Most recent Outdoor Retailer show biggest, best … but will it be back

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9 2012 11:45 a.m. MDT

The Outdoor Retailers show Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The climbing walls, portable stoves and paddle boards are gone. But the uncertainty remains about whether the largest trade show hosted by Utah will return after 2014.

The Outdoor Retailer show enjoyed its largest participation ever with nearly 27,000 people registering to preview and purchase the most innovative outdoor products and gear for 2013.

"Summer Market 2012 was a landmark event for the industry, drawing out the top decision makers and design minds who steer innovation and expansion of the active outdoor lifestyle," said Kenji Haroutunian, Outdoor Retailer show director and vice president of Nielsen Expositions. "From the mountaineering and paddle sports core to the running, fly fishing and travel segments as well as international buying attendance, the evidence of a confident and expanding outdoor industry was felt all over the show grounds."

Organizers also said next year's summer dates may change; an announcement will be made in September about when the 2013 show will be held. Salt Lake's contract with organizers ends after 2014, although the annual winter show, held in January, isn't at this point considering moving.

This year's summer show wasn't just a feel-good fantasy shopping and networking get-together. The Outdoor Industry Association used the event to criticize the state's public-lands policies.

While a record number of exhibitors — 150 — gathered at Jordanelle Reservoir for Open Air Demo Day, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and association CEO Frank Hugelmeyer met to discuss the group's issues.

After the meeting, Huglemeyer released a statement from the association's board of directors.

"We know firsthand that Utah is an incredible place to do business and play," the statement says. "Of greatest concern is the governor's lawsuit challenging the federal government over jurisdiction of the federal public lands and some road claims within national parks, monuments and wilderness areas. We have not and will not sit silently on threats to the nation's recreation infrastructure.

"It is disappointing that Utah — a place that draws outdoor businesses and enthusiasts alike — has not had a collaborative policy relationship with the outdoor industry," it continued. "We would like to see that change. It should be the rare exception, not the rule, for Utah's leadership and congressional delegation to announce or implement policies with little to no consultation or warning for the companies whose lives depend on a well-managed outdoors."

Hugelmeyer said in a subsequent interview that the lack of floor space at the Salt Palace, as well as hotel rooms in Salt Lake City, and ability for the show to grow is really the reason officials are considering other sites for the show that's been in Utah since 1996.

While Outdoor Industry Association and state officials traded barbs over stewardship of the outdoors, retailers, manufacturers and industry advocates enjoyed the biggest and best show ever staged.

For the third year in a row, the Summer Market saw a 20 percent increase in attendance, despite more restrictions on registrants. There were more seminars for attendees, including speakers from author Aron Ralston to ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek.

Utah officials believe they've done everything they can to keep the show that contributes $25 million each year in visitor spending.

"I would simply say that our biggest strength and the cornerstone of our strategy has been the strength of the show," said Scott Beck, CEO of Visit Salt Lake. "Shows like this are successful when you have three things — people, product and place. The natural attributes of our "place" continue to be part of why this show is so successful."

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