Written by SFIA’s Chief Business Officer, Bill Patterson

For many of us, COVID has put more than a damper on our business travel. It downright killed it. All of those collaboration meetings, networking events, educational seminars, and client visits went by the wayside and we, collectively, became masters of Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting and the plethora of digital communication tools that brought new meaning to “working remotely.” While we’re all on differing levels of readiness, we share the desire to get back to interpersonal.. and in-person… contact and communication.

Following an 18 month hiatus, SFIA visited its first trade event this week in Denver, Colorado — the Outdoor Retailer show. Outdoor Retailer is a major event in the sports and fitness industry as it highlights the best in outdoor sport innovation and quality. Hundreds of companies showcase their products for enthusiasts of climbing, camping, running, biking, canoeing, kayaking, hoverboarding and dozens of other activities that require a fair amount of imagination and a whole lot of courage. And while no one expected the show to be like the “days of yore,” it continues to be a celebration of industry vitality and product innovation.

The first question on everyone’s mind: How busy was it? There are two aspects in answering that question: exhibitors and attendees. As for the exhibition floor itself, it was noticeably smaller than pre-COVID Outdoor Retailer shows. The corners were bare, the aisles were wider and missing exhibitors had their spaces filled with acai bowl vendors, coffee kiosks or lounge furniture often occupied by weary show goers and their furry four-legged friends. But the exhibitors that did attend showcased their spaces to demonstrate the emotional ruggedness of the great outdoors. Booths were colorful, bursting with product and full of people eager to tell you their story. Of the types of products on exhibit, footwear caught your eye at the front entrance and along the back of the hall. Paddle sports were on full display all over. Several companies were showcasing the sustainability of their products… an exponentially growing theme in recent years. The market show no signs of slowing down on addressing environmental impact.

As for the visitor traffic, it was well attended. We arrived shortly after the floor opened on Day 1 and while I wouldn’t say the aisles contained attendees passing shoulder-to-shoulder, the traffic was good. People were in good spirits and happy to be sharing the return of such an anticipated event.

Here’s something I may have underestimated… I’ve been to Outdoor Retailer in my previous life, but this was my first visit from SFIA’s perspective. Therefore, I often asked people why they were exhibiting and what they hoped to accomplish. While the answers were worded differently, the overall sentiment was that same. Participants wanted to support the industry and make the statement “We’re still here!” COVID had a devastating impact on nearly every industry around the world, but sports and fitness is alive, strong and ready to get people outdoors again.

Another collective issue shared by exhibitors and attendees alike was the difficulty of getting product into the United States. Log jams at the ports concern many and are resulting in limited product offerings. While we’ve heard stories of the west coast ports and the difficulties of importing items from Asia, the same was said by a European footwear company attempting to traverse the Atlantic. Supply chain issues and best practices, like those discussed on SFIA’s latest webinar, will be with us through the holiday season. One rescue rope manufacturer told us they foresaw the bottleneck and imported raw materials early in the pandemic to protect their U.S.-based manufacturing. They are in good shape but can only take them so long if they cannot continue to replenish.

As a newbie to SFIA’s staff in 2020, it was an honor to meet SFIA members and partners like Speedo, Nation’s Best Sports, NPD, Outdoor Industry Association and others. The enthusiasm our members displayed in hearing our plans for SFIA’s Trends & Insights conference in October coupled with new products coming in 2022 was exciting. We are grateful to have the best brands in the business who are willing to step up and work with us as partners in building industry vitality.

Shows like this will change. Every legacy show is going to have to go through a new “starting over” phase in order to clean out what didn’t work and identify what exhibitors and attendees want going forward. The good news for Outdoor Retailer is that they’ve achieved this crucial first step. So lace up your running shoes, charge up the e-bike and paddle through the rapids because momentum is building. Outdoor Retailer is racing towards its future.

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If you have any questions or comments please contact Bill Patterson, bpatterson@sfia.org.

For more information on SFIA, visit www.sfia.org.

SFIA is the leading global trade association in the sports & fitness industry. SFIA is the #1 source for sport & fitness research. More info at www.sfia.org.