SALT LAKE CITY— You hear whispers of it at ICAST. It weaves in-and-out of conversations like a rumor floating on the breeze—talk of another trade show, Outdoor Retailer. But what is that other show really like? And how does it compare to ICAST? This week, I traveled to Utah to find out.
Less than two full blocks from the monolithic Church of Latter-day Saints headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City, another temple of sorts awaits buyers and outdoor fanatics. Unlike ICAST, you won’t see any boats welcoming buyers through the main gates (they’ve been replaced by a tent village), but inside the doors, you will find a familiar experience. Media, buyers and exhibitors cram together in registration lines. Once navigated, those lines lead to a convention center teaming with booths and brands of all sizes, from the outliers on the fringes of the floor to the colossal, double-decker homes of the big boys. In this world, the Shimano’s and Pure Fishing’s have been replaced by companies like Mountain Hardware and Fjällräven. Still, you’ll find some crossover, especially among watercraft, where ICAST 2017 Best of Show Winner Bote is proudly displaying their hardware from Orlando, and brands like Old Town and Hobie have brought along their fishing kayaks.
Elsewhere, familiar faces like Frogg Toggs, Garmin, Popticals, Hook & Tackle, BUFF®, Columbia, and Compass 360 raise their heads.
I’m on a recon mission this week. The goal: to identify crossover products that carry over from the world of recreation, and fill gaps that a tackle dealer might find useful. Now, because many of our readers are not only tackle stores, but also full-fledged outfitters, some of these products won’t be new to everyone. But I’m betting that a few of them will find a new home on a store shelf far away from their intended use.
First up, I’m nominating the Bripe. The Bripe is an outside-of-the-box solution to something every early morning angler needs…coffee. This pocket-sized coffee maker makes a perfect travel companion for fly anglers and fishermen who find themselves on calm water during a chilly day. In one to three minutes, you can have yourself a piping-hot wakeup call. The Bripe is designed for backpackers, but could find a home in any boat or kayak. It’s technically a sort of pipe that creates coffee instead of smoke (insert backpacker joke here.)
Another adaptable Outdoor Retailer product comes from Fusion Entertainment. The Fusion StereoActive launched last holiday season, and has primarily been targeted towards the SUP and kayak market. However, this portable marine stereo is perfectly suited for jon boat owners. It’s waterproof, submersible, and mounts with an easy-to-use locking system that can adhere to any size boat you want to fit it on. And, because the StereoActive is equipped with a weather band radio, in addition to AM/FM and Bluetooth, it serves double duty as a safety device. MSRP: $299.
Nearly all of the summer apparel at Outdoor Retailer could easily find a home in the fishing market. Some companies here, like Columbia, are already established in our industry of choice; however, newcomers like Flylow and adventure brands like Black Diamond have fair and foul weather gear worth checking out. In an industry crowded with apparel of every size, shape, and color, importing crossover brands from the recreation side of outdoors could help differentiate you from the competition while providing many of the same performance-based clothing choices that anglers have come to expect. As a bonus, most of the apparel in this market tends to be understated—a noted contrast from the NASCAR-like approach of an ever-growing army of fishing-specific brands.
New Product Showcase
This is, well, different. The ICAST New Product Showcase has become a true spectacle. It’s an almost overwhelming display of fishing’s newest gear. In contract, Outdoor Retailer featured their showcase in a small-ish, glass case at the show’s entrance. This year’s case featured few items that crossover, though portable sonar company Deeper did make an appearance in last year’s display. Here’s a gander at the presentation:
First things first, after one day on the show floor, I don’t feel that Outdoor Retailer is significantly larger than ICAST. Show documents state that some 6,300 buyers attended Outdoor Retailer last year, with overall attendance expected to top 25,000 this year. ICAST attendance was virtually flat this year, coming it at almost 15,000, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the number of actual buyers (not released by the American Sportfishing Association), is close in percentages to what Outdoor Retailer claims. From a square footage perspective, Outdoor Retailer feels slightly larger than the 200,000 square foot ICAST, but not by much.
Due to the Salt Palace Convention Center’s layout, exhibitors are spaced much more closely together than at ICAST. This leads to a disorienting affect, but also allows more traffic in a smaller space. More research on that tomorrow, as I wasn’t able to see 100-percent of the show floor today.
Speaking of show size, Outdoor Retailer is making the move to Denver next year. Denver will provide a 585,000 square foot space for the show, and frees it from political unrest pitting the state of Utah against the industry as a whole.
Political unrest is a massive talking point here. Just as anglers are up-in-arms over fishing access and regulations, the recreation industry is in a frenzy over the U.S. Department of the Interior, individual state governments, and the Trump Administration’s position on public lands. I’ll cover that topic in a more in-depth column this week, but Deuter (seen above) wasn’t the only brand rallying around Utah’s Bear’s Ears National Monument. Industry giants Patagonia and Arc’teryx boycotted the show altogether. Meanwhile, The North Face, REI, Cotopaxi and other major players are encouraging their industry to rally this week in Salt Lake City.
Opponents say returning federal lands to the states would open monuments like Bears Ears to mining operations and privatization. Meanwhile, proponents argue for accessibility and increased revenue for state governments.
Some industry insiders speculate that Patagonia’s lead is almost entirely responsible for the end of the show’s 22-year run in Salt Lake City. Granted, nobody in this crowd is disappointed to be going to the Mile High City (it supports spontaneous games of ultimate frisbee quite well), but it’s fascinating to see one company assert enough moral pull to shake the foundations of an industry. I’m not sure any single entity has enough sway to do that in fishing.
For what it’s worth, Outdoor Retailer took out full page ads in the local newspapers to bid farewell.
Hashtags are a big thing here. You see more of them in more places than ICAST. Seemingly every exhibitor is featuring some sort of social marketing campaign using hashtags. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I saw at least four hashtags in the restroom alone. A few already this week: #thriveoutside #optoutside #findyourpark #saltlakelovesor #orsm17 #hashtag. This strikes me as grasping for straws. Then again, the world of adventure, travel, camping, and hiking is where Instagram stars became a thing.
All week, I’ll continue to seek out hidden gems for your store from Outdoor Retailer. Here are two. One, spotted tucked away in the Garmin booth—a handy, portable Striker kit that somehow missed my radar in Orlando. Another, an easy add-on at the counter from UST brands…who doesn’t want a fish-shaped survival tool?