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Outdoor Retailer show a 'springboard' for Utah business

Published: Wednesday, July 31 2013 7:40 p.m. MDT

Dean Cummings arranges H2O Outdoor Gear skis at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Three years ago, Bluffdale-based Goal Zero brought its ideas for portable power to the Outdoor Retailer show.

Now, the company is an official sponsor for the semiannual event that brings thousands of visitors and a vital influx of cash to the state.

Lines formed at charging stations around the packed Salt Palace Convention Center as retailers, manufacturers, advocates and media in the outdoor industry stopped to power up their devices with a variety of Goal Zero products. Banners announcing the company were frequent in the dense mix of advertising throughout the convention hall.

"We've just grown over the past couple of years with (the Outdoor Retailer show)," Goal Zero spokeswoman Lisa Janssen said. "It's been a huge accelerator for our business."

Goal Zero was one of roughly 70 Utah-based companies large and small attending the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market through Saturday. The convention is on track to match or slightly beat attendance from last summer's show, a whopping 26,700 people and nearly 13,000 retailers.

Despite the hype, Goal Zero set up in the same corner of the ballroom it has occupied since the start, away from the main convention floor.

"We've been in the same spot so everybody knows who we are and they know exactly where to come to find us," Janssen said. "When we first came, it was sharing solar and backup power and how it worked. Now, everybody knows about us, and they just want to know what's new and what's cool."

Alongside Goal Zero's solar panels, partner company Barebones Living made its first major launch with a display of tents, lamps and other outdoor essentials.

"Today has been phenomenal," Sam Dominguez, president of the 2-year-old company, said at the close of the show's first day. "There's a lot of interest from national groups and buyers. We're going from meeting to meeting. It's a huge boost for us as a company."

For companies such as Goal Zero and Barebones Living, having the Outdoor Retailer show come to Utah twice a year has been "the best springboard" for business, Dominguez said.

"It's easier for us logistically and from a cost perspective. It's in our backyard," he said, marvelling at the size of the show and the huge variety of participants. "I think if you come back to us in three to five years, we're going to own it. We're going to be one of those Utah success stories."

Startup companies such as Barebones Living and other new Utah businesses attending the Outdoor Retailer show are "the lifeblood" of the trade show and have the chance to meet retailers from across the U.S. and several countries, said Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association.

"It puts them on the map," Hugelmeyer said. "For a small idea, a small brand or concept, that's exactly why you come to the show — so you can be recognized by the broader retail community in the largest gathering of retailers for the outdoor retail business."

The show is also major boon for Utah, pouring in $12 billion annually in direct consumer spending, supporting 122,400 jobs and generating $856 million in annual state and local tax revenue, Hugelmeyer added.

"Just because it doesn't look like work doesn't mean it's not big business," he said.

In the middle of the crowded convention floor, Wayne Gregory smiled brightly amid a colorful display of backpacks from Gregory Mountain Products. The long-established Utah company has been attending the show since it first came to Utah.

Gregory, who described himself as an "Eagle Scout and entrepreneur" since boyhood, said he started the company with the goal of getting people outdoors.

"Backpacks are an avenue for adventure, and the trail is going to dictate what you want to do," Gregory said.

Bill Kulczycki, brand president for Gregory Mountain Products, said having the trade show come to Salt Lake City each year has been a boost for Utah companies. In turn, Kulczycki said the company enjoys showing off the state's vast and beautiful backyard to visitors at the show.

"It's a fantastic state with outdoor recreational opportunities of all kinds," he said. "Frankly, most of the outdoor industry is pretty envious of companies that are able to locate in a beautiful state like Utah."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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