(a more thorough review of OR+SS 2019 will be coming on the heels of this post from late 2018)
OR Winter November – A new era?
OR Winter 2018 was a smaller, more intimate gathering of the mostly-softgoods side of the business where early forecasts are extremely important to apparel brands so they know what to build for 9-12 months lead time on delivery. Retailers of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, SSL, SMC attended the show, as well as a solid core group of media and digital influencers, whom we recognize from OR’s, PressCamps and Blogger Summits of yore.
By all accounts, the show felt very quiet. We know that it’s difficult to compare, since the last show was Summer OR, and before that was the combined event OR+SS (SIA plus OR Winter). Less hustle and bustle meant more time for meaningful and deeper conversation about industry direction, brand makeovers, true innovation vs. incremental movement, retro-style and the chin-rubbing of why particular brands weren’t at the event. Conspicuous by Absence is still a consideration of note for all brands in Outdoor and is regularly underestimated in many trade go-to-market strategies. Still some were aware, like Eagle Creek, who placed a cool vehicle-centered display in the open lobby area of the Convention Center. Nice non-booth treatment, I’d say.
The highlight of the show was certainly the Outdoor Retailer Innovation Awards, hosted by Capital One Spark Business and Christian Murphy (A+E Networks SVP). Congratulations are in order for Marisa Nicholson and her team at OR for:
A) hiring Liz Ferrin to produce and curate the event – rock star returns to the outdoor industry (a whole wondrous story in itself) and nails it, with the help of Larry Harrison and other deep players in the industry.
B) Putting a good step forward to create the new trade show OR can become… the Discovery Zone for Innovation; New brands, collaborators, competitors, employees, categories and advocates. Order writing and line presentations will occur, but won’t be the future of the trade show. Discovery will.
When it comes to categorizing attendees, more and more of us are defying easy description; agencies, consultants, affiliates, advocates; what happened to good ol’ buyers and sellers? And more importantly, can any of us go back to what we once were? (Subtle hint; NO). This creates a confusing value proposition for exhibiting brands, who are covering the sizeable costs of production. ‘How do I measure ROI?’ is still an open question, and one that all trade show companies must provide a concrete answer to.
This show leads into the Winter ‘OR + SS’ (aka SnowShow aka SIA aka January OR), the formerly known as Snowsports Industries America show that has staged in January since 2002. That will be a whole separate review, but suffice to say the question continues to loom large in brands’ and retailers’ minds- ‘do we need 3 shows?’ (For what it’s worth, we aren’t of the opinion there wasn’t already three shows, since 1990, btw… we all just took a one year break from that rhythm in 2017 when OR and SIA were combined into one show).
It will likely be a few years before the industry settles into the new rhythm, which isn’t really new. With Grassroots and other buying group events locked into the earlier Fall season, there is good reason to put a central show in place, particularly for early season order-writing. For brand marketing, however, media attendance is key, storytelling needs development (and importantly, feedback from buyers/athletes/reps). Storytelling is next to impossible in a pipe/drape product presentation format. Hence the conundrum. More to come on this.
Interbike’s cautionary tale
By now you’ve likely heard that Interbike will not be staging in 2019. The show, even with several hundred good exhibitors, just couldn’t pull out of the downturn set in motion several years ago when relevant shows went earlier, retailers revolted against earlier dates, and management wasn’t willing to force the needed change on the market.
The timeline of show strategy and decision-making is unlike other businesses in a few ways.
1) As a show manager, you get one time per year to adjust course. For a fast-changing market, that is perilously slow iteration.
2) You are creating a product that, by design, has to be mediocre… a compromise that serves many masters, balancing everyone’s interest from venue city tourism director to R&D staffer at a brand.
3) Investment strategy/capacity/mentality is highly dependent on the financial positioning of the show ownership.
Without going TLDR on you all, (just learned that one; Too Long, Didn’t Read) suffice to say that our mantra remains that no show is a fortress; every trade show, from CES to the regional rep shows, are curated like Orchids; small disruptions can kill the event rather easily.
So before going long about how you ‘hate’ trade shows, they are a ‘necessary evil’, and ‘less is more’ (3 days vs 4), we realize that our context is that of show strategist and producer. What’s your context? What do you use the show for, and how do you rank the various different contextual values of b2b events? In conversation, it’s seems nearly impossible to separate the industry need overall from the many individual value assignments. Uh oh, sounds like math…
Reps needs are different from brand managers’ which are different from retailers’ which are different from media which are different from advocates and non-profit protectors of the very turf (liquid or solid) we all need to even have an industry.
LATE BREAKING UPDATE- Emerald Expositions has now floated a few options for giving the cycling industry another platform to be part of (rather than stand alone as Interbike, cancelled for 2019). The examples where this approach has worked are very, very few. In fact we’re not sure we can name one. Maybe Surf Expo’s integration of surf/sup with the resort gift shop business? Most we can name are ‘any port in a storm’ solutions (IFTD with ICAST) or are in process of becoming something else… ‘transition solution’ (MMA at ASR (RIP)). The bike industry is certainly large enough to justify it’s own b2b event, but for this year it appears the Sea Otter Classic (consumer event) will handle that load, along with a handful of smaller regional or media-centric events. Sadly ECRM shelved PressCamp, which was timed and located perfectly to pivot to a meaningful b2b event for the entire cycling business. Timing is everything, and ECRM blew it by giving up their unique positioning in bike and outdoor. (Full Disclosure- Kenji Consults co-conceived and co-produced the Outdoor PressCamp, co-located with Bike PressCamp, and had more than one dog in that fight).