Outdoor Retailer. Let me take this opportunity to write an ode to OR.
When people ask us what this semi-annual trade show is all about, we have a hard time explaining it. Simply put, it is the opportunity for 1000+ outdoor gear exhibitors to showcase their newest products, some of which won’t even hit the market until the following summer. Everyone who works within the outdoor industry comes out–manufacturers, retail store buyers, PR reps, media, non profits …
Organized chaos is a better way to describe it.
The first time J & I attended OR was in the summer of 2013. We were on a nationwide speaking tour for Backpacker Magazine and our role at OR was to meet with the brands supporting the tour and just be there. We basically walked around aimlessly with smiles created equally from confusion and admiration.
At OR, there’s always a lot of tech talk, gear envy, schmoozing at daily happy hours and pure exhaustion. If you are an introvert, wear uncomfortable shoes and don’t drink water, you’ll likely drown in the sea of flannel.
I don’t remember much from our first show, but I do remember drooling and pinching ourselves a lot. How did we get to be so lucky to be among all these outdoor enthusiasts and geek out over all the gear?
We’ve gotten a much better handle on things since that first show and now we go with more of a purpose. Under Backpacker’s media tags, we are walking the floor to see what jumps out that potentially can be tested for the magazine. Now that Justin is the category manager for knives and multitools, he had meetings set up pretty much from beginning to end. We haven’t been able to master the strategy of scheduling appointments according to the floor plan, so we each walk a freakin lot. The showroom floor something like 50,000 square feet, so J & I estimate we inevitably walk at least 6-10 miles everyday.
Appointments or no appointments, because brands are either looking to snag orders from retailers or good press from media, our press tags get a lot of attention.
At OR, I feel a comforting happiness to be among so many like-minded people. And not just the shared camaraderie, but these are some of our personal idols and heroes. This time around, I got to chat with Jennifer Pharr Davis, while Justin got to shake hands with Conrad Anker.
I also thoroughly enjoyed getting to catch a few minutes of the presentations this year from all-stars like Conrad, Alex Honnold, Cedar Wright (all big climbers) and Bethany Hamilton (surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack). Our Backpacker friend, Heather, was on a women’s panel and it was lovely to see the spotlight on so many powerful females in the outdoor industry.
You just never know what you are going to get with OR. There are so many pleasant surprises. This year, I saw a small flyer announcing that Keenfest would include a performance by the “Head and the Heart” for just 3,000 people. If you didn’t know, this is a band who sells out venues with 10,000 people. We ended up with a front and center spot, all because of our OR pass!
This year’s show was the last time it will be hosted in Salt Lake City. Instead, the show will take place in Denver for the foreseeable future. OR’s been around for 30 years, and 22 of them have been in SLC. However, the outdoor industry decided to look for other options after Utah expressed a strong stand about how to treat public lands. OR brings in roughly $45 million/year to the city, and the industry just couldn’t see pouring that kind of money into a place that didn’t support their core values and playground. It was a bittersweet departure, but ultimately, the industry’s commitment to public lands weighed out its loyalty. Nearly 3,000 people (including us) marched to Utah’s state capitol building to show our support for public lands and to say a heartfelt goodbye to Salt Lake City.
As draining as OR is, we love it and am so grateful every chance we get to go.