Outdoor Retailer, Salt Lake City. Photo by Brian Dorr

Outdoor Retailer, Salt Lake City. Photo by Brian Dorr

Like a kayaker in a rapid, the paddling industry is scrambling to stay on line in the tradeshow world with the recent announcement that Outdoor Retailer, starting in 2018, will be moving its Summer Market tradeshow nearly two months earlier to June 11-14 (Monday-Thursday) in Salt Lake City–smack dab in the middle of busy selling season for paddlesports retailers and manufacturers.

While the move is still a year and a half away (for 2017, OR will move its summer show dates to July 26-29), paddlesport manufacturers and retailers are being forced to deal with a different timeframe for the industry's biggest tradeshow. The new OR dates follows the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance show the week prior, which will move to Sandy, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City.

While the 2017 OR tradeshow is still expected to retain its traditional, large paddlesports presence in canoeing, kayaking, rafting and SUP, the jury is out on what the next year's move forward spells for paddlesports participation.

"It might be tough to attend," says Barry Smith, owner of Steamboat Springs, Colo.'s Mountain Sports Kayak School, who used to attend the show every year to suss out new boats to carry in his shop. "That's right during our prime instruction season."

Many other retailers and schools feel the same way. When the sun shines in early June, it's time to make hay — whether you’re selling boats or building them.

“We think our industry—both paddlesports manufacturers and retailers—is in agreement that the show is too early and therefore too disruptive to our business,” says Cheri McKenzie, chief marketing officer for multi-brand paddling powerhouse Confluence Watersports.

“Paddlesports is officially being kicked out of summer OR,” says Andrew Stern of Bending Branches. “The softgoods exhibitors have bigger booths, deeper pocketbooks, and more pull with the decision makers at Emerald Expositions and convinced them to move the show up. 2017 will be the last summer any paddlesports vendor exhibits at the OR show.”

Stern echoes Smith’s sentiment regarding retailers. “Most paddlesports-focused retailers won't attend either, unless they have a strong foothold in softgoods and footwear and can afford the uncompromisable, high costs of Outdoor Retailer and Salt Lake City,” he adds. “I was a part of the paddle advisory luncheon at OR Summer Market 2016 when they told us the news. The consensus from all exhibitors and retailers was that we would no longer come to OR. The latter half of the luncheon was on the transitional plan of where paddlesports goes instead of OR. That looks to be Surf Expo.”

Other manufacturers agree. “The June dates are problematic for us,” says AIRE sales director Chris Callanan. “We typically ship more orders in June than any other month, which means we need a full sales staff in-house to ensure orders are received, processed and out the door. Since the entire Aire sales team goes to the show our ability to take care of business will be problematic.”

Specialty retailers, he adds, will be hard-pressed to attend. “Our primary fishing show (AFFTA/IFTD) dates moved up a couple of years ago to mid-July and it really killed the specialty dealer attendance,” he adds. “I'm guessing June dates will have a big impact on the specialty paddlesports shops since they can't afford to miss those key summer dates. Those that do come will be there for just a few days so the last days of the show will be even less important.

“As a manufacturer, we will go anywhere and anytime that our dealers want us there, but I don't think June will be that time. Werner Paddles seems to thrive and they haven't had a booth at OR for a long time.”

Recognizing this potential fall-out, Outdoor Retailer is scrambling to offer an alternative. According to Sporting Goods Business, one change possibly includes Outdoor Retailer establishing a "Paddle Life Expo" show in September, as part of or replacing Surf Expo; the move would attempt to separate what had been a significant watersports presence at Outdoor Retailer.

“Surf Expo announced their mission to greatly expand canoe and kayak representation in late 2015,” says Confluence’s McKenzie. “We were ‘an early adopter’ of Surf Expo, exhibiting there this year, believing it could become a destination for eastern retailers that often don’t make the trip to Salt Lake. When OR announced it would be would be moving to June in 2018, it became imperative that paddlesports have a strong trade show option.

Since then, she adds, Surf Expo has created an advisory panel and is working hard to understand the needs of the paddling segment and what they can do to better position the show as 'a center of gravity' for paddlesports. “There are many advantages — September timing, affordable location with lots of hotel rooms, and their foundation in watersports culture — but there are challenges also: getting West Coast retailer attendance and building their East Coast attendance,” she says. “We think that 2017 will be a year of transition — Surf Expo needs to expand; paddlesports companies might 'right-size' the commitment to OR. For 2018, OR really left us no choice; we are hopeful that a strong show will emerge as the destination for our industry.”

For OR, the synergies to be gained from aligning with Grassroots just outweigh the disadvantages of losing paddlesports participation. Grassroots represents about 70 retailers with $250 million in annual sales through more than 100 points of sale. And it has long been working to enhance OR's appeal to independent specialty dealers.

Those in the wintersports market are in the same proverbial boat. Outdoor Retailer Winter Market will also move up to November 12-15, again following Grassroots' show the week prior.

"We are working toward a forward thinking solution that will be better for the outdoor industry as a whole," Darrell Denny, executive vice president for sports and e-commerce at Emerald Expositions, told SGB. "It's important to talk about the full solution that we have in mind and not come out with partial answers, which we think can lead to questions that we simply can't answer yet."

Larger retailers and vendors tend to cheer the show's expansion, saying it provides a much more comprehensive view of the market and unparalleled opportunities for collaboration and networking. But many smaller retailers say it's tough for them to leave their stores for four days in late July/early August,

In July 2015, Emerald and OIA announced they would keep Outdoor Retailer at the Salt Palace through at least 2018. The next Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is scheduled to take place next year. The next Grassroots Spring Summit is scheduled to take place June 12 -13, 2017, in Albuquerque.

Future Dates:
Outdoor Retailer Winter Market: January 10-12
All Mountain Demo: January 9
Outdoor Retailer Summer Market: July 26-29
Open Air Demo: July 25

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market: January 9-11
Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect: June 6-9
Specialty Retailer Education Day: June 10
Outdoor Retailer Summer Market: June 11-14
Outdoor Retailer Expo @ Surf Expo: September 6-8
Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect: November 7-10
Specialty Retailer Education Day: November 11
Outdoor Retailer Winter Market: November 1