How to Roll at Outdoor Retailer – Part 3

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.


Ah yes, it’s show season. For those of you who missed it or for those of you who joined me walking the aisles of OR at the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City, the following final installment in my three part series highlights the notable as well as the barely noticeable sleepers.


As I headed over to the North West (or was it South East?) part of the Main Floor, the buzz got louder and the transition to athletic performance was evident. The marquee booth in this area is the North Face. Heaving with happy buyers and knowledgeable product people, TNF was a sea of bright-faced people earnestly listening to technical stories and standing around mannequins dressed in running gear and avalanche safety packs. While brands like Prana and Nau dress up the every day clothing categories, the athletic brands continue to offer beautifully made and technically advanced performance products.

SmartWool, one of the first to really commercialize the benefits of wool, extend beyond their high-quality socks. Call me a product freak but I couldn’t take my eyes off of their women’s knit sweater/filled zip-up jacket.

I was also more than happy to see a new approach to color blocking. Let’s just say, I didn’t miss the hyper fluorescents that have over stayed their welcome in sporting goods. I was definitely appreciating the mature tonal color and print and texture combinations.

Speaking of prints, it’s exciting to see what photo-real digital printing can do for a garment. I would actually call Merrell’s down and faux fur collar jacket Outdoor Luxury; a term I never thought would apply to this market. This was, by far, my favorite item of the show. The mint color was fresh (who says fall colors have to be dark?), the print wearable, and the faux fur was almost as surprising as the tie I saw earlier in the day.

Train hard. Run hard. Play hard.

I’m an avid runner so cruising the area for innovations in footwear is particularly fun for me especially when I entered the high-energy force field at the Brooks booth. It’s apparent that Brooks has put every effort into their running apparel line yet have kept their eye on updating and improving key franchises like the Ghost and the Glycerin.

Less than five years ago, Vibram FiveFingers was all the buzz, Brooks launched their Pure series, and New Balance compelled the world to swap out their over-structured and highly padded running footwear for their zero drop, minimalist, natural feel models. Technical advancements have uncovered a new approach for those who would prefer to float on the road rather than feel every pebble. Hoka One One shoved the pendulum in the opposite direction and is influencing a new philosophy and subsequent category of performance running shoes.

Under Armour’s Fat Tire GTX took me a bit by surprise. Inspired by mountain bike tires and developed in collaboration with Michelin, the Fat Tire has a waterproof Gortex outsole and innovative closure and lacing system.

Call me old school (I happily and naturally run in Brooks’ PureConnects); I still prefer the featherweights of the minimal shoe than wearing Herman Munster shoes. Who knows? I may convert someday.

Because I want everyone to enjoy OR like I did, I’m including my advice on how to really enjoy and maximize this tradeshow. These are a tough couple of days of hard work and intense interaction. You might as well enjoy the ride!

1. Footwear and personal accessory selection.

The # 1 criterion for footwear selection is always comfort. If I were a Fitbit wearer (and I’m not), I probably walked 800,000 million trillion steps in two days. A very close #2 is credibility. After all this IS a trade show and YOU are a TRADE professional so impress your colleagues and get a hold of the most recent footwear release from one of the myriad running brands and or better yet a trending brand like OluKai and you will have instant show cred. Sales reps, men who wear size 9, and women who wear size 7 are at an advantage in this effort. I thought one of the more interesting perks of the show was the comfy chair and shoeshine at OlukKai’s booth in Venture Out.

2. One word: Hydrate.

There are several elements working against you when it comes to staying hydrated. They include winter, altitude, heating systems, what you drank the night before, and talking incessantly. It is DRY in SLC (I know this because I woke up at 2 am and felt like an Egyptian mummy). I had only been in Salt Lake City for an hour when I was daydreaming about how I should have brought my hydration pack. The thought quickly vanished when a goofy image of myself walking the aisles with a hose in my mouth appeared. And then it happened. It was like an oasis. It was free, it was filtered, and it wasn’t in a plastic bottle. God bless you CamelBak for selling me a $10 water bottle (The Chute) and providing me a virtual fresh water reservoir on the side of my trail! One hundred percent of my ten bucks went to the Conservation Alliance.

3. Power. It’s not just for the executives.

Your phone is essential so make sure it works. Bring a portable battery. At the very least, DO NOT forget your power cord. The altitude and the thousands of wireless users will drain your battery so quickly; you won’t have time to say, “What time Thursday works for you?” Not to mention you will need access to a few must have apps including Urban Spoon, Uber, Instagram (how else are you going to promote your brand and what’s a trade show without a selfie of you and one of your Twice- A-Year Besties?), and Google Maps because if you’re like me, you have zero sense of direction in downtown SLC.

It goes without saying; you will need back-pocket access to texting. It’s the best way to pin down an MIA account meeting or to shoot a quick “Where u at?” [Sic] message to said show bestie. Do not, under any circumstance, forget a mobile POWER source. If you are caught empty power handed, head to Goal Zero, a brand evangelizing their mission to empower the world. Goal Zero’s booth was electric as they had all the solutions to being independent of a cord and an outlet.

4. The OIA likes beer and bacon as much as I do.

I need to give a quick “haaay” to the Outdoor Industry Association. I would like to recognize them for organizing one of the best trade shows in North America. They threw a great

industry party complete with food, beer, a mechanical bull, and a slack line athletic goddess. I strongly encourage all OR attendees to make it to the Industry Party.
The OIA also provided lift ticket discounts, an industry breakfast with a prominent speaker, and multiple discussion panels featuring relevant topics. Great job OIA!

5. Product is always KING!

The award for Best New Product goes to these guys. Sorry, I can’t remember the brand-I was too busy looking at this beer-packed bandoleer! It’s brands like this and the people who truly love the products they sell that make this show so darn fun.

OR reminds us that community can be found off line too. Don’t miss the next one in August! I hope I see you there!

Connect with Bridget on LinkedIn.