Outdoor Retailer’s Marisa Nicholson on Keeping Snow Show In Person Amid COVID-19 Concerns and the Trade Show’s Future Home

At the start of the month, when trade shows were weighing decisions whether or not to remain in-person or cancel amid growing COVID-19 concerns, Outdoor Retailer announced its late-January event would go on as planned.

Since then, several major names in the market, citing pandemic concerns, have pulled out — including Merrell, Sperry and Lamo, among others.

While health and safety concerns are apparent, Outdoor Retailer — with mask requirements regardless of vaccination status and other health and safety measures in place — said it is still expecting a solid turnout from 350 brands, and there are several important retailers that will be in attendance.

Outdoor Retailer said the current retail list features outdoor industry players such as REI Co-op, Public Lands and Moosejaw, as well as leading footwear retailers (Boot Barn, Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., Road Runner Sports, The Runner’s Edge) and retailers with a stake in the category including Amazon, Target and Walmart.

FN reached out to several retailers slated to attend Outdoor Retailer for comment.

As talk of remaining in-person grows, so does the conversation around Outdoor Retailer’s next home. Show director and SVP Marisa Nicholson confirmed with FN that its contract with the Colorado Convention Center is up following the June 2022 show, and that Outdoor Retailer is in search of its next home.

Below, Nicholson details why Outdoor Retailer will remain an in-person event for January’s show and offers a look into the decisions that will inform the trade show’s future.

What led to the decision to keep the upcoming Outdoor Retailer Snow Show an in-person event?

Marisa Nicholson: “We have over 350 brands relying on the show to happen in person, and thousands of retailers signed up to come, so we’re looking to serve those customers that need this opportunity to meet in person. So many businesses and customers rely on the in-person experience, this is how they get their business done, this is how retailers are able to find new products and products to fill their shelves right now with all the challenges that are going on. And I think for brands, this is an opportunity for them to just be able to engage with retailers and media — it’s one of the only shows and opportunities for them to actually meet with media, they can’t do that at regional shows.”

If the number of brands and retailers opting out becomes too much of a burden, is there a deadline to potentially cancel the event?

MS: “No, because there’s still 350 brands that are planning to participate and we’re a week away from staging the show. Our goal is to create a successful event for those brands and those retailers in can and want to be there, and do that in that is the safest way possible. We’ve been working diligently on our health and safety, working with local officials to ensure that we’re creating a safe environment for them because to get their business done.”

How are you addressing the concerns of attendees?

MS: “Every person in every brand has different feelings about what’s happening and how they’re facing all the challenges and the circumstances, and everyone’s having to make tough decisions. Doing a mask requirement regardless of vaccination status is important, it’s something that we put into play as part of our health and safety protocols, and we also have social distancing measures in place at the show, and we’re asking everyone to help play their part in keeping their community safe and and doing what they can to make sure that we’re coming together in a safe way.”

How many brands and retailers have opted out of the January event?

MS: “I don’t have that exact number. Over the past year and since we staged the summer show, we’ve seen a desire to get back to in-person. The people who are committed to the show have the same concerns as everyone else, but they rely on the in-person events to grow their business, so they’re doing everything they can to protect their staff and employees by adhering to the protocols that we have in place. There’s a lot of different factors that come into play around the decision to participate or not — there’s corporate travel bans previously and now they’re being reinstated, there’s things going on with international travel and while there may be brands that are able to come, they could be impacted by a quarantine before they can go back, which can impact them both professionally and personally.”

What is your prediction for turnout?

MS: “Right now, we expect it to be about the same as this past summer show.” [OR confirmed there were 388 total exhibitors for last year’s Summer Market and about 7,600 attendees.]

How, if at all, did the two cancelations impact your contract with the Colorado Convention Center?

MS: “The cancelations of the two prior events doesn’t have any impact on the contract. Our contract is through the June 2022 show, and we are currently in the process of finalizing details around our decisions around states and locations, and we’re hoping to get something out to the industry following the Snow Show.”

Outdoor Retailer sent out a survey in June 2021 with several cities that could be potential homes for the show, including Houston, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and others. What was the feedback like? And what is the likelihood that the show is not in Denver after this summer’s event?

MS: “Even since we did that survey back in June, we’ve had a lot of feedback in conversations recently around challenges and changes that we’re hearing from the marketplace, which is why we haven’t been able to make the final decision and announce that.”

What have you discussed in those conversations?

MS: “The conversation has to do around the changes that have taken place with the pandemic affecting order deadlines and supply chain issues, which has created conversations around the right dates for the industry, and then based on that, where there’s availability for the show to stage. Because of the size of the show, it makes it difficult to just go to any city. You need to have a city that obviously has a convention center but then also has all the infrastructure from hotels and transportation that can support it as well. and so All of those decisions and conversations are taking place right now to determine and make sure that we’re going to be able to create the best environment for the community that’s efficient and cost effective for the community to continue together.”

Several reports have surfaced about complaints from attendees over the cost to attend in Denver, as well as the distance to get outside compared to past event host Salt Lake City. How will factors such as these impact where Outdoor Retailer ends up?

MS: “Those are all critical insights and feedback that are important to the decision making and will definitely be factored into our final decision around the location. [What we’re hearing about pricing] depends on the conversation you have. It can vary greatly depending on whether you’re talking to a specialty retailer or a larger brand. We’re having to take in all of the feedback that we’re getting and weigh it accordingly based on where the information is coming from, and once we gather all of that information together, it will help us make the right decision.”

What has Denver offered to attendees that has made the Colorado Convention Center a worthy home?

MS: “Denver has been a good host city for the outdoor industry, we’ve been able to gather within the convention center, there are tons of hotels that are close proximity to the convention center. The opportunity to the gather and convene has been something that the industry has been able to benefit from while in Colorado.”

What would it take for Salt Lake City to once again host the event?

MS: “The decision comes down to creating an efficient and effective way for our community to connect, finding a location that meets the needs of the community. All of that has always been in play and continues to be in play, there’s just so much change happening right now around the impact of the pandemic, the supply chain and what impact that’s having on businesses.”

The trade show conversation is a complicated one. Why are you committed to physical events? 

MS: “Our No. 1 goal is to be a convener of our community and to help drive commerce and connections, and in the past we had to cancel our in-person events we quickly pivoted to create these virtual events that would allow for the community to still have that ability to engage and connect. We recognize that over the past almost two years now that people found different ways of getting work done and getting creative around how they connect, but what we saw with the in-person event this past summer is that there is this huge desire to be in person, to have that human connection. There’s not the same ability to touch and feel and be inspired in the same way through Zoom or a virtual setting as there is in an in-person setting. There’s not the opportunity to have serendipitous meetings, which can spark a new idea or create a new collaboration. I know that people are excited to get past this current challenge of how to get back to in-person. They’re wanting to get back to having those meetings, having those discovery moments and having those human connections.”

What has the past two years taught you about Outdoor Retailer?

MS: “What it taught us is that the industry wants to feel connected to something greater than their individual businesses. We created additional online learning opportunities through webinars, created our magazine in a digital format every month that tells the stories about what’s happening with retailers and being able to share their stories, share their challenges and find ways to inspire each other. We purchased last year the [business to business e-comm platform] PlumRiver, which is an awesome opportunity for our brand to have both a B2B commerce opportunity in addition to the trade shows. And we developed new opportunities at the show. At the Summer Market, we created a new area called Fresh to get up-and-coming brands an area to stand out and create an opportunity for retailers to discover these brands that are emerging within the outdoor industry. We also launched a new platform called Match, which is allowing brands and retailers to set appointments at the show — it’s a concierge service that’s free to attendees. For the Snow Show, we’ve launched a resource center.”

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