Steamboat businesses head to Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah |

Steamboat businesses head to Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah

Jen Shea

— Your favorite outdoor shops and the companies that make many of their products might be a little short-staffed this week. At about this time every year, a mass exodus ensues from Steamboat Springs to Salt Lake City for the annual Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show, held this year from July 31 to Aug. 3.

Representatives from Steamboat businesses descend on the outdoor industry's biggest schmooze fest in the name of bettering their bottom lines. At least nine local outdoor companies are exhibiting at this year's show. Joining them is a flock of buyers from local outdoor retailers as well as representatives working for other brands. The show lets retailers see what's new for the upcoming season and gives manufacturers a chance to exhibit their newest wares along with attending seminars, workshops and obligatory parties.

But the bottom line is business.

“Everything we do is aimed at improving the show experience for small- to medium-size brands and shops," said show Director Kenji Haroutunian, whose event this year will feature more than 1,400 exhibitors. "The show allows small brands a level playing field with larger brands and delivers an audience that all brands need. The opportunities are comparable regardless of a brand’s size or marketing budget.”

Companies attending from Steamboat fit both molds, including larger companies SmartWool, Honey Stinger and Big Agnes as well as smaller businesses Point6, Sweetwood Cattle Co., PowerICE and Hala Gear. Also attending is a crew from the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association led by Tom Kern, who is spearheading an effort to lure more outdoor businesses to Steamboat.

"Outdoor Retailer is an integral part of our business," said Honey Stinger Outdoor Sales Manager Nate Bird, adding that nearly 20 employees from Big Agnes and Honey Stinger make the migration every summer. "The face time and product exposure we get with buyers is invaluable. It's a huge opportunity to have sit downs with key account buyers and showcase new products we'd like to get into stores."

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Another local outdoor company sending a large contingent to the show is SmartWool, which takes advantage of the show's proximity to Steamboat — as well as President Mark Satkiewicz's triathlon background — to take a unique route to Salt Lake City. Every year, it brings media and other guests along on a four-day road bike ride to the trade show. This year, 30 of the 54 riders on the Ride to OR were from SmartWool.

“What we showcase at Outdoor Retailer charts the course for SmartWool’s summer go-to-market efforts for the next year, so it’s incredibly important," Global Communications Manager Steve Metcalf said. "It's a national trade show, but it has global implications.

"Being able to hop on (U.S.) Highway 40 to Salt Lake City is a great option for businesses based in Steamboat," he added. "It allows more flexibility and accessibility for our employees to attend.”

Two Steamboat Springs startups — PowerICE, which makes frozen, electrolyte-replenishing energy bars, and Hala Gear, a maker of inflatable stand-up paddleboards — are using the proximity and reach of the show to make their Outdoor Retailer debuts this year. Distributing at 100 retailers in 24 states in its first year of operation, PowerICE hopes attending Outdoor Retailer will spur that growth even further. It's even bringing Nordic combined Olympian Todd Lodwick along as a company spokesman.

"We'll use the show to connect with more top outdoor retailers across the country," Sales Director Blair McNamara said. "It will be a great chance for attendees to come by, meet Todd and try a sample."

Show attendees also got a chance to sample Hala Gear's line of four boards at an on-water demo day.

"We got a lot of retailers on our boards for the first time," President Peter Hall said from his crowded booth. "There's no way we could have done that without attending."

Chaos Headgear, which bases its customer service and shipping operations in Steamboat, is another company attending to let retailers sample its newest offerings. "With the introduction of our new CTR collection, OR gives us the potential to become a four-season brand," CEO Richard Tock said. "We're using it to open new markets in more southern and warmer locales."

Buyers have as much to gain at the show as manufacturers with several local retailers making the pilgrimage to better stock their shelves.

"OR is very important to us," said Ski Haus manager Murray Selleck, who took a team of five employees to the show. "It's our chance to find the new, cool stuff. We already know what our staples are, the things that consistently sell well. What we really go for is to find the unique, up-and-coming companies that are pushing the envelope of design and presenting new ideas."

Barry Smith, who has attended the show ever since opening Mountain Sports Kayak School 32 years ago, attends to suss out new offerings in the kayak world to put to use on the Yampa River. But he admits that the show's social scene and networking is almost as important as kicking the tires on new gear.

"I go to see all the new equipment and the changes that have happened," he said while walking the floor aisles. "But I also get to see all my old friends. It's a gathering place for all of them."

To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-870-1376 or email

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