Despite the show’s rapid expansion, the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2012 participation study showed little improvement for outdoor activities, a situation that Haroutunian said could mean consumers embrace the look more than the lifestyle. (The Outdoor Recreation Participation Report from the Outdoor Foundation showed that almost half of Americans, ages 6 and older, participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2011, for 11.6 billion outings and 1.5 billion more than in 2010.)
“On one hand, we have the highest participation levels in six years, so that’s pretty good. It’s just still far from the peak years of the 1970s and ’80s,” Haroutunian said. “And young people have a lot of other things to do today.”
Bringing more people into nature could boost the industry further, he added.
“We’re trying to find ways to help increase participation, to bring kids to the show and encourage a more diverse, inclusive, outdoor sports world to raise all boats,” Haroutunian said.
In practical terms, that means continuing to provide resources such as panel discussions and prepared content aimed at engaging youth. For the past year and a half, Haroutunian has hosted an “inclusivity lunch” that focuses on engaging nontraditional outdoor populations including people of color, women and the elderly.
Among the other show features, last year’s new-exhibitor pavilion has been replaced with three tents, called the Pavilions at Outdoor Retailer, which will mix new and returning vendors grouped in zones, including one devoted to shoes.
The show also is launching an Industrial Design Center aimed at designers, product managers and raw material consumers that will delve into modern processes and tools. “There will be some cool things to see for designers, as well as retailers and brands who want to be knowledgeable about what’s going on,” Haroutunian said.
But a big change at OR might go completely unnoticed by most attendees. Last May, former show owner Nielsen sold its Expositions group, which put on OR and 64 other business-to-business events, to Toronto-based private equity group Onex Corp. for $950 million. The standalone group now will be called Emerald Expositions, but Haroutunian said that otherwise OR will be business as usual and the new ownership will not affect the show’s future timing and location.
He said, “Any changes to where we’re going, the timing and the location rely on the needs of the industry.”