Tactical Tailor

Hypocrisy In The Outdoor Industry

A few weeks ago in the newsletter I wrote about how disappointing the recent Outdoor Retailer series of tradeshows have become. While COVID-19 is certainly a contributing factor, the decline started just as the show moved from its long-term home at Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace to Denver’s Convention Center.

Bottom Line Up Front…Denver sucks. It’s expensive and dirty and the facility isn’t well suited to the show. Worse yet, the airport is an hour outside of town. Sure, there’s a cute giant blue bear out front, seeming to look inside the convention center, but that’s as good as it gets.

Emerald Expositions which hosts the twice-a-year shows, hears the complaints. It has sent out surveys asking where industry would like to see the show held. Salt Lake City was on the list and most of the people I have spoken with on the issue would love to see it move back. Utah is a Mecca for those who love the outdoors. There are plenty of places to stay, getting around town is convenient, and there’s lots of good food and activities nearby. The show was so successful and continued to grow while still in SLC that it ended up putting tents outdoors during summer markets to showcase additional companies.

While it is certainly convenient for the many outdoor companies located in the Denver area, few of them seem to exhibit at the show. Instead, they just send representatives down to walk the floor. When the show was in SLC, Utah companies exhibited in abundance.

A group calling itself the Conservation Alliance has informed Emerald Expositions that it’s members won’t support or attend a trade show event in Utah due to disagreements with leadership in the state’s government. You can read the letter here.

Here are the members of the group which signed the notice:

• Alpacka Raft
• Arc’teryx
• Backpacker’s Pantry
• Backbone Media
• Bergreen Photography
• Grayl, Inc.
• GU Energy Labs
• Helinox USA, Inc.
• Icebreaker
• Keen Footwear
• Kelty
• Kitella
• La Sportiva N.A., Inc.
• Lifestraw
• Miir
• Nemo Equipment
• Nomadix
• Oboz Footwear, LLC
• Patagonia, Inc
• Peak Design
• Public Lands
• REI Co-op
• Scarpa
• Sierra Designs
• Smartwool
• Swen Products, Inc.
• The North Face
• Therm-A-Rest
• Timberland
• Toad & Co
• Tread Labs
• TripOutside
• Verde Brand Communications

Outdoor Retailer pulled up stakes and moved from SLC to Denver in 2017 at the insistence of many of these same companies over a controversy surrounding Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments. It caused a schism in the outdoor industry that apparently still hasn’t healed.

I want to say that the members of the Conservation Alliance are very passionate about their core values and I believe much of what has driven their current action is that devotion. However, I don’t think they’ve thought this through. The optics of their actions to outsoders have been lost on them.

If you want to act like a stakeholder, you’ve got be one. Hypocritically, many on the list have not exhibited at the show for several years or at all since it moved to Denver. These companies want to dictate to the outdoor industry where it can hold its trade shows but they don’t want to participate.

Worse yet, they’d apparently rather see the industry suffer if it won’t do business they way they see fit. In spite of COVID and inflation, the large companies on this list seem to be doing quite well, but the OR shows are one of the only ways many smaller companies can get noticed. If OR goes away, and that might just happen, many small businesses will be without a platform to access the brick and mortar shops and online retailers which sell their goods to consumers.

They encouraged OR to leave Utah and then abandoned it. To be a leader, you’ve got lead. If OR doesn’t move to SLC, then every one of the companies who signed on to that letter should be at the next show in solidarity with their industry. Otherwise, their words ring hollow and it comes across as bullying.

Some readers will find this situation tragic, others amusing. By sharing this situation, I’m not calling on anyone except these companies to take any action. I’m just informing you about self-induced drama. In an effort to do what they see as good, some companies become so fixated they are losing sight of the bigger picture. Politics be damned, many in the outdoor industry understand they are in business and are ready to do it.