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The Laid-Back Outdoor Retailer Show

It’s All Good: The Outdoor Retailer show sets a laidback mood.

By Wina Sturgeon
Posted // February 2,2011 - It was the end of the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show as we know it—again. But this time, the change was radical. You’ll be seeing those changes, and purchasing and using them soon.

Background: About every five years, the OR show undergoes an evolution that strongly predicts coming trends in the outdoor industry. It can be something as innocuous as the OR attendees of a decade ago ceasing to wear sports coats and ties, showing a more casual, less expedition-oriented attitude toward outdoor gear. It can be a major attitude change, like the explosion of vendors offering stainless-steel water bottles that marked the growing impact of environmental concern, ending the dominance of bottled water’s disposable plastic containers.

But this year’s trend marked a radical sea change. The outdoor industry has finally realized who their customers actually are: people who are young or who have youthful energy, people who wear loose pants and prefer bright colors, people who like risk and find it in a local terrain park rather than climbing Mount Everest, people who take being outdoors for granted, as where you hang out and have fun without trying to outdo someone else.

The Outdoor show has previously been where millions of dollars changed hands as manufacturers offered their new products and retailers ordered their stock for the following year. Business was done quietly and very seriously. There was little of the laidback “we’re all friends” attitude that is a hallmark of those customers who actually buy the gear to go bouldering or snowriding or be active in some outdoor community.

But that attitude made a big appearance at this year’s show. Bill Cotton of Optic Nerve sunglasses summed it up by saying, “It’s a whole new energy (at this year’s OR Show).” Another vendor said he wasn’t interested in making sales and was more interested in just saying “hi” to his retail customers.

The big change was exemplified by Skullcandy, which made its first appearance at the OR show this year. Instead of reps waiting eagerly for buyers, the Park City company had a DJ spinning beats between two turntables, while laughing girls with Taylor Swift hair danced in front of the booth. Inside the booth’s fabric walls, stocks of Skullcandy’s newest headsets, backpacks and hats were displayed. It was totally casual. If a retailer wanted to buy, great. If they wanted to sit at one of the tables and just talk—about anything—that was great too.

For the first time, there were performers throughout the convention floor, from a band raging on “Raise Your Glass” to the Yogaslackers (YogaSlackers.com). The Yogaslackers balanced with one “slacker” on the floor with a raised arm, while another stood upright on his hand, balanced on one foot. In a strange way, their card also sums up the OR attitude change. It reads, ”A collective exploration into shifting energy and awareness.”

How will this affect what the active outdoors fan will wear and use next? First, think color, especially prints; not just on clothing, but on backpacks, hats and gear. Next, expect a more fun-filled attitude toward the outdoors, more terrain-park goofing, less competition. Also, expect a wider selection of styles. Loose and baggy clothing will have the same cachet as form-fitting stuff that uses the latest technology of thin insulation. It won’t be a matter of what’s specifically cool, it will be a matter of whatever look the buyer prefers.

Along with it will be an infusion of the technology of sound—speakers and earbuds in jacket collars, in hats, vests, backpacks, all with a plug-in for your player; controls in sleeves or backpack straps; solar chargers for your iPod. Plus, everything outdoors so will be much more casual—adventure without stress. It’s a revolution in the outdoor industry. And, as Skullcandy’s Trevor Rametta says, “Every revolution needs a soundtrack.” 

 
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