Outdoor Retailer/SIA: 2018 Reflections

I’d call the 2018 SIA/OR Show a success based upon energy, people in attendance, support of nonprofit organizations doing vital work, and lusty new product offerings by brands.

I’m just very unclear on how we should refer to the actual event itself. OIA was cranking out content promoting the show from their angle. SIA was doing the same. Whatever you call it, the merging of these two shows struck me as a win for retailers and brands. The biggest winner was SIA given its decline in the past couple years.

The combined approach reduces the time and money once dedicated to two events. This reality was a blessing. While this seemed a shared sentiment, it sounds like it was a one time victory. Rumor has it the shows will again splinter next year with a winter OR show in November and I’m not sure after that. It could be turbulent for a while as these two industry association trade shows work to remain relevant in our changing retail environment.

Some other observations that struck me include:

  • Partnerships between brands and nonprofits rule the day. Once upon a time it was enough for a brand to have a keg in the  booth for happy hour to attract crowds and attention. Brand by brand, we’ve seen a transition toward brands taking donations for partner nonprofits in exchange for commemorative cups and the bottomless cold beer inside. This seems like a no-brainer to me. Draw the crowd, benefit a nonprofit and provide the hard earned beer buzz to brand and nonprofit advocates alike.

  • Business as a force for good. On a larger scale, more brands are partnering with nonprofits in meaningful ways to effect policy change and promote the responsible use of mother earth. No larger example exists than the move of OR from Utah to Colorado over the public lands policies in the state of Utah. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, brands like Patagonia are throwing their weight around in ways that aim to accomplish far more than maximized returns for investors. As part  of this, I’m excited to see new digital tools evolving that more easily allow consumers to benefit from and support these partnerships. More to come on this soon. While there were not many B Corp logos on display, the ethos was alive and well at the show.

  • Backcountry continues to innovate and get smaller. The innovation in backcountry skiing and uphill friendly products continues to outpace anything seen in snowboard or resort offerings. Lighter, stronger, higher performing. I was pleased to see these products also catering to smaller and younger users. Smaller boot sizes, lower DIN settings on bindings and shorter skis that allow younger people to enjoy the backcountry.

  • Snowboarding on the decline. The numbers tell the story. Purchases of snowboard equipment was a third to a quarter of what people purchased for themselves or others over the holidays as compared to ski equipment. I am hopeful the snowboard market can start to grow again with more inclusive marketing and product innovation. Otherwise, they may go the way of the telemarker. Seeing these two markets shrivel up is not good for the snow sliding community, in general.

With the good and the bad, I am still as motivated as ever to support the brands, nonprofits and people that make up the outdoor gear, ski and snowboard community. This is my community and I will fiercely protect till the last flake of snow falls. I look forward to seeing all the smiling faces on the slopes and trails and continuing the important work of promoting initiatives to protect our lands and our winters.