The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market has come and gone; like a dream, it seems both real and unreal. This year, however, I came away with a deeper appreciation for people in the outdoor industry as opposed to just seeing it as a smorgasbord of fantastic gear.
Day 1: Flying in to SLC after having watched a digital screener of “Everest,” I was full of vim and vigor to be inspired to get outdoors by seeing everything at the show. After grabbing my badge, I headed to Red Iguana for killer Mexican food, to hang out with the Teton Sports folks (always great to see Shawn and Landon and their new compatriot, Kiersten) and meet a new buddy, David Sandel. After interacting with someone on the web, meeting that person is strange, like seeing an old friend for the very first time. Love it. Then it was down to business, with a short journey made long to my AirBnB (trust a local to get lost, haha), then on to the Media Preview, seeing Paulina of Little Grunts and meeting Mike of Mike Off the Map. Once again, the Preview was somewhat disappointing, proving to be overly static and filled with brand folks that didn’t seem to want to be there. Hey Outdoor Retailer, bring folks that are excited about working with media and have a plan, would be much more worthwhile. Fjällraven provided the entertainment for the evening, with a chilly patio party where we got to hangout with the folks from Mountain Standard, a cool new Colorado company I’m looking forward to seeing more of.
Day 2: After an inauspicious start (good breakfast, not very good speaker), meetings commenced (hoping to work with Adidas Outdoors, Liberty Mountain, and HiTec for sure). The highlight of this day was definitely the Mountain Hardwear lunch – after not getting to eat (sushi, can’t abide) and seeing some amazing new products, a big surprise: they handed out a StretchDown jacket to everyone who came. Whoa! Another fun chat was with Tom of Experticity, who seemed open to criticism and full of energy for new things to come.
Day 3: Slightly better breakfast speaker started things off on a happier note. After meeting with a variety of brands (finally connected with locals to me Grand Trunk), the excitement rose: Missouri Howell was in the house! So fun to meet yet another blogger who was, unexpectedly, not really larger than life, but still full of the big energy he his known for. Between him, Mike, Paulina, and an occasional other, the show became more about meeting up to hang out than a serious effort at working. It didn’t help that many of the meetings seemed perfunctory; running across a brand rep or PR person that was truly excited was the exception rather than the rule, unfortunately. Jeff gave us all a boost by introducing us to the legendary Andrew Skurka, who seemed a bit concerned with our shenanigans, but in our defense it was late in the day and a Happy Hour to boot.
The evening’s entertainment seemed a sure hit: Experticity brought back an apparent old favorite, the Whiskey Mixer. And it did turn out to be fun, with many more people entering the orbit of our little group, ebbing and flowing through the night as people peeled off for more drinks, food, or to bring yet another addition to the merriment.
Day 3: After our #hikerchat snowshoe outing (post forthcoming), it was back to the Salt Palace to see what we could see. As hoped, it was a lot less crowded, but my hoped-for spontaneous meetings never materialized – everyone, it seems, was feeling burnt out and not outgoing. Happily energetic was Kelsey of Tubbs and Atlas Snowshoes and I had a great time hanging out with her and hearing about her time there – she was rightfully disappointed in missing the snowshoe outing, but made up for it by being nice to her intern. The highlights remained hanging out, chatting and seeing the Show through others’ eyes. Just when the day was nearly over and I thought I couldn’t step foot in another booth, one of my best meetings of the Show happened at my last appointment, with Sugoi. For the first time, a rep seemed to listen to what I had to say, and tailored her presentation towards what interested me – kudos Nat!
By this time, we were all pretty tired and, after bouncing around from one Happy Hour to another, we headed out to eat. Despite efforts to seat a group of 22 (22!), we ended up a group of 7, out for amazing wood fired pizza and chatter. So good to meet Shawn’s wife Katie and brother from another mother Josh from Raw Trails – great group and I wouldn’t trade them for the best people in the world.
The postmortem: with each ORShow I’m feeling more and more sure myself as part of this fun tribe of scribes who are in it for the gear, yes, but more so for the chance to meet up with other kindred spirits. From one year ago where I knew nobody, to more interaction at Summer Market 2015, I now look forward more to meeting the new people and less the chase of the latest product. It was so exciting to meet all these new friends and I’m looking forward to seeing them again, sooner rather than later, hopefully, but definitely at the next Outdoor Retailer.