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Four Days in Salt Lake (seems like a lifetime)

Outdoor Retailer 2011

Checking out the goods for 2012

Almost every year, Jeff and I make the pilgrimage out to Salt Lake City for the annual Summer Outdoor Retailer Show.  This is the big one, the trade show where all the big outdoor gear and clothing companies get together to huck their wares.  From clothing to kayaks to camping to car racks, if you bought something at an outdoor type store chances are, they bought it here first.  And when I say this is the big one, I mean really big.  How big?  I spent three solid days walking the floor and still didn’t see everything before I had to fly back out on Sunday.  Of course, a lot of my days at the show are spent meeting with companies we already do business with.  And a good chunk of my time is eaten away finding the kegs that get tapped in the afternoon (between 50 & 60 kegs a day).  I also spend a portion finding the latest cool stuff for my wife.  But all that aside, it’s a really, really, really big show with lots and lots and lots of products you already knew about and even more you didn’t.

Day 1 Wednesday

Nicole and I fly out of Oakland at 6am (which makes for a 3am wake up call at our house).  We take a taxi to the Salt Palace, check in, grab the shuttle bus to the lakeside demo day in Park City and take a breath.  We arrive at the lake where the shore is littered with a hundred pop up tents and the water is choked with a thousand or so SUPs, kayaks and canoes. 
We put on our shorts and try a few new different this n’ that, make the rounds chatting up old friends, reps and manufacturers and walk back and forth along the beach for what seems like a hundred or so times before taking a small break for sustenance.  As we stand in line for lunch someone puts a band around our wrists for five free beers while testing boats and the like.  Safety always the watchword, some MBA decided six would simply be too many but five might help buyers to step up the decision making process.

Soon the wind picked up and the temperature began to plummet.  Enthusiasm for being on the water began to wane and by three-thirty, everybody began packing it in.  Thule Car racks had invited us up to the Park City Olympic Village for a small shindig so we hopped a cab from a lake to the mountain and watched future Olympic ski jumpers practice jumps in August by skiing down wet astro trurf and flipping themselves wildly into the biggest swimming pool I’ve ever seen in my life. Larry Hewitt, Thule’s sales manager, showed up ahead of the rest of the crowd and we jumped in his rig for a ride to the near top of the bobsled run where dinner and drinks were waiting.  There were probably a total of thirty of Thule’s best dealers coming to this little soiree but they were all still down the hill so Nicole, one of Thule’s Canadian engineers and myself had a glass wine and made the final hike up to the top.  After a very brief safety speech, we donned our helmets and piled in like puppies behind the driver for our first run down mountain.  100 seconds, 4Gs and 70mph later were at the bottom of the run with our adrenaline pumping off the charts waiting for someone to ask us to the podium so we could except our Gold Medal.

After another hour or so of dinner, drinks, and another run down the old bobsled track, we then backtracked to the world’s largest pool where dessert, more drinks and the US Freestyle team was waiting to give us an unbelievable private ski jump show.  My salad spinner at home does fewer 360s than these guys.  To say the least, it was truly impressive.  I don’t know if Thule will ever get the cost of the party out of us in the next ten years, but they don ‘t have to ask twice for an order.

Day 2 Thursday

The actual show opens for retailers to walk the floor at 9am.  I always try to schedule an appointment around 8am so I can get an extra hour in the day.  First thing this morning I meet with Thule.  Of course I want to see the new products for 2012 but I also want to see what kind of beer they’re keeping in their portable fridge. That done, we’re off to Sawyer to hear the latest in the world of wood.  About this time Kellogg shows up and we devise a plan to divide and conquer the show.  The problem with this show is, while the Salt Palace is a huge venue, there are more vendors than floor space.  The fine folks who put on the show don’t want to say no to a single check so they put vendors in every single space available.  Walk in the Men’s room and open a stall and you may have to sit next to a model explaining the advantages of world’s first foot creme made from bat guano.  We spend the day moving between appointments and just walking the floor trying to see what’s new.  I remember as a kid someone asking if I thought there were more stars in the sky or grains of sand.  Today you would throw in a third possibility for good measure: Shoe Manufacturers.  What can I say?  There are a lot. I mean…A…LOT.

Meetings with Sawyer, Level 6, Thule, MTI, Camelbak, Delta Kayaks.

We head out for dinner after the show, avoiding the industry parties that fill the evening, and walk back to our room for the night.  We were staying four blocks away, which in Salt Lake City is just shy of six miles.

Day 3 Friday

We arrive at the Salt Palace in time for our meeting with Surftech.  They have a dozen or so new boards.  Race boards.  Surf boards.  Flatwater boards.  We chat a while with Joe Bark as he explains his latest designs and I’m doing my best to pay attention. The new boards look great.  I’m sure they’re everything he says they are.  But I’m waiting to see one SUP above all others:  The B1.  Surftech’s  bomber new stand up paddleboard.  It looks awesome, has plenty of volume for the big guy like myself but more than anything else, the B1 is virtually indestructible.  Nicole and Jeff both beat on it with a baseball bat.  The designer (260lbs) and myself (225lbs) stood on the ends and rocked it back and forth like a teeter-totter.  I couldn’t scratch it or chip it, break it or dent it AND it was only 26lbs.  We bought the last 10 of their first production run. And it’s made where?  In California. California, USA in case you were wondering.

After that, it’s more walking the show.  More appointments with vendors.  More looking for kegs.

Meetings with Surftech, Necky/Ocean Kayak/Old Town, Wilderness Systems/Perception/Dagger, NRS, AquaBound/Bending Branches and finally…

Our last appointment for the day is with Stohlquist.  Again, lifejackets and dry tops have a fresher look.  Everything is a little bit more fashion forward.  The kayaking and rafting marketplace has taken a great big hint from the surf industry – it wouldn’t kill us to be a little bit more hip.  More beer.  Some cocktails.  Dinner.  Nicole and Jeff fly back to California.

Day 4 Saturday

Drink a pot of coffee at some cafe halfway to the Salt Palace (river mile 5 or so). Grab another cup of coffee on the way in the so that I’m shaking violently for my first appointment with Astral Buoyancy.  Can’t hardly hold a lifejacket.  Talking so fast the southern boys have no idea what I’m saying. Decide maybe I should stick with water while waiting for the kegs to get tapped.  Begin walking the floor.  Finally find the New Vendor Pavilion.  Find some great new stuff.  Also find a clothing company my wife loves.  Make a point to come back and buy something before heading out the door.  Two hours later, can’t find the booth to save my life.  Sorry honey, maybe next year.

Run back to the Salt Palace for my appointment with Kokatat.  The new sales manager came over from Horny Toad and you can really tell.  Kokatat has a new line of paddle gear still made in the USA and looks awesome.  I’m super impressed and super happy.  The more Made in USA we can sell, the happier I always am.

Walk the show.  Walk the show.  Walk the show.  Watershed, Summit, Imagine, Sealect Designs, Patagonia, SeaLife, Blue Ridge, FCS, Victory, Rusty, WRSI, Mysterioso,  Walk, walk, walk.  Show, show, show.   Meet with Liquid Logic.  Have a beer.  Clocks ticking.  Try to think of what it is I still need to see.  Make my way there.  They’re gone.  But there’s a beer next door so it’s worth the effort.  Look at my watch.  Wave to old friends on my way out the door.  Get a taxi. Hop a flight. Drive home.

Four solid days and still I didn’t get to see everything.  I can tell you this.  I saw plenty.  Plenty of good things.  And plenty examples where somebody tried to reinvent the wheel.  I’m not so sure a triangle makes a better wheel, but good luck to ‘em.  The overall feel of the show is that the world is becoming a better place economically – at least for those of us selling a good time outside. Manufacturers are reinvesting in better fabrics.  Retooling for better products.  Overall the outdoor industry looks pretty darn good.

Stop by the shop sometime or check out our website. We picked up a lot of great new gear and clothes.  Everything but the three sided wheel.

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