Outside Business Journal

Op-Ed: To Be a Force, We Need the National Trade Show

Outdoor Industry Association Board Chair Nora Stowell asks people to show up at Outdoor Retailer

Nora Stowell

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For too long now, there has been frequent chatter and some discord around our industry’s ecosystem of national and regional trade shows: the number of shows and their purpose, timing, cost and business need. The persistence of these grumblings means we have issues we need to address. When we avoid these issues, tension arises and ultimately turns to dissension. We are in one of these situations right now. It’s time to come together to creatively develop solutions and bravely embrace whatever evolutions are needed.

"Smiling woman with long brown hair"
Nora Stowell is the board chair of Outdoor Industry Association. She is also Fabric Sales & Marketing Division Leader at W.L. Gore. (Photo: Courtesy)

We should stay focused on this important legacy event. At the same time, the market is changing, and we need to change with it.I’ve worked in a number of industries, and I can honestly say that the outdoor industry is uniquely collaborative. We are most effective when we work together with our diverse perspectives towards a common goal. Whether we are lobbying on Capitol Hill for public lands, developing sustainability standards to combat climate change or taking collective action to get more people outside, we put aside our competitive interests and work together to achieve our goals more effectively and quickly than we could as individual companies.

What does this have to do with trade shows? Well, the national trade show provides a critical convening place for us to do this work together. At Outdoor Retailer each year, we make important connections and discoveries, we are exposed to new ideas and we are witnesses to the culture and shared values of our industry. We come from all over the country and the world, from different backgrounds and different companies, but we leave feeling part of a community.

Without a national convening event, we run the risk of fracturing our ability to influence, support our members and continue to grow our $887B outdoor recreation economy. I know I am not alone in holding this perspective. In fact, in a recent trade show survey published by OBJ, over 73 percent of respondents agreed that we need an all-industry gathering for these very reasons.

As our national gathering, Outdoor Retailer has been the foundation of the industry community for almost 40 years. What started as a business need has also become a critical community connection point and the space to tackle big issues.

As the world changes and the consumer market evolves with trade wars, warming climates and technology advancement, our businesses face risk. Which is why Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), our industry’s trade organization, has a reason for being. We provide value to our members and protect against threats of the future by focusing all of our efforts on our three-pillar strategy: policy, sustainability and outdoor participation.

At OIA, the trade show is central to almost all the work we do. It is where we collaborate and convene to get some of the best proactive work done on behalf of the industry. It is also a large part of how we are funded, as our two most important sources of revenue are from membership dues and trade show royalties.

We need Outdoor Retailer to be successful. We believe it remains the best venue to harness our industry’s innovative thinking, products and marketing, not to mention the community connection that defines us. We should stay focused on this important legacy event. At the same time, the market is changing, and we need to change with it. The trade show will need to evolve, and Outdoor Industry Association, Snowsports Industries America (SIA), and Emerald Expositions are committed to meeting bi-annually to make sure Outdoor Retail stays essential to support the needs of our member brands and retailers far into the future.

In the meantime, our call to action is that you join us in Denver this month and in June and continue to join us in the future to show your support and belief in our industry community. It’s about more than just the business you do there. It’s also about coming together as a unified force to tackle important issues that we face as an industry. At this January’s show, OIA will be announcing an industry-wide collective effort around climate change that will define this industry for generations to come. Working together and taking bold action, we can grow our businesses and be a major force for social, political and economic change.

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