Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
JORDANELLE STATE PARK — Their innovations spring from necessity, frustration and desire.
They find ways to keep an iPhone safe — and accessible — while playing in (and under) the water. They figure out ways to charge their computers in the middle of nowhere. They sell boats designed for children, stand-up paddle boards made for land-locked surfers and camping gear for dogs.
Trade shows are, by definition, gatherings of those in an industry where participants learn about and discuss issues and innovations.
But the Outdoor Retailer show is unusual even among trade shows because it brings together such a diverse group of businesses. For four days, the Salt Palace area is home to businesses ranging from multimillion-dollar apparel companies to a lone inventor who designed a new type of inline skate with the help of his 10-year-old.
As business owners, they want to make money, but they also want to share a love of outdoor recreation that transcends regular business relationships.
They're people who feed off the innovations of each other, and the goal for all, from manufacturers to retailers, is making outdoor recreation more accessible, more comfortable and more enjoyable.
"Our goal is to get as many people outside as possible," said Emily Jackson, whose family owns and operates Jackson Kayak. For the two-time world champion white-water kayaker, the yearly trip to Salt Lake City is a bit like a family reunion.
Only instead of flashing photos of her overachieving children, she's fawning over innovative ways to navigate the world's waterways.
For Amy Snyder Hackbart, owner and president of Seaside Brands, bringing a few samples from her new line, Sirena Sol, to the Outdoor Retail show last winter gave her the confirmation she needed to expand her business into women's active wear.
"I just did the January show to see if there was any interest, and we got good traffic and really good feedback," she said at the Demo Day event last week at Jordanelle Reservoir. "We thought, 'We're in the right market; these are the right people.' "
She plans to take her products to another trade show next month — a surf expo in California — but acknowledges that the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah gives her access to a much wider audience.
"We're really excited to be part of the show this summer," she said.
Hackbart's clothing line was created because she grew tired of changing in cars and public restrooms after surfing or yoga.
"I just wanted to meet my husband for lunch or my girlfriends for coffee, and I was always sort of frantically changing in the car," she said. She couldn't find what she needed, so she created it.
Jackson Kayak was born because Eric Jackson couldn't convince the kayak company he worked for that it should create a line of children's kayaks.
"My brother and I were little at the time and he wanted us to get into the sport," said Emily Jackson. "I've been coming to this show since I was 6 years old."
Once Eric Jackson launched his company in 2005, it was the Outdoor Retailer show that helped him convince retailers they should stock his kayaks for kids.
"We changed the face of freestyle kayaking," she said, noting the participants who got their start in Jackson Kayaks are now some of the nation's top kayak or stand-up-paddle athletes.
Once they achieved financial success, the Jacksons looked to make kayaks that were easier to use, more functional and less intimidating.
"We're just trying to grow the sport," she said.
Like most manufacturers, Hackbart and Jackson would likely attend the show wherever it were held. But unlike some of the other business gatherings, those who work in the outdoor industry tend to live the lifestyle they're selling.
"Florida would be easier for us," said Jackson of the Tennessee-based company. "But Las Vegas, I don't really understand, except for the convention centers. That's not an outdoorsy mind-set. I can see why people would want to have conventions in Las Vegas, but that's not the purpose of this show. … I don't think we'd have the best experience in Las Vegas."
She said many of the people they do business with at the Salt Lake show attend with outdoor adventures in mind.
"A lot of our vendors plan mountain bike trips before or after the show," she said. "I think Denver is probably the most appropriate pick, if they leave Salt Lake."
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