Part 1: The New Trade Show Landscape

"Always" and "never" are two overused words. We always do this, we never do that -- these terms are limiting and, if used by a company during the past two years of Covid, could potentially be as deadly to their business as the disease has been to people.

In an ideal world, we would have started to publish this three-part series right after the Big Gear Show. But there was much to digest about the change in the trade show landscape, and we wanted to absorb it a bit longer. It seemed important to pass along our views on this new situation, and since it really isn’t time-sensitive, we wanted to get our thoughts together.

Leading up to the trade show season, there was an air of normalcy. As soon as the summer Outdoor Retailer show was announced, we registered for it -- with excitement. As the list of the Denver show attendees was published, we started getting requests for appointments as usual -- but it was a bit unusual, in that many of the names on the vendor list were not the typical players, a few names were even unfamiliar. We thought, Well, we have always attended the Outdoor Retailer show, dating back to when it was in Salt Lake City, so we need to attend. But wait, what is this email from the Big Gear Show? What is the Big Gear Show?

The Big Gear Show was an idea in the making a few years ago. Lance Camisasca and Sutton Bacon, along with a few others, had a desire and a plan to take back the trade show experience, to put on a show that resembled what it used to be. It sounds like a cliche, but they wanted to do it “for the industry, by the industry.” They were canceled in 2020, of course, but with everyone ready to get on with life in 2021, it was the year to test their idea to see if it could be not only viable, but successful. Would attendees buck the trend of “We always did Outdoor Retailer"? By holding this event in an open-air environment and limiting the number of vendors, retailers, and media, the organizers of the Big Gear Show created a sense of urgency to book spots as well as a sense of safety during these crazy times. Nearly 200 brands took the leap of faith, with almost 500 retailers and media attending, making it clear that open air and open minds could make this happen outside the usual Outdoor Retailer environment.

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When we started exploring the possibility of attending the Big Gear Show, the list of brands immediately piqued our interest. They were the brands we are familiar with, many of which we have worked with: brands like Giro, Yakima, and Sidas, which are clearly in the SkiTalk demographics for the winter and summer markets. There were bike brands like Diamondback and Pinarello as well as several bike accessory vendors for our expanding cycling readership. We thought this show just made sense for us to attend and even made us think twice about attending the Outdoor Retailer show. (More on that in Part 2.)

The decision to attend the Big Gear Show kept looking more appealing the more we looked into it. Even the room reservation was just over $100 a night at the (very nice ) Peaks Hotel; the rooms offered by Outdoor Retailer in Denver were nearly twice the price. We looked at the costs to get to Park City with one day of road travel rather than the two days it takes to get to Denver. (This doesn’t even account for having to detour around the mudslide closure in Glenwood Springs.) We understand that is not the case for everyone, but more and more things started making sense for SkiTalk to attend the Big Gear Show instead of Outdoor Retailer.

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Part 2: The Big Gear Show

It was refreshing to attend an outdoor industry show that was actually outdoors. Having it located at the base of a ski resort with a mountain bike park and open water made it incredibly convenient to try out bikes and water sports products. It was immediately clear that this show was organized by people who are passionate about the great outdoors.

We arrived at the Big Gear Show with a few goals in mind. One was to report on this new production. We also wanted to find out about upcoming product, share with our readers, meet with current and possibly new advertising partners, and take the temperature of those in attendance and feel out their thoughts about attending the show; since this is an industry report, we will focus on the latter.

As this was one of the first trade shows we had attended in over a year and a half, we had the obvious questions about how they would address Covid transmission concerns. Holding the event outdoors helped alleviate a majority of concern for some but obviously not all, so Lance used an idea from elsewhere to use green/yellow/red lanyards to show comfort levels. Green meant “Hey I haven’t seen you in two years, gimme a a big hug.” Yellow meant, "I'm up for a handshake or fist bump." Red said, “I am still not comfortable or might have underlying conditions -- 6 ft please.” These lanyards were easily visible and helped everyone respect everyone’s risk tolerance.

The elephant in the room was quickly brought front and center with the questions, “Why are you at the Big Gear Show and not Outdoor Retailer?” and “Are you going to Outdoor Retailer as well?” We asked these questions literally dozens of times, and the answers were pretty evenly split between safety and cost. When talking to retailers in attendance, being outdoors was a huge reason, as was the A-list quality of the brands represented.

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On the vendors' side, a handful confirmed that they were going to both shows, but most planned to participate only at the Big Gear Show. Many of them shared their concern with the safety of their staff at an indoor event like Outdoor Retailer, some of whom still have their staff working from home. Another reason for not attending Outdoor Retailer was cost, stating that setup for Park City event was less than 25% of their typical expense at Outdoor Retailer. The expense has less to do with actual cost of floor space and more to do with the additional Denver Convention Center expenses. One vendor asked, “Did you see one union worker here during setup?”

While we were at the Big Gear Show, we had a chance to sit down with organizers Lance and Sutton along with a representative from VerdePR, their show’s public relations outlet, to discuss what it took to create this upstart of a show and what they needed for it to succeed. We asked what their realistic and optimistic goal numbers were and whether they achieved them. The optimistic goal for brands in attendance was 200 to 250 and a limit of 500 retailer attendees and media. They were pleased that they achieved these goals, with just over 200 vendors and almost 500 attendees and media. When talking to the vendors, they expressed a positive feeling about the attendance from the retailers, stating that they hoped to see more, but the quality of the retailers was very good, there were very few tire kickers. We contribute the latter to two things: vetting attendees and stressing health safety.

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We did happen to run into Aaron Baker, vice president at Keen, who had made some waves by pulling out of Outdoor Retailer just days prior. He told us, “If I am not going to have my workers in our offices, I am not going to make them attend an indoor show and possibly put them at risk,” showing that his last-minute decision to pull out of the Denver show was very much health-related.

The Big Gear Show’s team did a very good job vetting who attended the show both on the vendor side and the retailer/attendee/media side, because they were limited to fewer than 1,000 (total) due to Covid restrictions. There were no textile or zipper companies, this was not that type of show. There were no beef jerky distributors, again, not that type of show, no fly-by-night companies bringing containers of paddleboards (as if anyone can even get a container these days). What was refreshing for us was that there were no friends of the owner (FOTO), consumers there because they “knew someone.” There were no kids running around, all too often getting in the way of doing business (sorry, parents but we are here to work). All in all for a first-year show, there were very minimal snafus, and those were addressed and regarded as a learning experience for the next show.

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Part 3: Outdoor Retailer and Final Thoughts

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Early on, we had plans to attend Outdoor Retailer in Denver, then we decided not to, because we got the sense that we had done most of our summer business at the Big Gear Show in Park City. On the drive back to Reno, we decided it was best that we attend Outdoor Retailer after all, so we started to go back into our emails and schedule meetings. I then booked plane tickets and lined up lodging (otherwise known as calling people to see who had an extra bed). I will unequivocally say we are glad that we decided to attend. Before I get into why, let’s talk about the show.



Outdoor Retailer 2021 was not what it has been. Quite frankly, it was a fraction of what it had been in previous years -- but like the Big Gear Show, attendance may have been down for both vendors and retailers, but those who were there were there to do business. While the show was, again, not at its peak, many of the pictures posted on social media showing empty aisles were exaggerated. Even in conversations with the vendors, many plan on returning (at this point, anyway).

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In the process of people watching, it was obvious that business was getting done and relationships were being made, not only in the booths but also in the aisles and over drinks in surrounding restaurants. The latter two opportunities would not be the case if it wasn’t for the show happening. Will the Outdoor Retailer show continue? I believe it will, but like many things, not the way it was pre-Covid. I do think the powers that be at Emerald Entertainment will need to make some adjustments ($40 for a lost badge, seriously?) and realize that trade shows will be different and they will need to make adjustments or risk of making them unaffordable for those attending — especially when there are other viable options in both physical shows like the Big Gear Show and virtual shows done via technology platforms like Zoom and Google meetings.

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Since we attended these two shows, we have been contacted by numerous people in the industry, many who are on our mailing list and will be receiving these emails. I believe our response has been consistent: these shows are important, and trade shows will not, must not, go away. The question is, Can both the Big Gear Show and Outdoor Retailer coexist? Well, I have to answer that with the college football saying "When you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” By dividing the industry, I cannot see it working. Could the Big Gear Show be the summer event and Outdoor Retailer merge the summer into the winter show and even change the time frame from the end of January? That is one option I have heard mentioned more than once. Only time will tell.