Outdoor industry on the upswing
Last Updated: 11:01 August 16, 2013
While most of the complex booth resides in storage units in Utah, the 17 people who set it up and staff it through the show don't. Some staffers travel from Boulder to the show just to help with the four-day setup process that adds a second-story balcony complete with lights underneath, a counter, display space and more. The rest – about 14 in total, or about half of the company's workforce – stay through the show and field "pretty much back-to-back appointments" for the four days of the show.
"We probably wouldn't have the success we have if it weren't for this show," said Shelley Dunbar, the company's co-owner and marketing director, who estimated that this year's summer market probably was the company's 32nd show.
The company's success is considerable. According to Dunbar, Sea to Summit never has had anything but double-digit growth since its 1990 founding by a climber who that year swam in the Indian Ocean before trekking from there on foot to the top of Mount Everest. Although she declined to provide exact numbers, she said the company growth is still "solidly in double-digit territory."
The company uses Outdoor Retailer as a chance to showcase new products in a way it hopes will be enticing enough for the company's 800 retailers to order during the show.
"We hope it gives the retailer a spark of imagination: 'Wow, that would look really great on my wall'," Dunbar said.
Those retailers seem to be picking up steam as the economy rebounds, she said.
"I do feel there is much more confidence and optimism," Dunbar said. "All the meetings we've had are saying this spring has been amazing. For our industry, the economy has well and truly recovered."
"This business is obviously impacted by the economy," said Scott Guenther, director of North American operations at Boulder-based MontBell America Inc.
Lately, that has been a good thing. Guenther referred to this year's cold, wet spring as an extended winter, something that can help his business boom.
"Bad weather sells product," he said.
That success has continued rolling into the summer. Last month was the best-ever July for the company, tracking 30 percent ahead of 2012. Overall, he said, the company has been posting roughly 10 percent to 15 percent growth.
"It's kind of a moving target," Guenther said.
Another moving target is the amount of retail stores. The fluctuating number remains at about 200, he said, adding that it would be more if MontBell didn't also function as a direct-to-consumer brand.
"We do want to grow that brick-and-mortar support," he said.
That strategy includes supporting its own suggested retail price and avoiding aggressive marketing that would hurt small retailers. However, the company does maintain its own flagship store in Boulder. Guenther also revealed that MontBell is about to open a second store in Portland, Oregon, where the company already lists four dealers in the area.
For MontBell, Outdoor Retailer offers a chance to meet with people that they've only talked to on the phone while "planting seeds" that could germinate quickly or far down the line. Guenther mentioned a man who had been meeting with MontBell during the show to explore the possibility of becoming a Canadian distributor, something he said would be "a huge move" for the company.
Other companies have novel gear as the base of their company. Louisville-based Gibbon Slacklines USA has ridden a trending sport to fuel growth.
"We're growing 200 percent year-over-year consistently," said Emilio Torres, vice president for sales and marketing. In 2009, the company was shipping 500 slacklines a month. Now, Torres said the company is in another stratosphere sending out between 30,000 and 50,000 slacklines per month to about 3,000 retailers.
Even that hefty number should increase since the company contracted with Dick's Sporting Goods during the trade show, a move that will add 500 to 600 stores to the mix.
Still others have diversified product lineups to increase market presence. Louisville-based Trango has introduced a variety of "technical outdoors products" such as rope, belay devices and climbing shoes that has helped it grow about 70 percent in the past two years, according to Cassie Strid, sales and marketing coordinator.
"I think we're growing along with the retailers," Strid said. She added that the Outdoor Retailer show was the busiest she's seen it since she started with the company.
"The traffic is so much heavier and there's a lot more people here," she said. "Honestly, I think it's that the outdoor industry is really growing."
Mark Wilcox is the eDaily editor for Wyoming Business Report, BCBR's sister publication.
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