Three days at the winter OR: Seeing a lot of gear, seeing a lot of friends and pitching in to help a good cause.
So I went to the Winter Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, Utah.
First, some facts about the outdoor industry “lay of the land”:
- 40% of the current outdoor users have a family income of $75,000 or more per year. The current median income is $53,0000 a year.
- 70% of the outdoor users are of European ancestry (read: White)
- The outdoor industry product sales (counting vehicles) is 120.7 billion dollars
- REI’s sales alone topped two-billion dollars in 2013.
There’s a LOT of money to be made off the mainly white, college educated and affluent consumer base. And the Winter OR shows that it is indeed an outdoor industry. More so than I realized.
I could talk about the gear, but for a person whose gear pick of the year is scraps of blue foam, I was under-whelmed. Nylon and rubber shoes. Nylon packs. Nylon jackets with some kind of filling. A stove that is .5 oz lighter and uses some sort of isobutane canister. Some sort of nylon or polyester or wool based clothing. Not that there weren’t innovations (I did like the Sea to Summit mats potentially for someone) or toys that were interesting, but overall most gear is about having new product to create buzz so it seems shiny and new and will take up precious REI shelf space.
I’ve been to IT trade shows. Though the product is different, the vibe is similar: Sell some crap to people looking to buy stuff so they can sell some crap to other people looking to buy stuff.
Rather than working as an IT Monkey for three days or more, I felt as if I was trapped in REI for three days or more.
One big surprise, at least to me, was the presence of what are colloquially known as “booth babes”. For an industry that allegedly prides itself on progressive values, seeing young women in skimpy clothes to entice (mainly) middle-aged men to make big purchases was more of a head scratcher than anything. I know many accomplished women in the outdoors and I am curious to hear their take. Again, it was not very different from some IT trade shows. (Perhaps the people attending are in better overall shape at the OR show, however!) Commerce is commerce apparently…. The concept of young women to sell product goes back far longer than an outdoor trade show as well…
So why did I go?
- I wanted to help out the Continental Divide Trail Coalition
I am currently a board member for this group (and occasional in-house IT Monkey 😉 ), and it was great to work the CDTC booth every now and then, answer questions and do a “meet and greet” with the retailers who have money to donate.
- Connect with good friends, talk to people I’ve known online for years but never met IRL, and see people I know in the community.
There’s a wonderful bond among all of us.
I was reminded of how much I love the long trails and the people in it: The volunteers, the coordinators, the hikers of the trails.
And, it was just plain fun being with them. The happy hours, the talking trail, hanging out and being with people who had a similar love and passion in common. Awesome.
- A chance to take our silly little podcast on the road
Our motto is “Less gear…more beer”. So it was a hoot to go to an event dedicated to selling said gear.
But the best part was our taping of our first ever road show on Saturday night.. The energy, camaraderie, and just plain fun we all had was awesome. Quite possibly our best show yet. Over fifteen trail people, all well-known and in the community for a while. Simply fantastic.
- I like to check out things for myself
What is all the hoopla about? Is it really that interesting? Personally, I like to experience something for myself rather than relying on the observations and opinions of others.
I will say after 3+ days of walking the floor and being in an intense environment, I was drained. I need to get out and play.
What I did find is that I think many people are like me: Happy to make contacts, see old friends and makes new ones. The gear is there of course, but the highlights are the people. Or at least it seems that way to me.
I’ll leave the discourse on the latest nylon watchamahoosits to more qualified others.
I’m on call this week for my day job, but I am ready to get out again next weekend.
I want to ski, maybe sleep in a tent, and hoist a hot drink while looking at the alpenglow.
I do not want to talk about gear….I want to use it! 🙂