Paddlesports Retailer Co-founders Launch SLC Outdoor Gear Show

The outdoor industry is returning to Salt Lake City, or at the least the gear and equipment segments are. Veteran outdoor retailers and long-time industry members Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush, who also are part of the team that launched the Paddlesports Retailer show, announced the launch of The Big Gear Show, a hardgoods-only retail buying plus consumer show that will focus on equipment and accessories for camping, climbing, paddling and biking. The event will take place at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 21-25, 2020 – just one-month after Outdoor Retailer Summer Market takes place in Denver. The event will include access to outdoor excursions through Explore Utah, in-show demo opportunities throughout the show and a consumer day on the final day of event.

It’s no secret that the timing of Outdoor Retailer shows coincide mostly with the buying and production cycles of footwear and apparel. Hardgoods, on the other hand, have their own timing and cycles, which is largely the reason the paddlesports market broke from OR shows a few years back.

“Hardgoods are completely different than soft goods,” explained Bacon and Bush. “The way they’re sourced, manufactured, prototyped, produced and purchased is radically different. The margins and the business model are totally different. The sales velocity is totally different. There are already several outstanding trade shows focused on apparel and footwear. But we are focused exclusively on gear. The stuff that got us all outdoors in the first place.”

What’s more, the late July/early August dates are more appealing to retailers because it’s the time of year when smaller specialty shops are fully staffed, trained and running at full strength, said show organizers. “Finding the right dates is the biggest challenge for any trade show, but retailers have overwhelmingly told us they prefer a peak-season show to a shoulder season show because it’s easier to get out from behind the register.”

Each category (i.e. paddle, bike, climb, camp) will have its own basecamp, replete with an experiential demo area (cycling tracks, climbing walls, paddle tanks), buyer lounge, stage for seminars and panels, and new product showcases.

The event has already been endorsed by the National Bike Dealers Association as its official official national show for the bike industry. NBDA, which recently saw the shut down of the Interbike show, represents more than 1,100 independent bike storefronts. “We have been separated from our friends in bike for way too long — bikers hike, climb, camp and paddle too. We’re all selling to the same consumers, and we welcome them into our big tent with open arms,” explained the show website.

The educational model at the show is described as peer-to-peer. “This is because, as retailers ourselves, we know that retailers learn best from other retailers, not from consultants. Paddle shops can learn a lot from bike shops. Bike shops can learn a lot from specialty outdoor shops. We are all about the cross-pollination of ideas, data, and best practices, because no matter the distribution channel, all gear shops are all selling to the same core consumer,” said Bacon and Bush.

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While the show is focused on outdoor equipment, hardgoods and accessories, a limited assortment of extremely technical footwear and apparel brands also will be invited. “No George Foreman grills, CBD oil, or offshore knock-off artists who don’t respect our industry’s intellectual property,” said the duo.

According to Bush and Bacon, the event will also be more affordable to attend and exhibit than other national show, making it more accessible to innovative upstarts and smaller dealers. Exhibit space will run about $12 to $15 dollars per square foot, compared to $30 or more per sq. ft. for other national events, and the event will take no mark up on booth decorations, furniture and drayage.

“We’ll have booth size limits for larger brands and VIP placements for start-ups. We understand the importance of being in one room – no more basements, tents, or ballrooms,” said the show organizers.

Qualifying retailers, meanwhile, can earn lodging reimbursements to help offset the cost of attendance.

On the final day of the show, consumer will be invited under the show’s “big tent” to provide exhibitors with a “brand showcase,” with selling as optional and at the brand’s discretion. Bacon and Bush believe a consumer day gives small and upcoming brands “unparalleled access to thousands of consumers and industry media.” Bringing in consumers also could amplify media interest in the show, and the resulting buzz from both media outlets and consumer-driven social media and word-of-mouth will result in better ROI for exhibitors.

“Consumers are a missing but crucial voice in an industry celebration like this,” they said.

As for the big question: Does the industry need a second summer show?

“The outdoor lifestyle is a way of life for tens of millions of people. But our industry is at a crossroads,” explained Bacon and Bush. “Big boxes are failing our brands. Amazon is suffocating our local gear shops. The big are getting bigger. And private equity and Wall Street investors are threatening the soul of our industry.

“The Big Gear Show is a show for the rest of us – the innovators, the start-ups, the domestic manufacturers, and the local gear shops where the staff walk the talk, bringing in novices and sending out enthusiasts,” they continued. “By saving our exhibitors over 50% in exhibition fees, our pricing structure keeps money in the pockets of gear companies, who simply don’t have the margins to afford expensive trade shows.

“This is why we are launching The Big Gear Show. We are not beholden to the demands of big boxes and mega brands, and stock tickers. And just like you, we are innovators, challenging and disrupting the status quo in the outdoor trade show business.”


Sutton Bacon, left, is the former chairman and CEO of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, former OIA board member, co-founder of Paddlesports Retailer

Darren Bush is owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports and Canoecopia, former OIA and Outdoor Foundation board member, co-founder of Paddlesports Retai