PINEVIEW RESERVOIR To lovers of the outdoors, Alex Tonge may have the best job in the world.
Tonge and his wife, Kelly Tonge, of Hertfordshire, England, are independent distributors of canoes, kayaks, paddles, life vests and other water accessories to about 38 shops throughout the United Kingdom. This week, work has brought them to Utah for the Outdoor Retailers Summer Market, which is taking place Friday through Monday at the Salt Palace Convention Center and the EnergySolutions Arena. About 1,050 companies will be exhibiting products for buyers, retailers and manufacturers.
The Tonges are among the estimated 23,000 people who are expected to attend this year's convention. The preshow began Wednesday at Pineview Reservoir outside Ogden, where the Tonges tested products in the water.
Kelly Tonge, a registered nurse who helps with her husband's business, enjoyed the smooth ride of an 11-foot Emotion Kayak called Temptation. Her husband was on a Prijon kayak that he has ordered for shops in the United Kingdom.
"Good design, good stability, and that's quite key for something so narrow," he said.
Joe Flynn, a vice president for Nielsen Business Media, which produces the Outdoor Retailers Summer Market for the Outdoor Industry Association, said this year's show is the biggest in the 11 years the convention has been in Salt Lake City "even in a down economy where retail is struggling."
"I think a lot of it is people are doing less overseas, going to Mexico," Flynn said told audience members as a Salt Lake Rotary Club luncheon Tuesday. "People are preferring to stay closer to home for their vacation, because of high fuel prices and plane tickets. They're trekking into wilderness areas closer to home."
According to an Outdoor Industry Association report, participation in most outdoor sports has increased. Thirty percent more people participated in indoor and boulder climbing in 2007 than in 2006, and 43.4 percent more people participated in white-water kayaking during that time.
While participation in outdoor sports is on the rise, the economy has slowed retail sales. According to another report by the association, outdoor-retail sales growth was softer this past June, compared with June 2007. Speciality stores did $110.2 million in business this June, compared with $110.1 million in June 2007. Chain stores fared better, doing $210.6 million in business this June, compared with $203.1 million in June 2007. Internet retail grew the most: $68.6 million this June, compared with $57.2 million the previous June.
At the Outdoor Retailers Summer Market, the exhibitors are manufacturers, and the clients are distributors and retailers. The show is closed to the general public.
"The big reason for that is the manufacturers are a little nervous to have the general public, because most of the merchandise out there is not yet in stores," Flynn said.
The University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research estimates the average visitor at the convention spends $889 while in town.
At Pineview on Wednesday, Philippe LeBlanc of Montreal, who works for kayak manufacturer Pelican, tested a prototype of an 11-foot paddle board. He stood on a flat board, as though he were surfing, but he used a paddle to move himself around the lake.
The board's manufacturer, Legacy Paddlesports of Greensboro, N.C., plans to have the boards in stores in March. Coy Galloway of Legacy Paddlesports said the board is for fresh water, and fishermen may find it handy."It's basically a melding of kayak and surf technology," he said.