SUP, Minimalist Footwear, Sustainable Apparel Driving Growth at 30th Annual Outdoor Retailer Summer Market - Outdoor Industry Association

SUP, Minimalist Footwear, Sustainable Apparel Driving Growth at 30th Annual Outdoor Retailer Summer Market

It was 2006 when Surftech became the first paddlesports company to debut at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market (ORSM). One could hear the snickering and see the raised eyebrows across the floor from those who dismissed the boards as a gimmicky fad. No one is snickering now. At this year’s show, 36 paddlesports brands will be exhibiting and industry doubts have shifted from whether paddlesports is here to stay to whether it can sustain so many brands.

“Is there room for 36 brands is a question, but is it here to stay is not a question any longer,” notes Kenji Haroutunian, vice president at Nielsen Expositions and show director for Outdoor Retailer, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. “It’s too accessible and too fun.”

The growth of the SUP, minimalist footwear, sustainable apparel and other categories at this year’s ORSM testifies to the industry’s resilience and vitality. Outdoor retailers and outdoor brands have generally emerged from the recession stronger, and that is attracting a growing constellation of brands to ORSM in search of growth.

This year, for the first time, ORSM will erect a temporary space across from the Salt Palace’s north entrance and the Radisson Hotel to house a New Exhibitor Pavilion that will contain more than 150 new exhibitors. The idea is to concentrate these new companies, which must wait years to get onto the main floor anyway, in one location so buyers don’t have to traverse the sprawling Salt Palace in search of the next big thing.

“We are doing everything to promote it, but people are creatures of habit, so we need to really get that message out,” said Haroutunian. “That’s where you will find the Keens of the future.”  (For tips on how to use ORSM’s online Show Planner and mobile app to get the most out of the show, check out Haroutunian’s musings on the Inside Outdoor Retailer blog.)

Among this year’s new exhibitors are Fjallraven,  a 50-year-old Swedish outdoor apparel and accessories brand pushing into the United States from its store in New York City; Restore Clothing, a new sustainable clothing brand based in New York City’s garment district; and Josef Seibel, a 125-year-old brown shoe brand out of Germany. Billabong will show its entire line at ORSM for the first time, marking growing interest in the outdoor specialty channel by action sports brands.

Haroutunian expects retailer attendance to top last year, when store and buyer attendance rebounded 13 and 16 percent respectively after falling off in 2009. As of last week, hotel room uptake in Salt Lake City was running about 12 percent ahead of last year, indicating solid attendance.

Paddlesports buyers, meanwhile, may want to walk through the Mezzanine area running parallel to the Paddlezone on their way to the New Exhibitor Pavilion across South Temple Street. ORSM located a cluster of more than a dozen new SUP vendors there in a nod to the growing importance of the category. Among them is Wavejet, a company which has invented a battery-powered “personal water propulsion” engine that can be installed in the bottom of SUPs, surfboards and kayaks to provide 20 pounds of thrust.

Judging from this year’s exhibitor list, that kind of innovation should keep pushing the industry forward for another 30 years.