Denver will host the prestigious Outdoor Retailer gatherings for the next five years, with a trio of shows drawing upwards of 85,000 people a year, delivering the city a $110 million economic impact.
City and state officials and industry leaders made the announcement Thursday during a press conference in Denver’s City Park.
“If you look at what this means, that’s a huge benefit, but that’s not what deserves to be mentioned,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in announcing the much-anticipated deal. “State parks, wildlife areas. All this stuff comes as an accumulative attraction. It is part of the defining characteristic of Colorado.”
Thursday’s announcement was about more than a trade show.
It’s a dawning for a galvanized, energized recreation community that will grow from Colorado, fomenting political, social and cultural support for public lands, environmental health and the outdoor recreation industry.
Denver’s hard-won negotiations to land the Outdoor Retailer rallies — a summer show in June and a winter show in January beginning next year as well as a smaller independent retailer show in November — is a tipping point for Colorado’s surging outdoor recreation industry, a wide community that blends all types of outdoor players in an economy that stirs $28 billion in spending in the state.
“Colorado and Denver has always looked at this as more than a trade event or how it delivers a one-time bump the city’s economy,” said Kim Miller, the chief of Boulder’s SCARPA North America who serves on both the SnowSports Industries America and Outdoor Industry Association boards, the two groups that joined with Outdoor Retailer trade show owner Emerald Expositions to create a combined winter trade show. “This was, on the highest level, an alignment of values and visions and characteristics relative to the way the outdoor recreation industry wants to be and the way the state wants to be. To me, this is the definition of a true partnership. This was the moment for Colorado and it all tipped, in my opinion, toward the logical conclusion that these shows belong here.”
In a short 18 months, leaders from Colorado, Denver, OIA, SIA and Emerald — the largest business-to-business trade show operator in North America — hammered out a deal that typically takes several years. The agreement will put the Outdoor Retailer summer and winter trade shows in the Colorado Convention Center for the next five years, consolidating SIA’s Snow Show — which was booked in Denver through 2030 — with the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show into a single gathering in January. The summer show shifts from its typical early August date to June. A smaller trade show focused on independent and specialty retailers is planned for November, possibly using the National Western Complex.
Denver bested several other cities vying for the coveted Outdoor Retailer trade shows, which announced they were leaving Salt Lake City earlier this year. The divorce from Salt Lake, where the shows have been for more than 20 years, was ugly. The maturing outdoor industry was unhappy with Utah officials lobbying to reduce the size of the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument, which the Trump Administration is reviewing with the notion of downsizing the 1.35 million-acre monument. When Utah officials refused to back off their push, the industry galvanized and began searching for a new home.
Colorado was one of the first states to offer itself as a host for the two shows that typically bring about 45,000 attendees who spend $45 million, according to Salt Lake City economic reports.
But summer is the busy season at the Colorado Convention Center and carving a hole in a meticulously assembled calendar was a challenge, especially for convention bookers who begin negotiating with large groups several years out.
Amy Roberts, the head of OIA, which partners with publicly traded Emerald to host the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, said Denver stood out among the potential hosts. It’s international airports and train to downtown, wide array of hotels and restaurants and large convention center were key.
But the state’s leadership when it comes to outdoor recreation was equally important, Roberts said.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s embrace of outdoor recreation — like his celebration of public lands, his plan for a statewide bike path and the creation of an outdoor recreation office — was a deciding factor as well, Roberts said. So was Denver’s blossoming recreation amenities like the new Colorado Classic bike race, revamped whitewater park and myriad trails.
“I think you will see Denver and Colorado pushing us on the innovation side, which we are really looking forward to. I think the industry, by its nature, is innovative and I think our sustainability work shows we are able to bring together collaboration on big issues that are important to the outdoor industry,” Roberts said. “I think Colorado will be a partner in driving the change we are looking for.”
Shifting the dates of the show has a business appeal for retailers and manufacturers dealing with increasingly shorter ordering and manufacturing cycles. Those early dates for shop owners placing their orders and manufacturers arranging with overseas factories has led to fewer actual business transactions at outdoor trade shows in recent years. Moving the summer show from August to June and combining the often-competing SIA Snow Show and Outdoor Retailer winter show into a single event will help both retailers and manufacturers, Roberts said.
“It just makes sense for the industry,” she said. “I think a new city is going to breathe new life into the shows and moving to these new dates are going to change the purpose of the show. I think the location will be well received and the overall return on investment on the trade show will go up.”
Bill Gamber, the Steamboat Springs boss of both Honey Stinger and Big Agnes, said moving the show to Denver will work well for his team. Not only is it convenient, but he wont have to pay for two booths and two trips for his crew in January, as he has for years traveling to both the Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show winter gatherings.
“We’re pumped. Colorado takes one more step as the leader,” said Gamber, who hopes to ski on his way to Denver for the January Snow Show and fish on the trip down in the summer.
The hope all along has been that the Outdoor Retailer trade show would elevate Colorado the epicenter of all things outdoor recreation. The state already owns skiing, with its 26 resorts drawing more than a fifth of all the country’s skier visits. It’s rivers are among the most rafted in the country. It’s network of bike trails is a national leader. With Outdoor Retailer, Colorado can take the next step from hosting recreation, to advocating for recreation as a cultural, social and economic force for good.
“We recognize the value of the outdoor recreation industry not just for the economy but also as a platform for conservation, stewardship, economic development, health and wellness,” said Luis Benitez, the head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. “This will become our political bully pulpit and we will do everything in our power to capitalize off this opportunity and partnership.”
Salt Lake City and its Utah neighbor Ogden have blossomed over the last 20 years, with a collection of major brands in the outdoor recreation industry — like Salomon, Rossignol, Black Diamond, DPS Skis and backcountry.com — that has positioned Utah as a national leader.
“We want to go deeper with outdoor industry conversations around climate and public lands,” Benitez said, noting how educational opportunities in Denver’s bid — like a proposal to deploy Colorado State University professors sharing the latest research and industry trends — could open the Outdoor Retailer trade shows to an audience beyond industry insiders.
It might take more than trade shows to get outdoor companies to set up a home base in Colorado though, said Gamber. Last summer he opened a Big Agnes distribution facility in Salt Lake City after warehouses were unavailable in Denver and Grand Junction warehouses lacked direct rail access.
“The government here in Colorado is so pro-outdoors but it’s behind the curve as far as having the infrastructure. Ogden has been aggressive for a long time and they have stepped up,” Gamber said. “The Outdoor Retailer shows will bring more attention for the outdoor industry to come to Colorado, but things like warehouse availability, rail access, access to the mountains and Interstate 70 traffic don’t change with a trade show.”