SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – After a tornado disrupted what was still the largest outdoor industry gathering ever, the 1999 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Show moved ahead under a new format, and concluded a three-day “gathering” with reports of high spirits and good business.
Total attendance for the show was 13,620, including more than 860 exhibiting companies and 4,450 buyers.
“Early feedback from the retailers, reps and manufacturers indicates that this event has become an exciting reminder of the outdoor industry’s core values – as well as surprisingly solid and optimistic business results,” said Dieter Tremp, Outdoor Retailer Show Director. “Summer Market ’99 will be remembered for more than just a tornado.”
After an F2-grade tornado hit the trade show site in downtown Salt Lake City on Wednesday, the future of the event was seriously in doubt. Two pavilions at the Salt Palace Convention Center were occupied by workers and exhibitors setting up for the show when the storm hit. Damage from the storm displaced an estimated 30 percent of the show’s exhibitors. However, more than 300 of the 330 pavilion-based companies were reassigned locations within the main hall as many exhibitors shared their booth space.
“Initially, I thought foot traffic was down,,” said Brian Chitwood, communications director for Confluence. “But since early on day one, we’ve been hammered. I haven’t been able to get out and cruise the floor at all.”
Chitwood added that Confluence expected to conduct 400 appointments prior to the show start, and that approximately 10 percent of those either didn’t show or canceled their time slots – a fallout rate which Chitwood said was typical for a “normal” show.
Confluence shared their booth space with Riot Kayaks as well as Riverside, both of which could be construed as competing companies.
“The competition of those exhibitors that we let in was a non-concern,” said Chitwood. “People came into our booth to do business, but they also noticed and appreciated the fact that we had other companies in here. Actually, it gave it more of a bazaar feel.”
Jeffery Polke of GCI Outdoors was originally scheduled to exhibit his folding campsite chairs in the pavilions. When the show opened on Friday morning, Polke set up his salvaged display on a small strip of carpet within the Mountain Hardwear booth.
“It’s one of things like what your mom told you when you were a little kid, that when something bad happens, something good happens too,” said Polke.
“I’ll never forget it.”
Polke described the business he did at the show as a “home run,” adding that his sales were up 100 percent. In addition, he lavished praise on his hosts at Mountain Hardwear, who allowed several other exhibitors to set up shop on their reserved space.
“I’ll never forget this,” said Polke. “I don’t own any of their products right now, but the next time I’m looking for sleeping bags or tents, they’re going to be the first on my list.”
The climbing wall company Entre Prises of Bend, Ore., provided two climbing walls for demonstrations of new gear at the show. One was located inside, while the other was situated outside of Pavilion Two – the area hardest hit by the tornado.
After the outdoor climbing wall by the pavilion was declaared off limits, the indoor wall took on a new attitude as well. Climbing Magazine, who hosted the indoor wall, gave up a day of time slots to Rock & Ice Magazine, which initially was slated to run the pavilion wall After the storm, the wall was one of the few intact items on that side of the convention center still standing.
“We were looking forward to having two walls here. The outdoor wall was going to be a centerpiece, sort of a festive center for the pavilions,” said Patrick Walker of Entre Prises. “As sad as it is to say, it was almost good for business.”
The mood of people doing business was affected by the shortened schedule of the show – but only temporarily, according to Casey Sheahan of Kelty.
“Buyers were distracted and time compressed on day one, but started to even out, relax and focus on days two and three,” said Sheahan. “It was a very workmanlike show, given the constraints of the tragedy.”
Sheahan, who surrendered prime space in his booth to two different exhibitors, was pleased with the way many industry members helped out other, disadvantaged companies. He also praised show management for their efforts in pulling off the show.
“I’d like to thank Dieter Tremp (OR Show Director) for his leadership and his making a genuine effort to keep the business machine humming,” said Sheahan.
Retailers on the floor said that the activity was consistently businesslike and that the revised schedule was only marginally disruptive.
“It’s been very low stress,” said Jason Gleich of Mountain Supply. “It wasn’t that hard to reschedule, and the few times I was running late, it didn’t bother me because I figured the exhibitor probably wasn’t counting on me to make it over anyway.”
As of Sunday afternoon, exhibiting companies were extricating the last bits of salvageable goods from the damaged pavilions.
Relief efforts which started at the trade show were coordinated by the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America. A fund for Allen Crandy and other victims of the tornado surpassed $65,000 by Sunday afternoon. The fund included $10,000 donations from ORCA, Timberland and Jansport as well as $2,758 which was collected by “passing a hat” around the floor of the show.
Outdoor Retailer is a division of Miller Freeman, In.c, located at 310 Broadway, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, 949-376-8155. The Outdoor Retailer Winter and Summer Market shows are the world’s largest outdoor industry trade shows. Outdoor Retailer Magazine, published since 1980, is the leading publication for the outdoor marketplace.