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Tom Smart, Deseret News archives
Crowd at mountain demo day at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market convention at Solitude Ski Resort Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, in Salt Lake County, Utah.
Salt Lake City has been a great venue because of its natural recreation resources. There's world-class skiing, world-class climbing, world-class fishing, world-class trail running … The culture is completely consistent with what the culture of the show is. —Kenji Haroutunian, OR show director

SALT LAKE CITY — The growing popularity of the semi-annual Outdoor Retailers Show may mean it has to leave Utah.

In order to comprehensively discuss the issues associated with the shows staying in Salt Lake City or moving to another city, the trade show owners and the Outdoor Industry Association have set up a website where registered participants of the shows (winter and summer) can discuss the pros and cons of all options. The shows offer manufacturers, buyers and retail business owners the chance to collaborate and network.

It is an unusual trade show because it attracts such a diverse group of businesses.

"It's a cultural phenomenon in a way," said OR show director Kenji Haroutunian. "It's a lot of different industries playing together in the same sandbox."

Salt Lake City has hosted the semi-annual trade show that is responsible for millions of dollars in economic impact since 1996. The Salt Palace was expanded about five years ago, in large part, to accommodate the OR shows' growth. While local county officials have said they don't see expanding the Salt Palace again, they have tried to work with private developers to come up with other options.

But it isn't just a lack of exhibit and meeting space that has OR show attendees troubled.

"It's not just the space in the hall," said Haroutunian. "It's the hotel room situation. We have people staying in Sandy, Davis, Park City … We have a 500-room block in Park City and that's a 35-40 minute drive."

Most of those attending trade shows expect to be able to walk from hotel rooms to exhibits and meetings.

Losing the OR shows would be a huge blow to Utah's economy as the winter and summer events attract more than 43,000 visitors annually and bring about $40 million to the local economy. The shows have also attracted businesses and developed those who choose Utah as a base because of the outdoor culture.

Those who attend love the Salt Lake stop because organizers are able to utilize Utah's natural outdoor playground to demonstrate new products in a hands-on environment. Ski resorts and lakes or reservoirs are just 30 minutes from downtown and retailers can allow buyers to try products in an effort to convince them to carry them in their stores or on their websites. The proximity to wilderness has also allowed the kind of retreat, meetings and networking that might not be possible in bigger cities that are farther from outdoor recreation opportunities.

"Salt Lake City has been a great venue because of its natural recreation resources," Haroutunian said. "There's world-class skiing, world-class climbing, world-class fishing, world-class trail running … The culture is completely consistent with what the culture of the show is."

The website where organizers are discussing the issues associated with growth is www.outdoorretailer.com/collective-voice. Other venues being discussed on the website include the Colorado Convention Center (which is not currently available in the winter), Sands Expo and Convention Center (Las Vegas, Nev.), Las Vegas Convention Center, Mandalay Bay Convention Center (Las Vegas), Orange County Convention Center (Orlando, Fla.), and the Anaheim (Calif.) Convention Center.

Haroutunian said event organizers hope to collect as much information and as many ideas as possible, which they will then compile into a survey that will be distributed to registered attendees. The idea is to explore as many options as possible and be as creative as possible in coming up with solutions.

"Everything is on the table," he said. "What it takes not to move (from Utah) needs to be spelled out."

Participants are also being asked whether or not the show should even continue to grow.

"Can people feel part of an event if they're 20 miles away? There is a price to limiting growth," said Haroutunian, who points out that Utah's show grew even during the recession years of 2008 and 2009 as vendors chose to move to Utah rather than attend other nearby shows. "The price could harm the industry and could harm the trade show."

He said 200 to 300 new companies seek to attend the show to find a home for products with buyers or retailers. It has made the show one of the most innovative and progressive.

Anyone can read the information on the website, but only registered participants can enter into the discussion. The hope is to get the best, most diverse ideas and then craft some options that parties can choose from in a survey.

"We wanted to form a baseline first," said Haroutunian. "And then we'll ask very pointed questions."

The Salt Lake summer retailer show, held in August each year, is listed as one of the country's 30 largest trade shows, while the winter show is in the top 40.

"So we're dealing with a sizable show," Haroutunian said.

email: adonaldson@desnews.com