UB Insider #56: Utah Companies Feel Pinch of OR’s Move
About this episode:
For more than 20 years, the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show has called Utah home, but will be moving to Denver starting next year. In this episode of UB Insider, at the last show held in the Beehive State, we talked to representatives from local companies Hybridlight, Altra, Black Diamond, Rockagator, Athletic Event Supply about what this means for their continued participation in the show and their businesses overall. Subscribe to our podcast or download this episode on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or Google Play.
Lisa Christensen: Hello and welcome to UB Insider. I’m Lisa Christensen, online editor at Utah Business magazine. The semi-annual Outdoor Retailer tradeshow has been a staple of Salt Lake since 1996, but ideological differences between organizers and the state are sending it to Denver starting next year. At the final show in the Beehive State, local businesses weighed in on how the change in venue will impact them. For some, the move means drawing a harder line on finances to still have a presence after the show has moved. Beirne Chisolm of St. George based Hybridlight says while the company will make the trek to the show, it’s not going to be the same.
Beirne Chisolm: Since we typically only do the summer show, we don’t do the winter show. We’re flashlight based so most of our buyers usually are at the ski show which is now all going to be combined. So we’re going to take a look at both shows. But we’ll probably move to Denver with the show. We’ve been doing the show here for many years and will continue on in Denver. The show has been here 22 years. Everyone that I’ve talked to here, no one wants it to move but it’s just one of the… No one will ever know the real reasons why, a lot of economics. They’ve been talking about moving it for years so we’ll see what happens. There’s such a good crew here in Salt Lake, such a good environment, such a good fit. Everyone is kind of curious what’s going to happen.
Lisa Christensen: The expenses aren’t just in travel and lodging either, he says.
Beirne Chisolm: It’s just going to make it more expensive, so that’s the main thing. Denver is a union town. We’re a non-union state. So I think everyone is going to be shocked at what it costs to ship their goods there, they can’t set their own booths up any more. They have to have union help. Transportation, car rental, hotel, all of that is at a much higher level than in Salt Lake. So overall expenses, there’s no doubt they’ll all be raising for everybody. I think everyone is kind of in a wait and see mode, let’s see what happens. We’re curious if everyone is going to show up there. So if the attendance drops then you’ll start losing exhibitors as well. So it just depends.
Lisa Christensen: Brian Beckstead, President and Co-founder at Logan-based Altra running seconded the sentiments about increased expense and the frustration of the union requirement.
Brian Beckstead: You know, well for us, first of all we love Salt Lake. Salt Lake is our home. It’s where we’re based. We love Utah. And so we’re obviously very sad to have it go. For us to go to Denver, ultimately a lot of it’s just a budget thing for us, right? I mean, we have the same budget whether it’s in Salt Lake or whether it’s in Denver. And so that is kind of a little sad for us because we’ll have to have less of a footprint, right? We’ll have to make do with budgets and travel and time away from home, which we’ve had the luxury here in Salt Lake of having it so close to home. And so we’re going to miss that from both a convenience and then of course from a money and a budget thing as well.
Lisa Christensen: So I understand that Colorado is also a union state so those are obviously costs that you’re going to have to factor in as well?
Brian Beckstead: We’re very aware of that and yes, we’re very disappointed by that. That’s going to cost us almost as much as anything else in terms of the transition. Here we can just have our employees build it themselves and it’s free, essentially, right? I mean, outside of just paying the salaries and labor. And so as we go to Denver we’re very aware that we’re going to have to have a union and the union workers are going to have to build our booth. And that’s going to cost us a lot of money that we would rather spend elsewhere.
Lisa Christensen: Having to move is also emotion in a way, he says, because of the company’s history.
Brian Beckstead: We really launched the product here actually as three guys in a basement six and a half years ago, as a brand. So this is our home. We launched the brand here at Outdoor Retailer six and a half years ago and so we’ve been coming every time, every show. And each time we come we’re getting bigger and have a bigger space and a larger footprint. And so it’s going to be pretty sad to leave that because when we started we were a back wall, a five foot by ten foot booth. We were a tiny, afterthought booth and now here we are in a twenty by eighty. So it’s going to be sad to leave because we’ve been coming here since we started the brand on day one.
Lisa Christensen: For Salt Lake-based giant, Black Diamond, OR’s location does nothing to change their plans or presence says John DiCuollo, Spokesman for Black Diamond. It does however affect the experience somewhat for the workforce.
John DiCuollo: It is a bummer for us that, you know, the show is leaving. We’re considered a hometown favorite here and with that comes a lot of advantages. Little things like a lot of our staff can participate in the tradeshow which is really a competitive advantage in a lot of ways to have our entire product team at the show, our designers at the show. They can walk the floor and see what else is out there. Obviously something like that is not going to happen next year now in Denver. We can’t just send entire staff to check out the show. That’s a little thing. Certainly things like booth storage and the shipping that goes on and the rental stuff that goes on for that booth storage. So I mean the big thing really is just the culture that we’re going to miss, it being in our backyard and the support of our city. All the business is going elsewhere. So it’s a bummer. Is it going to affect our plans to participate or anything like that? Absolutely not. Being at Outdoor Retailer is very important for our brand and we plan to participate for years to come.
Lisa Christensen: While having OR close has been convenient, DiCuollo says the move to Denver won’t change how Black Diamond feels about Utah.
John DiCuollo: We’ve been a Salt Lake brand for twenty years plus and we have no intentions of moving, period. One of the reasons that we chose the Wasatch to make our headquarters was the proximity to the mountains. We are a brand built by users of the sports we serve. And also of those users, a large percentage of them are engineers. We have more engineers in our brand than I don’t know, in the outdoor industry. And we come out with these innovative products. The Wasatch is our testing ground. We chose it for very, there are other reasons business-wise too, but no plans to leave. You can’t get that in Denver.
In Denver the mountains are a couple of hours away. Certainly there’s a lot of great things about the Front Range but the distance to the mountains makes it hard to test on the fly like that. Despite how active we are with some of the outdoor issues that, you know, the public lands issues that we’ve been dealing with here with this old debate. There was never a moment where we thought we would just leave and not be in this show. It’s important for the town, it’s important for our community, it’s important for our brand. So it’s bittersweet that it’s leaving, but we hope to bring other events back to our community and be instrumental in that in the future.
Lisa Christensen: Some of the show’s smallest, youngest companies though just don’t have the wiggle room in their budgets to go to Denver to show their wares. This is Rockagator’s second year at OR says owner Randall Pinson, and while he’s made some contacts he knows it’s a slow gain.
Randall Pinson: We’ve been around for about three and a half years. So last year was our first foray into Outdoor Retailer, and it was good. I always heard that you have to be here for two years in order to get recognized and have people come back and say, “I saw you last year, let’s do business.” So this is kind of our experiment on that. So last year was kind of slow and we’re hoping this year will be a bit quicker. We got lots of good contacts from last year though, so it wasn’t like it was a complete loss, but for a small business it’s a huge investment to be here. It’s expensive to have the booth. It’s a lot of energy to try to win the attention of people who aren’t here to see you, that you know they’re here to see other people and do business with other people. So it’s a physical, emotional and financial investment for a small business.
Lisa Christensen: Pinson says he feels forgotten and discounted in a fight between the state and big businesses.
Randall Pinson: So I think that the OR show is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They’re having to placate and make everybody happy but they have to make people with all the money happy. So they’re moving to Denver, right? So they didn’t ask or survey the small sellers, the small businesses and the government didn’t negotiate and the big vendors didn’t negotiate. They both came to the table and they both said my way or the highway. And it ended poorly. I think a little bit more communication would have been of better service to the small businesses in Utah. I feel a little bit on the fringe and maybe neglected. The bigger companies think they look good. They’ve got people cheering for them and they’ve got the media that comes out and tells them they’re doing the right thing. So they don’t have anything to feel self conscious about. I think in the end the real losers are the local, small businesses in Utah and some of the small businesses that come out here in these pavilions and can’t afford to move around. So we’ll see.
Lisa Christensen: The move isn’t bad for everyone though. Matt Stump works in sales for Bountiful-based Athletic Event Supply, but he himself recently moved to Colorado.
Matt Stump: Well you’ve got an interesting situation here because I live in Colorado. I moved here to take the job and I just moved back. So I live outside of Vail, so for me it’s not a big deal. I love Utah quite a bit, so either way would have been fine for me. But we’ve already been doing SIA which is in Denver, we go to Vegas, we go to California, we go cross-country. So not a huge change for us. It’s unfortunate in our hometown that it won’t be here, but we’ll definitely still be supporting it no matter where it is. It’s where most of our clients come from.
Lisa Christensen: Although there’s no recreating OR, Stump has some ideas about how to get the outdoor recreation product economy thriving in Utah.
Matt Stump: I would be shocked if some outdoor companies don’t move with the show not being here, but I still think Utah provides quite a bit of a great lifestyle for our industry. So I don’t think it’s going to kill the outdoor industry as far as brands and all that completely. And it’s funny, we’ve put on small shows around here. So I was a part of the Adventure Gear Fest that was up at Snowbird a couple weeks ago. And the organizer from that show and me are working on a show now at Solitude who I have a relationship with. I think the best thing is for Utah-based companies to kind of just come together and do smaller outdoor shows at different times and kind of network that way. So I think it provides an opportunity for that.
Lisa Christensen: Thoughts on today’s episode? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media at @utahbusiness. Thanks for listening.