Outdoor Retailer: Reflections from a first timer

Twice a year a seemingly endless number of outdoor companies make a pilgrimage to Salt Lake City to partake in the four day extravaganza that is called Outdoor Retailer (OR). If you have not heard of OR, picture a massive party that all outdoor companies are invited to. Stepping into the Salt Palace (the convention center where OR is located) is incredibly awesome, overwhelming, and almost inconceivable in scale and magnitude.

If you love outdoor gear, OR is the fix for literally any addicted gear junkie. With thousands of vendors peddling anything from a featherweight puffy to a ukulele, Its difficult to resist stopping at every booth, schmoozing every sale representatives, and attempting to do anything and everything to ensure you walk away with enough gear to hold you over till the next Outdoor Retailer! Does this happen though? Most likely not, because:

1. You don't have time to stop at each booth (that would be incredibly exhausting).
2. Vendors are not likely to hand out samples until the final day (and many not at all or not for free)
3. You certainly don’t have enough room in your carry on!

After a quick wander into the main floor room (and a even quicker realization of the impossibility of fulfilling ones personal desire for free gear), we were forced to make a strategic plan for how to navigate the incredibly vast OR landscape. We doubled back for a map and start determining the most prudent route towards your targeted booths. However, this is no ordinary map. This map is about the size of a 4th grader with font that will give you a migraine from squinting. Once we located the people and companies we wanted to visit, we set off into a sea of similarly focused, determined, and Chaco wearing individuals. 

As we passed the exhibits, the diversity of scale and magnitude became incredibly obvious. The Mountain Hardware “booth” had a 20 ft by 60 ft area that contained all there gear and apparel for the upcoming season, and the space featured a 3 story structure with sales reps on each level. It was incredibly evident that the “big box” stores truly roll up in force with the intent of asserting their dominance on the industry. However, as we left the main floor, we quickly realized that while the big dogs of the industry were certainly eye catching, the majority of booths were small, personal, and most likely manned by one of the owners themselves. We spent the majority of our time chatting with smaller companies (since that’s who we work with), and had the good fortune of meeting some really incredible people.

As I lay across my sofa bed after the first night of OR, I wondered why my most memorable interactions were all with individuals from smaller companies. After a little bit of reflection, I realized it wasn't because of the gear they made, the prices they set, or the LED screens they had, but instead that these interactions were memorable because of the passion and enthusiasm these individuals put behind their work. The people who had the smallest booths had some of the biggest drive. The people we talked to were the ones that made the product, tested it restlessly, and put their heart and soul into their company. They were not at OR by a sense of obligation to the industry, they were at OR to help turn their dreams into fruition. Pretty neat to see.

Overall, OR was an incredible experience. Nothing like a 9-4:30 day that immediately ends in free beer. 

Written by Alex Perronne: Alex hails from Cleveland Wisconsin and enjoys nothing more than going paddling or climbing! Alex's favorite place on earth is the Wolf River, and he can currently be found at the University of Lacrosse eating his fair share of burritos.