with contributions from Ariel Sayre
 on July 31, 2013

Has interest in outdoor sector peaked, or is it set to climb even higher?

The trade show Outdoor Retailer, which starts its four-day run today at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, has expanded along with the category that has grown dramatically over the last few years, but whether the sector can duplicate that growth going forward is an open question. The trick for retailers and exhibitors at OR is to keep innovating and broadening the audience for outdoor merchandise, while maintaining core consumers who help validate the importance of the sector.

“There aren’t more people doing actual sports, but there are more people buying outdoor products because of the fashion and style that is popular. That continues to build momentum at all levels of the distribution channel from specialty retailer to online to big box,” said Kenji Haroutunian, vice president at Emerald Expositions and the director of Outdoor Retailer.

Haroutunian wondered, however, if fashion is a long-term recipe for growth in the outdoor industry.

“If there aren’t more people doing it, eventually style mavens will move on,” he said. “Perhaps metallic will be in, or big suits will be the new look — but then what? Is there still an engine driving the industry?”

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, sales of outdoor products fell 1.7 percent in May, the last month for which the OIA has released data, to $828.9 million, marking the first sales decline in 2013. Sales of outdoor apparel dropped 3.3 percent to $162.8 million for the month, primarily driven by stumbles in activewear, sportswear bottoms, socks and undergarments. Outerwear and rain items registered slight increases in May.

Overall outdoor product sales grew 5.1 percent in 2012 to $11.4 billion, according to OIA data.

Blamed on poor weather, the significance of the weakened sales in May is unclear, but brands and retailers arriving at the OR show appeared to think it was an aberration rather than a harbinger of worse sales to come. They are banking that Americans — 141.9 million of whom were estimated by OIA to have been involved in outdoor activities last year — won’t head back inside.

Participation at OR has certainly not been affected by May’s results. Haroutunian expected turnout to be on par with the show a year ago and estimated there would be about 1,300 exhibitors and 27,000 retail buyers, media and other attendees. The numbers could have been greater if OR wasn’t restricting people and brands with the purpose of quality control. “It won’t be a significantly bigger show either in footprint or overall attendance,” said Haroutunian. “It has been in the fastest 50 growing shows in the country [by attendance, according to the Trade Show News Network] for the past few years. It is time to focus on the quality side.”


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