Organizers work to make 2012 Outdoor Retailers show bigger, better

Published: Monday, July 30 2012 10:53 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Instead of worrying about whether or not the largest trade show hosted by the state will be leaving for bigger cities after 2014, Salt Lake officials are focusing on doing what they say helped the show flourish in the first place.

"We've always known what our strengths are," said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake. "This is again projected to be the biggest show ever (27,000 participants), which is another affirmation that what we're doing works."

The Outdoor Retailers show, which has been hosted by Salt Lake since 1996, begins with the Open Air Demo Days at Jordanelle Reservoir Wednesday, Aug. 1. That's where retailers can try products they might want to sell or carry in their stores. It's also a key place for manufacturers and inventors to find markets for their products.

On Thursday, the show moves to the exhibits at the Salt Palace, where participants will utilize all 679,000 square feet of the Salt Palace Convention Center, including the hallways. The show will run through Sunday. To put the size of the show in perspective, the new Utah Valley Convention Center is 80,000 square feet total.

The Outdoor Retailers show features the newest and most innovative products in the outdoor recreation industry and offers those in the industry the chance to discuss issues affecting outdoor recreation.

Kenji Haroutunian, the Outdoor Retailers show director and Nielsen Expositions vice president, said the show is unique because it brings together so many different types of businesses.

"It's a cultural phenomenon in a way," Haroutunian told the Deseret News in April. "It's a lot of different industries playing together in the same sandbox."

And while the economy as a whole has struggled since 2008, the Outdoor Retailers trade shows, as well as the industry at large, have grown, even during the worst economic years.

"Outdoor recreation is a much more significant contributor to the economy than many people realize," said Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry association. "More than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives, and they prove it with their wallets. From 2005 to 2011, at a time when many sectors were contracting, our industry grew an average of 5 percent annually. The success of Outdoor Retailer is a testament to the health of our industry."

Losing the Outdoor Retailers shows would be a huge blow to Utah's economy as the winter and summer events attract more than 43,000 visitors annually and bring about $40 million to the local economy. The shows have also attracted businesses and developed those that choose Utah as a base because of the outdoor culture.

They also generate nearly $25 million in total visitor spending throughout the state each year, according to the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Nielsen Expositions is in the process of gathering feedback on what it can do better in Utah, as well as whether it might be better to move the show to Denver, Las Vegas or Orlando, just to name a few locations being considered.

This year, organizers had more exhibitors than they had space in which to house them. But that isn't the only issue for Outdoor Retailers executives.

"It's not just the space in the hall," said Haroutunian. "It's the hotel room situation. We have people staying in Sandy, Davis, Park City. … We have a 500-room block in Park City, and that's a 35-40 minute drive."

Haroutunian said Utah offers a unique fit with the types of products being sold at the Outdoor Retailers shows, and acknowledges it's a big part of why the show has been so successful.

"Salt Lake City has been a great venue because of its natural recreation resources," he said. "There's world-class skiing, world-class climbing, world-class fishing, world-class trail running. … The culture is completely consistent with what the culture of the show is."

Beck admits that there are downsides to staying in smaller Salt Lake City, but he believes the benefits outweigh the negatives.

"Clearly we have a quality of outdoor experience that's kind of hard to match," he said. "It's sort of the perfect combination of product, people and place."

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