How to Roll at Outdoor Retailer – Part 2

Guest Blogger: Bridget Walsh Hope, a 15-year Outdoor Retailer-going merchandising vet shares her show notes and how she maximized her time and experience at this year’s Winter Outdoor Retailer Show.

This is a 3-part report with each installment sure to keep your attention at eternally long stop lights, Trader Joe checkout lines, and the uncomfortable moments you wait alone for your next lunch meeting.

The “scene” and heard on the Main Floor.

Exiting the warm and fuzzy serenity of the Ballroom and entering the Main Floor is a bit like leaving your Vegas hotel room and entering the lobby or how a mid-westerner might feel merging on to LA’s 405 freeway. You need to anticipate on-coming traffic, find an opening, and move quickly. It’s all business here until 4:00 then grab your reusable cup-it’s all beer.

While I graciously asked to enter oversized and crowded booths, most of the big exhibitors were doing their thing like getting bigger, leading in innovation,  and interacting with powerful buyers.  These folks have seen some rough years duking it out for market and mind share.

With a pad and pen in my hand, former colleagues and chatty booth dwellers opened up. When asked, most people said business was really good and or provided the colloquial response: “We’re crushing it.” Granted this is a trade show and for the most part we’re all trained to be extra optimistic. The word was REI is up 13% over last year- a great benchmark for the overall state of the outdoor and sport performance business.

Several brands cited being up double digits and mentioned they were beefing up digital sales strategies and hiring on-line channel sales managers and merchandising people. REI has always been the biggest fish in the outdoor pond but direct sales and Amazon are definitely diversifying the channels of distribution and a reason for new growth.

I also caught wind of key executive leadership positions opening up for brands expecting growth as the economy rebounds. Two years ago, we were all talking about global expansions but as China levels out, the focus is back on US business development.

The refined look of performance.

Minimizing environmental impact continues to be a primary concern for this industry.  Nau, a Portland-based group of cuss-word slinging, anti-industry-but-we’re-here product people are proving that performance can be subtle and sustainable. Their clean, urban, and understated technical aesthetic is much different than the traditional outerwear and winter gear seen on the floor. I was impressed and inquisitive about their efforts to keep all of their materials sustainable including their recycled goose down. They have a steady supply chain of down coming from recycled bedding.

The perfect accessory to Nau’s impeccable look is Timbuk2. Once known as a dirty bike-messenger toting brand, they’re look is evolving. At the helm of TB2, is former Gap executive, Patti Cazzato. Another cross-pollination example, Patti is poised to lead the San Francisco team into new categories and I for one am hoping to see an apparel line soon.

OR is typically full of the latest innovations in keeping warmer, dryer, and safe from avalanches. This year, it seemed as if the tides were turning toward understated technical and more versatile, every day city-life styling. I never thought I would see the day a tie would be an accessory at OR!

Even Prana seemed to be making an effort on the urban front. A tailored wool sport coat was featured in the front of their booth.

An entire world of textiles has been unearthed with ripstop finally taking a breather and traditional menswear weaves making an appearance in the form of water repellent and abrasion resistant nylons as seen in this Outdoor Research duffel collection.

Although, this approach appeared to be a trend, technically advanced, innovative sport performance will always be an integral driver in this industry. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of the Outdoor Retailer overview.

Connect with Bridget on LinkedIn.