'Jesse Albanese'
Outside Business Journal

How the industry feels about the likely SIA, OR winter trade show merge

Emerald Expositions, parent company of OR, is striking a deal to buy the SIA Snow Show. Members will vote on the deal Wednesday.

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The SIA Snow Show and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market have long been at odds over their dates, their attendance, and their exhibitors. When Denver signed a contract reserving its convention space for the Snow Show through 2030, it also agreed to a non-compete clause barring other outdoor industry trade shows within a certain time period. That clause was, reportedly, one of few things standing in the way for Denver to become the new host of Outdoor Retailer.

But a new proposition to merge the two winter shows into one could eliminate that issue, flood the coffers of non-profit SIA, which prides itself as an industry-owned trade group, and lure Outdoor Retailer to Denver for the foreseeable future.

Outdoor Retailer demo day
Wasatch Ski Mountaineering Race at Outdoor Retailer. (Photo: Courtesy)

SIA sent a long, confidential letter to its members detailing the negotiations and the upcoming vote to seal the roughly $16.7 million deal. According to the letter, which Outside Business Journal has read, the SIA board unanimously approved the deal last week; the member vote is scheduled for May 24th.

“Emerald is well positioned to address one of the key comments that SIA has heard over the past year – a ‘combined winter show’ would benefit the industry,” the letter reads. “Emerald has the ability to bring together the outdoor and snow sports industries under one roof. As many have pointed out, this is a natural evolution. The two industries have much in common and the overlap is becoming increasingly more and more evident: sharing retailers, reps, manufacturing resources, supply chain management, sustainability endeavors, and the end consumer.

“A combined show means a more effective platform for our members to do business and a greater return on their trade show investment. This also means one less winter trade show in an increasingly congested trade show landscape.”

“SIA’s leadership has been discussing over the past year what we can do to to further our mission of helping the winter sports industry thrive,” SIA President Nick Sargent tells Outside Business Journal. “We’ve been exploring any and all possibilities that could lessen the stresses facing the snow industry and are always looking to improve the winter sports business and that includes the trade show landscape.” Sargent says he cannot provide any specifics of the deal at this time, as he is bound by a confidentiality agreement until it’s official.

Thanks to the money from the sale, SIA expects to have “greater bandwidth to focus on other vital industry initiatives,” according to the letter to members. “Through research, education, consumer outreach, retail support and community building, SIA intends to bring greater value to its members and will focus its efforts on driving industry growth. SIA looks forward to the opportunity to engage further with its members, bringing new opportunities and tools to help grow their business and the industry as a whole.”

Outdoor Industry Association Executive Director Amy Roberts did not return a call for comment. Outdoor Retailer’s show director, Marisa Nicholson, said Friday morning that she could not comment on the pending deal.

Since Outdoor Retailer announced its plan to relocate the show from its long-time home in Salt Lake City to a state that’s more aligned with the public lands position of the outdoor industry, cities have been coming out of the woodwork to host the $45 million show, including Portland, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Reno, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and of course, Denver, the fan favorite according to our poll.

Outdoor Retailer is nearing the end of the new venue decision process, and an official announcement is expected soon. “Although we are contracted [with Salt Lake City] through 2018, we are considering all our options after Summer Market 2017,” Outdoor Retailer has said.

Industry reaction

Kim Miller, SIA  board member and CEO of SCARPA, spoke to OBJ, clarifying that he was speaking from his perspective as an industry CEO, and could not provide details about the proposed merge.

“I think it’s better for the industry as a whole to bring these events together,” Miller says. “For us, it’s definitely better if we could go to one trade show instead of three or four, for the same reasons” as dealers, who need to spend as little time out of the office and as little of their budget on trade shows as possible in order to maximize business efficiency.

“It’s a duplication of effort in many ways,” Miller continues. “There’s so much overlap in the winter trade events for us, that it makes sense for us, as a vendor, to do one show. There’s a little bit of fringe on either side, but in the best analysis, we won’t lose anything [by merging the shows]. We will gain, because can put on one best event instead of three OK ones.”

SCARPA North America, which is based in Boulder, Colo., doesn’t differentiate between the “snowsports” and “outdoor” industries, Miller says. For them, it’s all the same. So it makes sense to pool efforts into one trade show, exposing everyone to a much wider audience and much larger set of brands. In the past, there has been some, but not substantial, overlap between exhibitors and attendance of the SIA Snow Show and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. Some brands, like SCARPA, Black Diamond, and Smartwool, have previously attended both shows. Other snowsports brands, like Giro and Burton, stick solely with SIA.

Many retail shops choose between the two shows, too, like Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont. Hardgoods buyer Joshua Stephen says he stopped going to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market a few years ago, because what he really needed was a ski-focused, hardgoods-heavy show. The SIA Snow Show has provided that for the shop, along with a robust demo day he says has been much more useful than the demo Outdoor Retailer runs at Winter Market.

Merging the Snow Show and OR Winter Market means there’s one less trade show brands and retailers have to worry about. The 2018/2019 winter season previously had four winter shows on its docket: Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect in November 2018, and the SIA Snow Show and Outdoor Retailer Winter Expo in January 2019.

Amy Roberts, Rich Hill, Marisa Nicholson
Amy Roberts from OIA, Rich Hill from GOA, and Marisa Nicholson from Outdoor Retailer, pictured here at OR Winter Market 2017, worked together last year to redefine the trade show landscape. (Photo: Caveman Collective)

As leaders of those four shows have said they’re unable to comment until after the likely merge next week, it’s unclear how everything could come together if the Snow Show merges with one of Outdoor Retailer’s two planned shows. Could one focus on softgoods, and one on hardgoods? How will the co-located GOA Connect and OR Winter Market factor in? It all remains to be seen.

Fewer trade shows is always a good thing, Stephen says. Particularly for East Coast retailers, it’s expensive to get out West. But it’s unclear how a new, merged show will accommodate both hardgoods and softgoods, which have different timelines for production, samples, and order deadlines. Softgoods deadlines are typically much earlier than hardgoods deadlines.

Stephen says he’s interested to see what the game plan for the merged shows would look like.

“Will we still attend? For sure, we’ll still attend no matter what, probably, because we’ve always seen the value” in a big industry gathering, Stephen says. “But from a buyer standpoint, it’s going to be hard to meet everyone’s needs, I think.”

Brendan Madigan, owner of Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City, CA, has never attended Snow Show in the past. Instead, he’s chosen to show up at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. “As a small retailer with a ski department that focuses on backcountry and Nordic, we just viewed it as an ancillary expense,” he says. “We’ve always wanted access to some of the other brands that don’t exhibit at OR, because the more exposure we get to brands, and the more product we can test, the more we can offer our customers.”

Outdoor Retailer traditionally has had a wider focus. Instead of mainly skis and snowboards, you’ll also find a large variety of winter tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and apparel, among other outdoor goods. Merging the shows provides an opportunity for significantly more exposure for all parties involved, Miller says.

“It’s the critical mass concept, and the idea of casting a bigger net,” Miller says. “If you’re a dealer, you want [to go to the trade show] to see new things. If you’re a vendor, you want to see new customers. If you’re just seeing the same people all the time you’re not really casting a bigger net.”

Madigan agreed.

“It’s exciting, timely, and overdue,” he says.

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