were running companies that they had founded. It seems that most people my age who are in high positions now are running companies that have existed for many years, and that they didn’t launch.

We need more creators – more young ones in particular – and we need more pathways to draw them in and keep them here.

Fortunately, there’s hope…

Boys and girls

This was a big show for kids, both from a product side as well as from an awareness side. There was more clothing, gear, and pathways available kids than in many shows in recent memory.

The Big City Mountaineers had a big show. They were at the tip of everybody’s lips, it seemed. They had multiple fund-raisers (I attended two, the Hodgson/Iknoian Roast and the OIA/BCM Ski Day at Snowbird after the show.)

I also had many conversations with people who are engaged in raising the relevance of scouting, again. Or who are starting mentorship programs. Or who are involved in Outdoor Nation in some capacity. I had dinner with Becca Skinner, a young woman (and very old friend – I knew her parents before she was born) who last year won a National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant.

In short, there’s hope. But there’s more that we can do, for sure…

My Kid Won’t Buy From My Store

During a sales presentation, I heard a comment that stopped me: “My daughter would buy that! And she won’t buy hardly anything from my store!”

I was dumbfounded: “Your daughter won’t shop in your store?”

“Nah,” was the answer,”We’re not cool enough, or something.”

During the show, I asked others about this, and the answer was the same from many quarters: Our kids are either too cool for us, or we’re not doing enough to be cool for them. If our children are not our target customers, and we’re not landing them, we’re in even bigger trouble than we thought.

What to do? That’s an open question. It’s also one that needs some more exploration. We’ll do that here, over time, of course. But this is a general conversation that we need to be having.

All in all, it was a great show. Not a bad one, anyway, for number forty.

2 responses to “Quarante: The 2012 OR Winter Market

  1. Love reading your article and so interesting to hear about the changes, etc. to the OR show, venue and brands! I am a newer brand to the OR World, and have felt the OR love since my first show! (thank everyone- you know who you are!!)
    I have a line of eco-friendly, USA made bags- of course I have two boys (9 & 13) and while they usually do not carry my bags- they are a “hit” with all their (girl) friends!! For now, I am still “cool” and will enjoy it while it lasts!!

    Hope to meet you at your 41st show this summer–

    Aspen Colorado

  2. Thanks Merle!

    The main thing we need to do is to keep kids like yours firmly in our target, both as participants and consumers. I mean, if we’re not trying to appeal to the sixteen to thirty-year-old set, what the heck are we doing?

    Until the next show, and let’s try to meet there, for sure.