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Outdoor retailers betting on stability in 2011

It’s hard to predict the future, but retailers are forced to plan for it six months to a year ahead. Registrations for the 2010 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market at the Salt Palace Convention Center Aug. 3-6 reveal optimism within the industry for 2011 sales.

Floor space for exhibitors is sold out, 12 percent more companies are planning to attend than last year, 18 percent more buyers are registered than for 2009 and 48 percent more first-time exhibitors are coming compared to the last show, according to a July 12 press release.

The down economy hit bottom in 2009, so it’s fairly easy for companies to show improvement this year. But Kenji Haroutunian, show director, said Friday he’d compare the 2010 show’s registration to 2007.

The Summer Market’s best year for the organizers was in 2008. Demand for exhibition space was so high the Energy Solutions Arena was contracted as spillover, he said. 2007 was likely the most profitable year for the outdoor retail industry.

"This recession has been very consistent with other recessions. I’ve been in the business for 25 years and the same pattern holds. We (outdoor retailers) went into it later than the general market, went less deep, and came out earlier," he said.

Last year’s depressed numbers can be somewhat explained by three factors, he said.

One is that the paddle-sports industry has been struggling with high shipping costs and low profit margins for about seven years so many in that sector did not attend the last show.

Second, because of a lack of consumer confidence, there were fewer "startups" making a presence.

Third, high-end equipment manufacturers and businesses catering to adventure travelers were hardest hit by the recession. An example of that is fly fishing, Haroutunian said. People love to travel to fish, but they stayed closer to home and used their old rods in 2009.

This year’s improvement is partially from those types of companies returning, but also because there’s a growing trend of shoe and apparel companies finding success marketing "outdoor lifestyle."

The number of stores in America selling footwear exclusively is declining, he said. People now buy their shoes wherever they also shop to supply their lifestyle. As a result, some companies are finding the shoe industry trade shows less helpful. If the footwear is for active people, they’re giving Outdoor Retailer a try, he explained.

The same is also true for apparel.

Other types of business finding a new home at the Summer Market are those in "endurance sports," he said. Companies that dress or equip adventure racers and ultra-marathon runners have been registering. To cater to them, the Grand Ballroom will host an Adventure Travel Hub, he said.

That buyers are returning to the show is especially good news, Haroutunian said. In 2009, many retailers were still "choked up" by the previous year’s merchandise and ordered less. Then that winter, the holiday season went well and first quarter sales in 2010 were positive.

Since the products bought at this year’s show will appear on shelves in spring of 2011, increased attendance suggests many are hopeful about next summer.


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