5 things I learned at my first OR




Two weeks ago, I set my alarm for 5:35am, assembled my trusty backpack, caught a chatty Uber ride to the Salt Lake City Airport, and ascended over the majestic Wasatch Mountains. The destination? Outdoor Retailer, the largest U.S. trade show for the outdoor and winter sports industries.

Covering three floors of the Denver, Colorado Convention Center, OR brought in a whopping “29,000 total attendees, 7,500 verified retail buyers from 60 countries, and 1,000 brands.” (Source) For fellow outdoor lovers, OR = Disney World.

Here are 5 marketing promotions that stood out to me (an OR newbie) at the three-day trade show:

#1. Branding The Moment You Step off the Airplane

Outdoor brands like Fjällräven, Garmin, and GoPro took full advantage of the Denver Airport real estate. With thousands of trade show attendees and outdoor enthusiasts flying in from all over the world, digital screens, walls, and printed signs proudly displayed a warm Colorado welcome and the latest “must-have” outdoor gear. Since OR is still relatively new to Denver (Salt Lake City was previously the host city for 20+ years), I’m curious how the experience will change — will car-share services such as Uber be sponsored by “XYZ” brand? Hotel room drops from PR agencies? Brand ambassadors outside of the convention center? Smaller booths with more engaging off-site experiences? Weekend shuttle bus options to the ski slopes? Time will tell.

#2. Behold the IKON Pass

One of the biggest perks about attending OR? Discounted ski lift tickets. The Epic Pass from Vail Resorts and the Mountain Collective both offered snazzy deals for the remainder of the season, but I have to give it to the IKON Pass for 1) sponsoring free WiFi for the entire three-day conference 2) having a booth at the top of the escalator near the main foot traffic and 3) printing vintage posters of participating mountain resorts. In under three minutes, attendees could walk away with a custom printed poster of their favorite home mountain resort – from Solitude in Utah to Big Sky in Montana. Talk about #IKONic.

#3. Happy Hours with Athletes/Outdoor Industry Influencers

Need to boost foot traffic to your booth during peak afternoon hours? Book a relevant athlete or outdoor industry influencer like Pattie Gonia to stop by your booth and engage with your current and/or future potential customers. With so many OR happy hours and so little time, booths that offered an “experience” vs. handing out stickers were the most memorable.

For example, The North Face and Black Diamond both worked with Alex Honnold of “Free Solo” for two separate events. Alex first gave a short 30-minute presentation about climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and from 4-5pm, attendees could then wait in a short line for an autographed poster and photo. How do you promote your booth event? First create a Facebook Event, share it in the “Basecamp: Outdoor Jobs & More” OR thread and on LinkedIn, and perhaps print the event details on the side of your booth wall.

#4. The State of Uphill Skiing/Snowboarding

With the recent increase in used gear shops and multi-resort ski passes such as the IKON Pass, the entry barriers for getting into skiing/snowboarding — both downhill and uphill — lower every year. What exactly is uphill skiing? It’s when you hike or “skin up” a mountain on your skis or splitboard and then ride back down. With touring on the rise, smaller independent shops and big box retailers are encouraged to not only sell the gear, but also educate customers on how to behave in the backcountry. For example:

  • Practice touring “in-bounds” since more resorts like Winter Park in Colorado offer uphill access — just don’t skin up at night if you’re not allowed; let the groomers do their job
  • If you’re a beginner, start with downhill resort-style skiing to pick up key skills and then take an Avy 1 Course to understand group dynamics and decision making
  • Display a map of the popular low-risk, low-angle nearby trails that people can access with snow tires/4WD vehicles — safety first! People will most likely find these local trails via the internet or word of mouth anyway

#5. RVs, Camper Vans, Cars, Oh My!

With the trend for automakers to skip out on traditional industry events like the North American International Auto Show, car makers are finding new places to make a splash and engage with their target audiences — from CES to Outdoor Retailer.

Although January’s Snow Show focused on new 2019/2020 winter apparel and gear, hints of summer adventure vehicles were sprinkled throughout the trade show floors. Established brands like Ford Motor Company and smaller local brands like High Altitude Trailer Co.had strategic footprints at the event.

Thinking about making the switch from #vanlife to RV life? This was Go RVing‘s first time attending OR and I admire them for stepping up to the plate to lure attendees away from the smaller tricked out camper vans and lightweight backcountry tents. After the show, the company even launched their first-ever “Kick Off to Camping Season” ad campaign.

Finally, with the influx of RVs and automotive brands at OR, I’m curious what other types of brands will take advantage of this popular trade show? With the cancellation of Interbike and rumors of bike companies considering other industry events, are bikes the next players to hit the trade show floor?

Thanks for reading the five things that caught my eye at this year’s Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver.

If you also attended OR, what marketing trends + promotions stood out to you?

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