Live from the Second Day of Outdoor Retailer
A roundup of happenings from the show floor—new gear, education recaps, and more
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Right on cue, the flakes were flying outside the Convention Center as the second day of the OR Snow Show ramped up. The morning kicked off with an early session covering outdoor market research and consumer trends, which parsed data on a phenomenon we’ve all happily witnessed over the past couple of years: More people are itching to buy outdoor stuff. In fact, the core outdoor market grew by $5 billion between 2019 and 2021, now sitting at $27.4 billion. Accompanying this data was the pointed remark that most of this growing market consists of novice and backyard (read: not elite) outdoor participants—and that retailers need to embrace these new customers on every level.
It was an interesting observation, reinforced as we perused the floor and noticed a scarcity of the usual retailer badges. Yes, the pandemic is the obvious culprit. But it also seemed to go hand-in-hand with the types of exhibitors and companies lining the hall; niche products that can be applied to the outdoor world, but veer a bit from the traditional OR lineup. Then again, perhaps it’s just another upshot of a pared-down show—new voices and creative ideas snagging a piece of the mainstream.
Here are our takeaways from our trek across the hall as we scoped new gear and pondered new ideas.
Cool New Products
The coziest: Jetty’s men’s Sherpa-lined “shackets” have been the company’s best sellers for years. But now the women’s line is gaining steam, too, thanks to more styles and fresh new colorways. The Jetty Nivean Flannel Jacket ($120) caught our eye for its blue-and-gold cotton face fabric and gunmetal snaps. But the real magic is in the “Teddy Bear” fleece, which lines the body, sleeves, and pockets for maximum warmth.
A better snowmobile: Moonbikes, a French company with offices in Boulder, Colo., are like the Teslas of snowmobiles—electric, stylish, and (by the looks of them) rip-roaringly fun to drive. Founded by a former aerospace engineer, the company went through three years of research and development before selling its first production run of 50 bikes last year. This season, they’ve upped production to 400, and have almost sold out already, says Business Project Manager Gaston Lachaize. “We just got $5 million in investment from a private partner, which is going to allow us to produce 1,500 bikes next year,” says Lachaize. The bikes retail for $8,500 and can be transported on standard car-mounted bike racks, due to their ridiculously low weight of just 191 pounds. They’re silent, emissions-free, and can reach speeds of 26 miles per hour.
A slick way to prop your skis: If you’ve ever leaned your planks against your car while you de-boot and de-layer after a long day on the hill, you know the feeling when they inevitably fall over, leaving your car with a souvenir scratch where the edges scraped down the side. RigStrips, the brainchild of co-founders Steven Graf and Zhach Pham, was born as a solution to this problem. The patent-pending grooved magnetic strip fits ultra-securely to your vehicle—tested on highways and in all weather conditions—without damaging the paint. With a design that blends seamlessly with exterior vehicle embellishments, it can stay affixed permanently (minus trips to the carwash). Skis and snowboards (SnoStrip), or fishing rods (SunStrip) can sit snugly in the grooves, which act as a buffer between the metal edges and the car surface. They recommend placing the strip on the rear quarter panel right above the back tire. “Everyone’s seen and heard their stuff come crashing down in the parking lot,” Graf says. “Or someone gets in the car and it falls. We’ve had so many customer emails saying they’ve seen their skis get rolled over, or someone’s dog got injured from falling skis. They’re sharp.” Both the SnoStrip and the SunStrip retail for $49.95.
Notable New Exhibitors
A new custom ski company from Utah: Allred Custom Skiworks is one of the few ski makers actually exhibiting on the floor this time around—a lucky stroke for an upstart brand trying to make a name for itself in a crowded market. “This is our first OR and we’re getting a lot of feedback,” says the brand’s founder, Chad Allred. “Luckily, it’s all been great so far.” Allred was a physical therapist for 20 years before starting his company, and he brings a deep knowledge of body movement to his process of handcrafting skis that work flawlessly with customers’ unique physiologies. A pair of custom skis starts at $1,200 and uses locally sourced beetle-kill pine and diseased aspen for core wood to maximize the brand’s sustainability.
Sustainable Swiss-made kids’ outerwear: The only things cuter than toddlers in snowsuits are toddlers in snowsuits who aren’t cold and wet. Enter: Namuk, a Switzerland-based maker of children’s outdoor apparel that launched in North America in December. The colorful parkas, fleeces, and snowsuits are designed with nifty features like reflective threads and magnetic closures, plus eco-conscious materials like biodegradable PrimaLoft insulation (Namuk was the first to bring this to market). “There’s never bad weather; there’s just bad gear,” says Becky Hendee of Obviouslee Marketing, who handles Namuk’s marketing. “And kids should be raised knowing that.” Our pick: The Eon “starter” rolltop backpack ($120), designed to keep out the elements for kids with stuff to carry.
Hot Takes from the Show Floor
A big showing: “We had a bunch of key meetings scheduled with big retail buyers and dinners every night,” says Nathan Dopp, CEO Americas at Fjällräven, which had one of the largest booths on the show floor. “All of that got canceled because of Omicron, but we’re still here. We knew we would be one of the only big brands in attendance again, and that’s OK. But we can’t do that much longer. I believe June will be bigger and more normal. We want some more company!”
A firm stance on plastic: Matt Gowar, owner of Rab and Lowe Alpine, is fired up about plastic. After conducting an 18-month polybag recycling pilot in partnership with the European Outdoor Group, he believes that plastic is not the evil monster that many make it out to be. “We need to use plastic sparingly, to be sure, but plastic is a resource, and needs to be respected for that. It’s good at what it does: protect goods for shipping in a lightweight manner. The outdoor industry needs to keep the plastic polybags we use for shipping inside the B2B environment and not put it out there into the consumer world, where the recycling wheels fall off the truck. Distribution centers need to remove plastic packaging and sell it to local recyclers. When a big retailer like REI imposes a plastic tax on brands, it’s backwards. Polybags are a valuable commodity that need to be respected and repurposed.”
All in the family: “We’re not here to write orders. We’re here to make marketing connections and build relationships,” says Jahmicah Dawes of Texas-based retailer Slim Pickins, who came to the show with his partner Heather Dawes and their two kids, plus Heather’s sister, her husband, and their baby. “This right here is the beautiful mess that Slip Pickins is. We’re a true family business and we want our kids to grow up around trade shows because we’re building this for the next generation.”
Lesson of the Day
What to do about all this plastic: Our industry has a plastic packaging problem, and we all know it. The big question is: What can we—what should we—be doing about it? Snow Show attendees gathered in the Trend + Design Center this afternoon to grab some insight from a panel of companies (including Rab North America, mountainFLOW eco-wax, and Krimson Klover) working to promote greener packaging.
The perception of and approach to plastic differed between companies; for instance, mountainFLOW founder and CEO Peter Arlein has adopted a fairly anti-plastic philosophy and uses biodegradable or recycled materials for his plant-based wax packaging, in contrast to Rab’s Matt Gowar (see above), who proposes that treating plastic as a valuable commodity—something to be respected and kept around instead of tossed in the trash after the box is opened—is a at least a start to drying up our waste stream. But the bottom line for each brand is this: As an industry and as consumers, we cannot let the scope of the problem deter us from taking steps in the right direction, and we must open-source our solutions. Seek knowledge. Copy those who are doing it well. And when it comes to grappling with how to start implementing solutions to chip away at something so daunting, don’t be afraid to tap everyone in your supply and distribution chains to see what’s possible. “Ask the question,” says Krimson Klover senior designer Olivia O’Neill. “Ask if they’re willing to change the packaging to include more bulk. Ask what they’re willing to do.”