It is the Mecca of all things outdoors. The amount of coffee consumed before noon could likely fill the Salt Lake itself. From the outside it has a mysterious and almost mythic quality to it, as here products months or even years away from hitting the shelves are presented. Snugly nestled in midst of the Utah Rocky Mountains, Outdoor Retailer is a biannual hybrid between business and fun for minds from all corners of the world to meet.
My second year at Outdoor Retailer, I found the whole event to have a similar feel to that of returning to Summer camp. Some brands you see each year, and have a long standing business relationship or familiarity. Others are new, and you probe in all manners in order to uncover their true intent and nature. This dynamic between the old and new blood makes for an interesting mix as you see products that play to what has been proven and safe, and others that hang a little more out on the edge, style, and practicality wise. Booths can be as rudimentary as a table with some stickers, or as elaborate as snow machines, live product demos, and even virtual reality interfaces that certainly turns some heads. Brands like Patagonia and North Face have the largest displays as expected, but the little guys are still able to make a splash in their own way.
This year Fayettechill sent close to the full team as we not only were presenting our FW17 line to potential buyers, but also had our production team scouting for new fabrics and styles. The marketing team networked with like minded brands, and from this came engagement ideas and initiatives that will span the rest of the year.
Most attendees have meetings that soak up the bulk of their day, hopping from one end of the massive convention center to another. Comfortable shoes cannot be understated in importance for this. I foolishly forgot my own rule day one, and paid dearly for it with throbbing feet after only a few hours of purposeful wandering. Suppliers, buyers, and everything in between scramble to make the most of their time beneath the same roof, and from just three days together countless collaborations begin. Our joint Fayettechill x Kammok hammock is a direct result of meetings like this, and there are many more on the horizon now as a result of this year.
However, beyond brass tax (and not to be ignored) are the seminars and panels that cover a variety of topics highly relevant to those within the industry. Environmental initiatives, marketing trends, and much more along these lines make up the bulk of them. My personal favorite this year was a short meditation class in the middle of Venture Out right as it was at peak mayhem, which added a unique challenge, but made for restorative midday breather.
Although the product is what drives the convention on the surface level, making personal connections with those behind the various gadgets is of equal importance. With so much communication over the phone and email in modern times, making face to face contact with those you work with all year reinvigorates the relationship. Everyone has a unique path that landed them in the same place as you for the moment, and hearing these various stories made for some of my favorite moments of the trip. It is business, and everyone there recognizes and respects that, but at the various after hours social events you get a better feel for what kind of people make up the outdoor industry. They are a lively bunch eager to explore. Through swapping stories of danger and triumph, the path is paved for real friendships among strangers.
The general feeling is one of cheer and guarded optimism. You might be speaking to a direct competitor to your brand, but in this time and place we are all there just there to get a feel for the state and trajectory of the whole industry. The possibility of endless collaborations with brands akin to your own makes the mind buzz with excitement, but turning this potentiality into actuality is much easier than it seemed when you had a couple beers at Happy Hour. Outdoor Retailer is an adventure in itself that can lead you to finding truly wonderful people and products within the industry, and 2017 proved to be another success in this regard.