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Outdoor Retailer Show Features Tech to Target Today’s Consumer

The Outdoor Retailer show, held twice a year in Salt Lake City, is a rousing four-day celebration of the outdoor lifestyle, from weekend walkers to hard-core climbers, water sport enthusiasts, eco-travelers, and luxury “glampers.” This year’s summer market, which wrapped Saturday Aug. 9, was the largest ever; with 1,595 exhibitors and over 27,000 attendees.

But the outdoor industry is facing changing times. Small specialty retailers, the core of the industry, are seeing fierce competition from big retail brands and online shopping; while the tech-savvy, Millennial consumer’s concept of the outdoors is often an urban landscape like Manhattan’s High Line.

Show organizers Emerald Expositions, along with the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) met the challenge head-on with a number of educational opportunities, marketing experts, and specialized exhibition zones. Sponsored by the OIA, the opening day breakfast featured Peter Sheahan, founder and CEO of ChangeLabs, as keynote speaker.

Sheahan urged the outdoor industry to “stop comparing yourselves to yourselves,” and look to successful consumer brands in other areas. He held up examples like Burberry, where the company took the online experience into its London flagship; and Nespresso, which developed an intimate relationship with its customer by eliminating the retailer and bringing the product directly into the home.

“Nothing is more important in times of change than the relationship with the customer,” Sheahan reiterated.

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Game Changers and Early Whispers: A Global Perspective on the Future of Outdoors, featured observations from Dr. Pernilla Jonsson of Kairos Future, and Martin Kössler of the Scandinavian Outdoor Group. The two pointed out that the upcoming generation of consumers behaves very differently, with technology as the norm. “The couch is king,” claimed Jonsson. “You can’t spend too much on your home page.”

With over five million consumers moving into the global mega-cities every month, urban settings are the new outdoors, presenting the biggest marketing opportunity through 2020. These young consumers are searching for balance and a sustainable lifestyle, and equate nature with luxury. They often prefer to rent or share rather than own outdoor equipment—like bikes—that they have no room to store.

While the western economies are in flux, an Asian youth quake is creating opportunity with one billion new consumers, including students who come to the West to study. It is estimated that by 2015 the U.S. will see 120 million Chinese tourists annually, forecast to spend $150 billion.

Marketing to these new consumers requires conversing with them and developing a system of products and services that meet a need. “In 2020, the outdoor market will be about providing exceptional nature experiences; the products will be part of the experience,” Jonsson and Kössler concluded.

On the show floor, the most innovative brands and suppliers featured products capable of bridging that gap from today’s outdoor Boomer to the upcoming urban adventurer. Weatherproof fabrics were lighter, while maintaining their performance attributes; and the use of non-fluorinated DWR treatments is growing. Hybrid jackets combined spring-weight insulation with 4-way stretch fabrics.

Adidas Outdoors’ Agravic line included a 105 gsm polyester wind jacket with an eye-catching print and a sophisticated vent treatment. The light-weight, urban-inspired Terrex Sky Climb top featured Polartec Alpha insulation with an overlay of windproof Pertex Equilibrium.

While moisture management and odor control are a given in today’s technical fabrics, cooling technologies that lower skin temperature by one or two degrees were a welcome new direction in the face of global warming. Terramar’s Microcool collection took base layer to a new level.

Inspired by the success of merino wool base layer products, new developments in wool had a smart, urban look, and were the talk of the show.

Merino was blended with TENCEL, Supima cotton, CoolVisions dyeable polypropylene, wicking polyesters, and high-tenacity CORDURA nylon fibers, to name a few. CORDURA’s Combat Wool wovens were launched in an urban collection by lifestyle designer Alex Waldman, and were also included in Burlington’s Merino FX collection of smart, traditional wool fabrics, woven in the USA.

At U.S.-made Duckworth Apparel, a super light-weight jersey of 18 µm merino wool, Modal, and polyester was inherently cool and comfortable on the skin. Duckworth was a part of the show’s new Venture Out zone, designed for brands representing the growing urban lifestyle trend, combining fashion with function. Design director Outi Pukkinen found the new zone a valid concept. “It’s definitely a huge change. Retailers are overwhelmed with all the sameness. Every company here is young in spirit,” she said.

Prime examples of this new look were from Nau, where natural and sustainable man-made fabrics merged in performance garments, such as beautifully-tailored riding jackets in a DWR double-weave construction of recycled polyester. It all added up to wearable, packable, outdoor apparel with an attention to detail and a streamlined silhouette—a far cry from baggy cargo pants, plaid shirts, puffy jackets and rain gear that makes you sweat.

“The outdoor industry is competing against the full range of goods and services,” Mark Galbraith, Nau co-founder and general manager, said. “A certain level of design and detail is expected. That’s our opportunity.”