Outdoor Retailer, the annual summer gearapalooza in Salt Lake City, is normally marked by an overall air of gearly bonhomie. Fierce competitors chat amicably or give one another big hugs, reflecting the fact the outdoor-gear world is still pretty tightly knit despite the huge scope of this ever-growing show (348,000 square feet of exhibit spacethe equivalent of 7.25 football fields; 925 exhibitors; 19,000 attendees).
But this year's show had a bit of a sinister undercurrent. The folks at Cascade Designs, makers of Therm-a-Rest pads and many other outdoor goodies, were a little startled to find a booth in the Paviliona huge outdoor tent where new exhibitors perform penance for a year or two before admission to the main exhibition areasthat sold exact knockoffs of Cascade Designs' popular Denali Classic snowshoes. "They were exactly the same," says Jeff Bowman, Cascade Designs' vice president for outdoor sales and product development. "Except for the patent number molded into the bottom on ours." The knockoffs were offered to retailers at $15 a pair wholesale, a fraction of what Cascade Designs can afford to sell them for.
The pirates were from a company called United Industrial, part of a consortium of Chinese gear suppliers, a growing contingent in recent years as more and more outdoor-gear manufacturing goes offshore. But as they are in software and DVDs, the Chinese have also shown a propensity for taking a few shortcuts. Several gear makers have noticed strangers in their booths, taking pictures and measuring gear.
In Cascade Designs' case, they'd heard rumors for a year or two that something was afoot, so were prepared for quick action. The company flew a staff attorney out from Seattle, who worked overnight with attorneys in Salt Lake City to draw up papers suing United Industrial. The next morning, Bowman, attorneys, and a city bailiff marched to the United Industrial booth. "It was kind of fun," Bowman says. "At the booth they acted like they couldn't speak Englishbut we learned later they speak flawless English. And a few booths away, another company saw what was going on and began to pack up their entire display!"
For now, United Industrial president Daniel Fang has agreed to quit selling his copycat snowshoes in North America.