Outdoor Retailer 2003

The Gear Guy's roundup

Aug 21, 2003
Outside Magazine

Where's Doug?: The OR floor show

Taking it outside

My epiphany about the future of gear came not from the floor of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, mid-August's annual gear orgy in Salt Lake City, but from Louis, a New Yorker who was at the show as a dealer representative. We met late Friday night in the Wyndham Hotel bar while watching the Seattle Mariners on TV, him swilling bad Scotch, me a bad gin and tonic.

"The thing about this business," Louis said, exhaling a long plume of cigarette smoke just as Ichiro fouled off his fourth pitch in a row, "is that it's not like the shoe business. There you've got Nike and Reebok and that's about it. But here, anybody with a decent product can come in and create a business. It's MUCH more democratic."

I was busy watching Ichiro valiantly trying to park one in the stands. But I was also listening, and had to agree. The outdoor industry IS like that. It's true that the mom-and-pop retail shops are getting fewer and farther between, and the big players perhaps have too much influence. But it's astonishing to come to the show, year after year, and always find somebody new pitching a new product. They're not always trying to get rich, either. They had an idea for a product, and think other people will share their passion. And often as not, they find a market. Because good stuff sells.
Case in point: Big Agnes, a company making sleeping bags, tents, and pads that I first came across at the show maybe three years ago. The founder, a friendly guy named Bill Gamber, was hawking a bag that had no insulation on the bottom; instead you used a sleeping pad, saving both weight and money. I think he had a tent, too. The bag idea wasn't new, and tents, well, they were everywhere. I looked at his gear, wished him well, and figured I'd never see him again. But Bill and Big Agnes are still around, and they're doing great. This year he added five new sleeping bags, including the zero-degree Storm King (three pounds, two ounces; $199) and four new tents, such as the three-person Seedhouse 3 (four pounds, eight ounces; $239). The stuff isn't the lightest, or the warmest, or the sturdiest. But it looks good, it works, and it's priced well. And, yes, people have responded—Big Agnes' business is holding up and even growing despite the gloomy economy.

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