July 2, 2012

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Made—and Played With—in Utah

Utah is the Ultimate Testing Ground for Outdoor Products Companies

John Blodgett

July 2, 2012

Utah’s great outdoors is great for locals, tourists—and for manufacturing. The State’s wealth of outdoor offerings drew 20.2 million visitors in 2010, and they spent $6.5 billion while pursuing the four-season recreation opportunities like skiing, cycling, climbing, camping and much more.

While these high-adventure activities bring tourists, they also bring a plethora of outdoor recreation companies that rely on easy access to a real-world testing ground.

“Those who vacation in Utah, particularly those from the outdoor products industry, find that they can test what they develop, right in their own backyard,” says Leigh von der Esch, Managing Director of the Utah Office of Tourism. “No one has product testing opportunities for the outdoor industry as close to their business as Utah.” 

Black Diamond Equipment, Specialized Bicycle and Petzl are just a few of the powerhouse brands with operations in the state, and more are setting up shop. Indeed, the outdoor products industry is reaching critical mass in Utah.

One example is the growing presence of small ski manufacturers like 4FRNT, DPS and Bluehouse Skis. Many of the people behind these innovative startups have worked for other local ski manufacturers, including Evolution Ski Company, which was sold after the 2002 Winter Games.

Though some of the companies rely upon overseas manufacturers for some production, others are building skis right in Salt Lake City. “Where else can you make skis and test them within the same day or two?” says Riley Cutler, Director of Outdoor Products for the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED).

It happens that Utah is an “amazing” testing ground for more than just skis, says Cutler, who points to the wide variety of outdoor gear that is produced by Utah companies, including kayaks, backpacks, camping equipment and much more.

“We’re in Utah for a reason,” says Michael Beverly, Global Sales Manager for Easton Mountain Products, a Salt Lake City-based manufacturer of trekking poles, tents and snowshoes.  “Our facility is surrounded by potential outdoor experiences.”

Two primary benefits arise from this fact. First, client meetings can take place during an outdoor activity such as hiking or skiing. “We get to experience something with them that’s not just around a conference table,” explains Beverly. “That creates a bond and a loyalty to our brand and to us.”

Second, the Wasatch Front is ideal for product testing. “We don’t have an official product testing team, but we know our heavy users, and wherever they’re going they’re taking our product.”

Work Hard, Play Hard
Amer Sports, whose brands include Atomic, Salomon and Suunto, made headlines when it moved its North American headquarters to Ogden in 2007. General Manager and President Mike Dowse, whose downtown office has an unimpeded view of the backside of Snowbasin Resort, says Ogden beat out Portland, Seattle, and Denver as a place to locate in part because Utah was “by far” the easiest state to work with. Incentives offered by GOED made the move “more or less” cost neutral, while Utah’s affordability helped the company achieve its goal of reducing overhead costs.

Sara Toliver, President and CEO of the Ogden/Weber Convention & Visitors Bureau, says there are many facets to the impact the outdoor products and recreation cluster has had on the Ogden area. “It’s not only people [Amer Sports] brings into town, but also the exposure,” she says. “Their moving here garnered the Ogden area so much great press. It’s really been a huge piece of the transformation of Ogden over the past 10 years or so.”

Rossignol USA, whose parent company relocated its headquarters to Park City in 2006, is also reaping the benefits of a mountainland location. CFO Jim Hunter anticipates a more than 20 percent increase in net sales for the 2011/2012 season and the “best bottom line in many years.” Successful product launches have played a part, and so has running a business in Utah.

“In the past year, we have hosted every one of our top 10 U.S. customers in Park City at least once, as well as a number of others and many of our top Canadian customers,” says Hunter. “The easy accessibility of the Salt Lake area from virtually everywhere in North America and the proximity of all the world class resorts we engage with along the Wasatch front make this even easier than we imagined it would be when we relocated here.”

At the Crossroads
That easy accessibility is a hallmark of the state. Long known as the crossroads of the West, Utah has easy access to an international airport that is a Delta hub, two interstates and plenty of railroad tracks. This infrastructure provides distribution opportunities attractive to suppliers such as Minnesota-based Quality Bicycle Parts.  

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