Once again, I’ll be attending the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market this January in Salt Lake City on behalf of BackpackGearTest.org. I can’t remember how many times I’ve attended; I think this will be my seventh visit, give or take a year. Recently someone asked me for some tips for making the most of the Show and I thought I’d publish them here for others who are looking for similar advice.
I’m always registered as media so this is definitely biased towards the people who wander the show floor – mainly other media and retailer reps. As for the booth-dwellers – I’m sure you have your own set of best practices (feel free to add your tips in the comments)! This is also based only on my experiences at the Outdoor Retailer Winter show. I’ve never attended the summer show since it is right in the middle of my Sierra backpacking season and the High country ALWAYS has priority at that time of year!
And now: How to Survive the Outdoor Retailer Show
15. Book Early
I know it’s too late for this year, but take heed: if you know you will be attending a show make sure to book your hotel as early as possible. Downtown hotel room rates soar to exorbitant levels during the show and everything fills up. If you wait too long you’ll be paying out the nose to share a corner of someone’s Motel 6 room floor. In fact, last year I got back and immediately booked my room for this year. I’ve got a room reserved for under $50 a night in a hotel a mere few blocks from the Salt Palace that is now charging $309 a night for the few rooms it still has available.
Of course, there is always the option of staying some distance from downtown but that just introduces more complexity and expense – car rental, parking, coordinating after-hours events, etc. I like to be able to get from my room to the Salt Palace and back quickly and easily, especially if I need to drop things off or change before evening events.
14. Attend the Demo Day
The day before the big show floor opens, Solitude Mountain Resort hosts a demo day for show attendees. The idea is that you can try out gear – skis, boots, snowboards, snowshoes, packs, etc – and get in some outdoor time before being cooped up in the Salt Palace for the next several days. It’s a lot of fun disguised as “work”. I’ve skied, done a snowshoe 5k, tried some awesome demo gear and gotten some incredible freebees and samples. It’s just a lot of fun. Don’t miss it. After all, while the gear is nice to look at on the show floor it’s a lot more fun to take it out in the snow to see what it can DO!
13. Bring a Backpack
As you wander the floor and go to meetings you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with samples, media kits, magazines, swag, etc. As a media attendee I don’t have a “home base” where I can stash stuff, so I bring a backpack. And not just any backpack. I bring my biggest daypack – an old Osprey Aura 35L (discontinued)- that has a frame and can carry some weight comfortably. I know you have something- we’re all outdoors folks here. Pick your favorite comfy pack and bring it along. You’ll want a place to stuff away your jacket and water bottle anyways – it’s cold outside and hot inside. I show up with an empty pack every day and return to the hotel with it full.
12. Schedule appointments using the floor plan
The Outdoor Retailer website publishes a floor plan well in advance of the show. Use it to schedule your appointments. If you’re taking them close together make sure they aren’t on opposite ends of the floor. One year I wore a pedometer and found that I walked almost nine miles a day running back and forth to appointments. That, plus the concrete floor of the Salt Palace, leads to some sore feet. Make sure you include the booth number in your appointment schedule so that you can find them without having to find a floor map kiosk.
11. Don’t book 100% of your time
There will be so many companies you’ve never heard of and you’ll stumble across gear and people with whom you will want to spend some time. Set aside plenty of time to wander the floor, browse, and strike up these conversations. I find that it helps to first approach the show floor systematically to make sure I don’t miss anything. For the first two days I’ll spend my free time weaving through the aisles, noting down booths to come back to if they are busy or I need to get to another appointment. I spend the second half revisiting booths that caught my eye.
10. Wear comfy shoes
That concrete floor I mentioned earlier – it makes your feet HURT by the end of the day. Most people in the Salt Palace, including me, are used to hiking/running/skiing/etc many more miles than that in a day but somehow I hurt worse after a day on the show floor. Complaints of sore feet are common. One of the sock manufacturers sometimes has free foot massages in their booth and there is always a line. Comfy padded shoes are a must. I’m convinced that the reason Crocs originally caught on their first year was because they handed them out to weary OR Show floor wanderers.
9. Water – bring a bottle fill it up
You’ll walk a lot. It’s hot and dry in the Salt Palace. There are water stations so bring a bottle to keep full. Stay hydrated. While you’re at it, swing by a bunch of the electrolyte additive booths (Nuun, Camelbak Elixir, etc) for a sample to add some flavor and boost.
8. Media Room
If you have registered as media and have the magical media credentials badge you have access to the secret media room. They have water and coffee and power outlets and tables and chairs and media kits. It’s a great place to duck away from the crazy going on on the show floor for a few minutes and regroup. There is a good wifi signal if you need to throw up a quick blog post or send an email and you can have quick meetings with your colleagues in peace (if they are also media credentialed).
7. Leave No Trace Drawing
Around noon every day the Leave No Trace crew does a drawing for a boatload of gear. Stop by the booth, fill out the card and answer a few questions for your chance. Must be present to win!
Don’t miss the smaller side ballroom where many of the newcomers are assigned booth space. It’s great fun to see some of the ideas and talk to the creators directly. Every year I see some of these small guys “graduate” to the main show floor (and many more fade away, never to be seen again). I remember when Keen was a tiny booth in that small room. Now they have one of the biggest displays at the show. Last year there was an alpaca farm booth with REAL ALPACAS! Possibly the cutest thing at the show. I made sure to regularly walk by and pet the fuzzy critters.
I haven’t bought a meal at the Salt Palace since my first year of attending the OR Show. There are so many opportunities for delicious (and free!) noms on the show floor that there is no need for that overpriced pizza or smoothie. There are too many appointments, too many things to see – don’t waste your time standing in line! While there is no guarantee that this year will be the same, here’s something to get you started.
In the morning, Royal Robbins is the place to be with their free espresso drinks and friendly baristas (leave ‘em a tip). Swing by the New Balance booth next for some fresh waffles with a generous selection of toppings. Lunch? Try the Vibram booth with their Italian country lunch of bread, parmesan, prosciutto and sparkling water. Starting around 4 pm the parties bust out and you can find snacks everywhere (check out the fondue at Jetboil’s booth!) Worst case, scout out the booth of your favorite trail munchie brand (and explore new ones), and make sure to cruise by whenever you need a pick-me-up. I usually scout out the Honey Stinger and Lara Bar booth right away!
4. Be Social!
The show is packed with all kinds of events. I try to never take an appointment after 4pm. That’s the magical party hour when the kegs come out and people stop concentrating and start networking. At the end of each day there are parties, drawings, special appearances, giveaways, etc happening at any number of booths. The show guide lists many of the ‘official’ parties but there are many more that just seem to pop up without warning. My suggestion: pay attention to the OR Show tag on twitter (#ORWM12 or #orshow) to keep up with what is going on. It also helps to have a plan – take a look at all the show publications ahead of time to know who is speaking where, what giveaways are happening, and who has the good beer and snacks!
Since it is all happening around the same time and the show floor is so huge it’s good to have priorities. It’s also a good way to sync up with others at the end of the day – for example, “let’s all meet at the 6:30 drawing at the Osprey booth!”
It’s not just on the show floor either – there are lots of after hour parties, movies, talks, tweetups, and more. Track the peripheral events going on around the show and attend what you can! But, jumping ahead to number 2 a bit, don’t forget you’ll be back on that show floor the next morning. I’ve found myself sacrificing some of these late night events in favor of down time and rest. I’m not 21 anymore.
3. Pay attention to the OR Show tag feeds on Twitter
There’s a lot of fun spontaneous stuff that happens throughout the show. Appearances, classes, giveaways, etc. Much of it is announced via twitter. Follow the show’s hash tag (#orshow or #orwm12) and check it frequently. I won a kickass Timbuk2 bag from Cordura last year (that I now use every day) simply because I happened to catch a giveaway tweet at the right time.
2. Scheduled down time
The show is exhausting. It’s four days (five if you go to the demo day) of GO GO GO. I treasure the downtime I get at the end of the day when I am back in my hotel room. It’s the time that I can catch up on my blogging, call friends and family, and get away from the massive crowds for a few moments. Recovery is really, really important for me. It often cuts into #4 but I try to maintain a healthy balance. I usually cruise the booth parties on the show floor and skip the late night events.
1. Network – the people are the best part!
Related to #4, but important enough to stand on its own, is networking. It happens outside of parties, too!
Whenever I walk onto the floor for the first time a feeling of comforting happiness comes over me. And it doesn’t come from the bright shiny gear and banners – it comes from the people. I always think, these are MY PEOPLE. They get me. They understand me. They don’t look at me like I’m crazy when I start to talk about the peaks I want to climb next summer. They disguise Patagonia dresses and Prana shirts and Chaco sandals purchased at REI as work clothes, too.
Take time to meet people, have conversations that go beyond the gear. You’ll find a shared camaraderie that I’ve never seen with any other industry show or conference. There is nothing like geeking out with a bunch of other people you’ve never met before about their favorite campsite on the John Muir Trail or their tricks to healing climbing callouses. In my opinion this is the best part of attending Outdoor Retailer. Don’t be shy!
I could go on and on about the Outdoor Retailer Show, but at this point I’ll open it up to comments. What is your advice for attending this event? What role do you attend under? What have I missed? I want to learn, too!