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Outside Business Journal

Live from OR: Everything You Missed on the Second Day

Your daily roundup from the show floor of Outdoor Retailer—cool gear, education recaps, and more

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Julie Dugdale

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Coming off of last night’s Inspiration Awards and Outdoor Retailer’s 40th anniversary party, the morning of day two felt, well, inspired. The annual celebration of the people, retailers, nonprofits, manufacturers, and emerging leaders culminated in the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Larry Harrison, whose sales-focused outdoor industry career is profound, covering more than five decades and brands including JanSport, Eagle Creek, YETI, Sierra Designs, and Adidas, to name a few, not to mention roles with Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Retailer. Other winners: Gloria Hwang of Thousand; Mercy M’fon Shammah of Wild Diversity, Goal Zero, National Forest Foundation, and Pack Rat Outdoor Center. 

As retailers, exhibitors, nonprofit staff, buyers, sales reps, and outdoor stewards milled around the convention center today—making introductions, reconnecting with friends, exploring new ideas—Harrison’s parting words in his acceptance speech lingered: “This is really about people. It’s about the ‘great us.’ I’ve always liked that concept of ‘us.’ People committed to one another are stronger, just like we are here, today. So you see, this award is not about me at all. But about each of you and the community that we’ve created. We inspire others to find joy in the outdoors and preserve wildlands for future generations. It’s about us. Good on us.” 

With that, we bring you today’s rundown of brands, gear, and thoughts from the floor.

Notable New Exhibitors

Everyone’s favorite Western wear goes all-terrain. A stroll by the Wrangler display stopped us in our tracks when we spotted a stack of colorful tights that fit squarely in the ‘athleisure’ realm. Wrangler showed up for its OR debut with a whole new line of apparel—All Terrain Gear—that skews less hunting, fishing, and ranchwear, more versatile outdoor garb. Think yoga pants, compression shorts, puffies, windbreakers, and trail joggers at affordable prices. “With people ‘finding’ the outdoors the past couple of years, they also found that everything in this industry is expensive,” says Aaron Mason, sales manager for ATG by Wrangler. “That’s where we found the gap. We’ve got fresh innovation and the technology, but the average consumer can afford the product.” Amen.

Wrangler brought its new outdoor-focused gear to the show.

Sunnies with built-in bluetooth tunes. Lucyd introduced its sleek line of polarized audio shades to the OR crowd this year, and we’re intrigued (especially at the $150 price point). They pair with your phone via bluetooth to play your favorite jams—and, via two subtle buttons, can even take and make phone calls, adjust volume, and skip tracks while you’re wearing them, whether you’re running or riding, on the trail, on the boat, or… wherever. It’s open-ear technology that makes your run safer because you can hear external sound in addition to your music. “Nobody’s done it like us with some of the patented technology we have,” says Lucyd sales director Ken Strominger. “It takes away your reliance on the phone because everything’s done through the glasses. And it takes ear buds out of the equation completely. It’s one less thing that’s hanging out of your ears or around your neck.” 

Headphones meet sunglasses with Lucyd’s new offerings.

Molded foam shoes for…everything. They’re boat shoes. They’re street shoes. They’re water kicks. They’re loafers. They’re Floafers. This casual, moldable, EVA foam shoe in a loafer silhouette is about as versatile as you can get in a summer shoe, once you get past the unconventional look. Tucked into a dazzling enclosed modern booth, this OR first-timer brought a dizzying array of shoes in almost every color imaginable, including a scented kids’ Crayola line (yes, they smell delightfully like coconut and grape!) and fun prints like the Baja Llama and Robert Stock collections. What sets them apart from other foam footwear is the rubber outsole, which affords slip-resistant, scuff-proof, boat-deck-friendly wearability. Plus, they have side holes for breathability and drainability, a utility hole for easy hanging via carabiner (just clip to your backpack), and massage pods on the inside for extra comfort. “We want to be modern, disruptive, and unexpected,” says president and CEO Larry Paparo. Mission accomplished. 

Floafers: what Crocs wish they could be.

Cool New Products

Running tights with a built-in knee brace: Injury-prone athletes, these are for you. Stoko’s K-Line tights—there are three versions with varying ventilation features and lengths—are referred to as “supportive apparel.” Each pair is a full lower-body compression system that the wearer can adjust to their comfort via minimalist dials on the back waistband. Each twist of the dial cinches cables in the tights that are mapped to the muscles on your body, but still allow for unfettered activity. “Rigid braces don’t allow that much movement,” says Stoko strategy specialist Kirsten Geyer. Pull on a pair of these tights, and “you can go through the full range of motion without restriction, and if your knee goes into an injury-compromised position, that’s where the cables pull tight to correct it.” Prepare to pony up: Thanks to the proprietary Embrace System technology, these tights ring in at $298.

Stoko’s leggings focus on injury prevention.

A must-have kit for wilderness survival: If you ever find yourself lost, stranded, or evacuating in the woods, mountains, desert, or water for any extended amount of time, you’ll wish you had one of Quake Kare’s Forever Endure Go-Bags along for the ride. You may have thought many times about what you would need to make it through a few days marooned in the wilderness—or even attempted to create an emergency survival kit yourself. Chances are, you missed something. Which could be critical. The beauty of these survival bundles is that experts have prepped and packaged it all for  you. The Ultimate Bug Out Bag ($260) is the most comprehensive (though the waterproof marine kit might be the best to stash on a boat), with all your basic needs—water, shelter, first aid, food, lighting, communication, and more—covered. With almost every tool and supply you can imagine, “you could survive off these bags for three to five days if you were to go out in the woods,” says Brittany Bettonville, director of marketing for Quake Kare’s parent company, Lighthouse for the Blind. “We’re really trying to sell to someone who is an outdoorsperson and a camper—someone who can start a fire by hand.”

Quake Kare wants to make sure you don’t die in the woods.

An 101-level e-bike in happy colorways: Xprit’s snazzy lineup is the prettiest set of electric bicycles we stumbled across at this show. “We like to target entry-level customers who are new to e-biking, maybe haven’t had enough courage to try them,” says Xprit product specialist Philip Hu. “So we design with that in mind. Color is one of our big design factors. We put a lot of effort into our colorways.” That translates to fun, retro color blocking (we liked the Beach Cruiser [$1,300] in Watermelon) that reads approachable and laid back. But if your speed is more forest trail than beach path, the fat-tired Hunter ($2,400) in Grand Prairie is a solid choice; it’s rugged enough to tow a trailer. Bonus: The bikes ship 95 percent assembled.

Xprit’s e-bikes look as good as they ride.

Hot Takes from the Show Floor

Slow but not boring: “The show looks great. It seems a little slow. It’s not as packed as I expected it to be. But I don’t know. Maybe it builds up. It hasn’t been boring at all. We’ve been interacting with a great amount of people, making connections. We’re excited to be here.” —Aiyesha Christian, Nomad Trail Mix

Aiyesha Christian

Nonprofits need more visibility: “We teach rock climbing, backpacking, camping, kayaking, and everything that goes along with it at Title I, lower-income schools. We’re just trying to get our name out there, make partnerships and collaborations with other nonprofits. It’s worth us being here, I think, since we’re such a new nonprofit. I just wish [nonprofits] had more of a presence [here] instead of being just pushed off in the corner, so to speak. I feel like maybe if we were out in the hallways, or lined up in front of the entryway or something, where we’re more visible, [it] might be nice. A lot of the retailers, once they see ‘nonprofit’ on your badge, they kind of give you less attention.” —Andrew Hartman, New Treks

Andrew Hartman

Work to do on DEI: “What’s been really helpful for me as a first-time attendee are the Outdoor Industry Association trainings and support. I think an area of improvement, for the outdoor industry or just this show in general, is diversity—in terms of representation and other audiences. I think that’s a definite area of growth. But I’m excited to be part of the industry and to be here. Denver is a beautiful city. It’s been amazing to see all the different brands. We all have to work together to support getting people outside.” —Sana Jafri, BabyGami, first cohort of REI’s Path Ahead Ventures

Sana Jafri

Lesson of the Day

There was a packed house at this morning’s NPD Group briefing on retail and consumer trends in the outdoor marketplace, keynoted by sports industry analyst Dirk Sorenson. 

Statistics and graphs aplenty provided a thorough picture of what, when, and why consumers are buying this year. Bottom line: The core outdoor industry—apparel, footwear, equipment, and accessories—has raked in $28.3 billion in retail sales in the 12 months ending in March 2022. That’s a growth of $6.8 billion over 2020. That’s significant. Ultimately, Sorenson encouraged retailers to keep a close eye on demographics and to whom they’re marketing, as it’s a moving target—and to think deeply about how to keep consumers engaged once you get them on board. 

Here, a sampling of the (many) takeaways: 

  • The outdoor industry will continue to be a bright spot in retail—but focus will lean toward backyard lifestyle.
  • Men are spending more on outdoor stuff. Coming off of the pandemic, they’re reevaluating their lifestyle and acting on it more than women.
  • Consumers are learning from their outdoor and fitness splurges. Big equipment purchases are not necessarily one-and-done. Once newcomers master the basics, they want to augment their enjoyment of the activity. Retailers need to take note and figure out how to retain those people.
  • Brick-and-mortar is back (up more than 27 percent from last year) while e-commerce is down more than 4 percent.
  • Lifestyle goods are surging in sales, while equipment sales are declining. 
  • Backpacks and luggage are hot, hot, hot.
  • Paddling sales are down (though SUP sales are up), and climbing gear is rebounding as people have gotten back to indoor gyms after a pandemic hiatus.
  • E-bikes are now selling better than both road and mountain bikes.
  • Top outdoor gear sellers in the past year include: water bottles, camp chairs, coolers, sleeping bags, and optics (i.e. binoculars). 
  • Spending at Recreation.gov, where you book camping sites at national parks and federal lands, is up 1 percent in Q1 of 2022 compared to 2021.

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