Weekly Insights: Outdoor Retailer’s Future Up in the Air

Photo: © Deathtothestockphoto.com

For two decades, Outdoor Retailer has held two shows per year in Salt Lake City. And while there have been rumors in recent years it might consider leaving, recently that option has hit a fever pitch in response to political actions in Utah.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

  • Last December, President Obama approved the designation of 1.3 million acres in southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument.
  • Utah’s state legislature passed a resolution – which was signed by Governor Gary Herbert on Feb. 3 – to request the Federal Government rescind that designation.
  • In response, big-time Outdoor Retailer exhibitors including Patagonia, The North Face, and REI are calling for a boycott of future shows held in Utah because of what’s being referred to as “an assault on public lands.”
  • Now the show has announced it is inviting other cities to submit proposals to host shows starting as early as November 2018 (the current contract runs out next summer).
  • Colorado, which has courted Outdoor Retailer for some time, is now positioning itself as a better alternative and a friend of public lands. But there’s a problem with Denver hosting the show …
  • As the current home to SnowSports Industries America’s Snow Show, Denver has an non-compete agreement that would keep the winter edition of Outdoor Retailer from being held around that same time. But that might not prevent the two shows from partnering up …

It will be intriguing to watch how this story develops and whether exhibitors really do pull out of the upcoming show in July. Outdoor Retailer shows have grown to attract about 29,000 attendees and result in an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending for the Utah economy, so it would be no small loss for the Salt Lake region. But Colorado is a huge outdoor sports destination, so it makes sense for the show to shift venues.

This is obviously not just a Utah/Colorado story, nor is it merely a trade show industry story. This week, I’ve seen articles popping up online everywhere from Virginia to Seattle to Miami to California. Here are a few of the most in-depth, in case you’d like to know more: The Denver Post (for the Colorado perspective), the Salt Lake Tribune (which states the show is leaving), the San Luis Obispo Tribune (a more neutral account), and the Washington Post (for detail on the public lands issue, including a short video analysis).

Update 2.24.17: The modern-day gold rush to land Outdoor Retailer continued this week with several more states joining the quest:

I’ll keep you posted as this frenzied story continues to unfold!


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With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. Exhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community.

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