I've often said that the Outdoor Retailer show is one of those things you just have to see, because it's so hard to describe. Like Alaska (where I lived for six years), it's so mind-boggling huge that it takes getting lost in it to understand the experience of it. Nonetheless, I'm going to take the license to try describing it ... The main room of the Outdoor Retailer show is a cavernous brightly lit space that takes up not just one block, but rather multiple. Thick cement walls and vaulted industrial ceilings form a barrier between thousands of raucous coffee and beer drinking outdoor "professionals" and the center of the Mormon faith (Temple Square is within a stone's throw).
At the cost of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars, every known outdoor brand has essentially built its own highly merchandised portable storefront in its few square feet of rental space. No expense is sparred on bling, with each brand hoping it will outshine its competitor. Live music, free beer, free coffee, free gear. That's par for the course. After a few days of walking the people-congested corridors that snake between the exhibitors, you almost forget what Ponderosa pines or fresh rain might smell like. You're in a weird vortex of an industry that's all about getting people outside, but feels anything but. It sucks you in. You really start to want all the new stuff – backpacks, coats, shirts, shoes, skis and so much more – all fresh off the cargo ship from China or some other far flung place. I didn't purposely take the photo below out of focus, but it actually fits, because that's how you feel ... out of focus.
As I'm there on the business of Garage Grown Gear, I don't actually spend the bulk of my time in that main room. I head straight for the ball room, tucked to one side of the building. I also scour corners and nooks and walk the convention center's halls. It's in these less-lit, less-trafficked spaces that I'm prone to stumble on the brands I'm after. American Mountain Co., MyMayu and Farm to Feet all set up shop in the ball room. (American Mountain Co will be for sale soon in Garage Grown Gear's store).
I landed on NW Alpine, a brand I'm super excited to be bringing into the Garage Grown Gear fold, in the very farthest corner of the main room ... not far from Pakems, another brand soon to arrive in our store.
Marauder was at the end of a long hall. I think they have a cool throwback design that looks to be functional. Your thoughts? (This is another brand coming in for a landing here on Garage Grown Gear).
And Good To-Go didn't even have a booth of their own. Instead they commandeered Jet Boil's booth to hand out samples during Happy Hour.
Somehow amid the chaos and crowds I bumped into old friends. Bubba from Give'r and Steve and Leslie from Liquid Hardware. And then Kate from Kate's Real Food. And JB, a ski school buddy from the days when we both taught at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (he's now an owner at SWS Mountain Guides).
In those moments, despite the Vegas-style ambiance, the Outdoor Retailer Show feels like coming home. I've known a few of our partnering companies from their inception, when they had nothing more than prototypes and high hopes. These companies are now starting to get some real traction and attention. As startups, we're all growing up together. That's an amazing feeling, and that makes being at the Outdoor Retailer show really super cool. So, what's it like to go to the Outdoor Retailer show? Like anything else in life, it's a little bit of yin and a little bit of yang.