How to Roll at Outdoor Retailer

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 highlights the notable as well as the barely noticeable sleepers.


Within my first hour of entering the Salt Palace, I got myself back to neutral, picked up a latte, and had my boots shined at the OluKai booth. I then spent several breathtaking and chilled minutes wonder lusting through the refreshing lanes of a growing OR addition called Venture Out. My now favorite section of the show, Venture Out is a must see “show within a show” that hosts millennial-targeting, lifestyle brands. The atmosphere is one of welcoming and open dialogue of what “could be” with retailers who are challenged with keeping their stores relevant for younger consumers. This cross-pollination of fashion streetwear and technical apparel and accessories provides a context within which retailers can truly understand and retell a brand’s story.

This is what I consider the makings of great retailing: compelling, well-made, one-of-a-kind products that invite, not alienate the consumer with a likeable and believable story. Product is the ultimate storyteller especially if you’ve built a brand around one defendable item- like a one-piece base layer. Ninja Suits’ highly technical onesie is constructed from merino wool and a Tencel® and Lycra® blend (exclusively supplied by Airblaster-another VO exhibitor). Plus it has their trademarked 350-degree waist zip for easy bathroom access.

Merino wool remains a reputable constant in technical innovation. It’s a natural fiber continuously collaborating with other fibers. If there was an award for most used technical fiber, merino appears to take it again this winter.

The guys at krochet kids politely chuckled when I walked up and quipped, “Let me guess, you guys started crocheting scarves in your garage?” Yea, I’m funny but not really. Very politely, the founder replied, “Do you know the story of krochet kids?” Judging by my ignorant comment, I did not. I am, however a big fan of brand storytelling and I quickly found out that every product they make is hand signed by the person who made it and that their goal is to provide aid for education to impoverished communities and “change their circumstances forever.”

It’s a True Community of Givers.

Give Back Programs and an underlying altruistic philosophy is inherent to this industry. I’ve spent many professional years searching for a similar psychology in other industries but I can say with total conviction, the Outdoor Industry is a supportive and giving bunch of like-minded people. In addition to the show’s Give Back Programs, there are several exhibitors like krochet kids who have built their entire brand around giving back to underdeveloped communities, outdoor preservation, and youth programs. Now this is a crowd I want to continue to hang with professionally and personally.


Speaking of integrity, giving back, and community but on a much larger, more national scale, it was evident that domestic manufacturing and raw material supply has taken a prominent brand position for several new comers, comer backers, and never lefters. I noticed this when I made my way to the second best section of the show floor-The Ballroom. This is where I’ve seen little brands become big brands. Every year, I make it my personal challenge to walk the corners and walls of the Ballroom where the real “discoveries” happen. Along the way, I made encouraging comments like: “looking good” or, “what were you thinking here?”, and “you really need a backpack in your bag line” (I just can’t help myself!).

I saw American made cotton canvas bags, recycled compressed cardboard cutting boards, and wool apparel from red blooded, American sheep!

Domestic manufacturing is a part of the historical environmental values of the industry as brands make an effort to diminish their carbon footprint and do their part in employing Americans.

Maybe more self-restrained in their marketing (they do have a staid reputation), were the made in Canada guys – among them Joanna Griffiths, the principal and Chief Knixpert at Knixwear, who courageously asked myself and a few male buyers to touch and feel her line of innovatively packaged women’s athletic underwear. I’ve always said the best textile and sewing technologies come from Canada (Lululemon and Arc’teryx to name a few) and Knixwear was no exception.

Venture Out and the Ballroom are clearly my happy place at OR. Be on the lookout for my next installment of the Outdoor Retailer overview-where I jump on the quick-paced highway of the Main Floor.

Connect with Bridget on LinkedIn.