SALT LAKE CITY — Since it opened in Salt Lake 15 years ago, the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market has been the place to see what will soon be in the sporting goods outlets, with manufacturers showcasing their latest creations to entice the several retailers present. The show is so popular that it has outgrown the Salt Palace Convention Center … twice.
The expansion of the Salt Palace a few years ago was done specifically to deal with the show's growth and do away with temporary structures; nevertheless, this summer, across the street from the convention center on 200 West was a huge tent, dubbed the "New Exhibitor Pavilion," which featured more than 200 brand new vendors and products.
"Obviously when you see the tent, it means we're running out of space inside as well," said Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association. "So these are interesting times with the growth of the show and the growth of the industry."
So now what? For about a year, discussions have been quietly going on about the show's future here and how to handle its continued growth.
"How much do we want to grow; how big is too big?" asks Kenji Haroutunian, the show director. "It's not really sustainable for a show to grow forever, beyond the shopability of that show."
"It is true that we are definitely contemplating the landscape of other options, the options to stay. What would it look like, how much can we grow and stay here," Haroutunian said.
Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, said a lot of ideas have been discussed already. "Can this show become a multiple venue, multiple day show for tens of thousands of people?" he said. "And what a better venue than Salt Lake to do that. We've proven that with the Olympics that we can do that type of show. There are several trade shows in our industry that have that type of format. We're hopeful that the natural environment and what we have here can continue to be relevant to the Outdoor Retailer Market."
The incredible growth coincides with an industry that has become more than just hiking and fishing. The advancements in equipment to clothes and everything in between is in response to a society that considers wellness and a healthy lifestyle a major priority.
The outdoor recreation industry is a bright spot in a still lackluster economy. Nationwide, sales were up 6 percent last year. That growth is drawing a lot of attention, forcing the Outdoor Retailer show to go through a sort of evolution. This year, approximately 25,000 visitors attended the convention, which contributed upwards $23 million into the Utah economy.
"I think in a way, the show is changing," said Haroutunian. "Trade shows across the country are changing to serve more of the business community around the markets that they serve, as opposed to just the buyers and sellers of products."
The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market will come to Utah in January. During that event, decisions are expected to be made about the growing growth problems and the show's future in Utah, which is whether the contract should be extended beyond 2014.