Outside Business Journal

Kenji Haroutunian Out as Outdoor Retailer Show Director

Emerald Expositions group sales director, Marisa Nicholson, to replace Haroutunian as show director

David Clucas

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The face of the outdoor industry is rapidly changing.

A month after Outdoor Industry Association’s change of leadership — parting ways with Frank Hugelmeyer — its trade show partner, Emerald Expositions (separate and privately held), announced a similar move to part ways with show director Kenji Haroutunian, who will depart in late November.

Both were instrumental leaders throughout the past decade in expanding the industry’s reach. Haroutunian spent 15 years — seven as Outdoor Retailer show director — with Emerald and its predecessor Nielsen Expositions, which was purchased by private equity firm Onex a year and a half ago.

Emerald has tapped Marisa Nicholson to replace Haroutunian. Nicholson has been with the company for 11 years, most recently as group sales director for Emerald’s Sport Group.

“Marisa was an obvious choice to take the reins of Outdoor Retailer,” said Darrell Denny, executive vice president of sports, apparel, e-commerce, licensing, and business development at Emerald Expositions. “She has been a key driver of growth and development of OR, and has an intimate understanding of the successes, the challenges, and the future goals. She understands the needs of the exhibitors and brings an informed attention and focus on the needs of the industry’s retail community.”

In her new role Nicholson will lead Outdoor Retailer Summer and Winter Market, “which have become the 29th and 36th largest shows, respectively, in the United States,” officials said.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to further the growth of Outdoor Retailer and honor the traditions that Kenji so successfully shepherded,” Nicholson said. “I will call on the many outstanding leaders and mentors in the industry I know and those I will come to know better going forward.”

It likely won’t take long for Haroutunian to find a new role in the outdoor industry.

“I’ve enjoyed the challenge of managing the shows for seven years, and with the Outdoor Retailer team poised for future greatness, the time is right for me to move on,” he said. “I’m proud of my tenure with the team, and I’m excited to move into my next role, in service to the industry I am so passionate about.”

Retailers expressed surprise at the latest news.

“Kenji worked hard to build a consensus between retailers and vendors,” said Dawson Wheeler, owner of Rock/Creek Outfitters in Tennessee. “Certainly the show has had some growing pains, but I always felt he was doing an excellent job.”

“He brought everyone to the table to find that middle ground,” said Mike Massey, owner of Masseys Outfitters in Louisiana. “When you talk about size and the number of stakeholders at Outdoor Retailer, that’s not an easy thing to do.”

Others echoed those sentiments to OBJ, saying Hourtunian was a hands-on leader who never shied from taking on the issues or taking a phone call at any hour.

“Outdoor Retailer will continue to focus on the backcountry core of Winter Market and will continue to support and grow the paddle, camping, hiking, and climbing segments at Summer Market,” Emerald officials said. It also remains on track in its negotiations with show host Salt Lake City, with an expected decision on the show’s future location (beyond 2016) coming in early 2015.