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Outdoor Retailer Show outgrows the Salt Palace ... again


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SALT LAKE CITY -- The city's largest convention is back as the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is marking its 15th year.

Something else is also back: a giant, city-block long tent in the parking lot across from the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Tents were common at this show years ago, until the convention center underwent a major expansion so that everyone could be under one roof.

But the show kept growing.


For about the past year, discussions have been quietly going on about the show's future here, and how to handle its continued growth.

"Obviously when you see the tent, it means we're running out of space inside as well", says Frank Hugelmeyer, President & CEO, Outdoor Industry Association. "So these are interesting times with the growth of the show and the growth of the industry."

The convention center will bustle Aug. 4-7. Right now, manufacturers are getting their exhibit spaces ready to display the newest summertime recreation products; and buyers from around the world are arriving to test out the gear and place orders. More than 25,000 are expected to attend, and for the first time, the number of buyers will exceed 10,000.

This year, there will be more to see than in the past because the show is bursting at the seams, so to speak. All exhibit space at the convention center is booked.

"The reality is that everybody who comes to the show wants to be on the main floor - everyone," Hugelmeyer says. That's really the problem that we can no longer service the folks that are coming or who want to come into the show. And part of it is because we've grown during the recession."

The expansion of the Salt Palace a few years ago was done specifically to deal with the show's growth and do away with temporary structures; nevertheless, across the street from the convention center on 200 West sits a huge tent, dubbed the "New Exhibitor Pavilion", which will feature more than 200 brand new vendors and products.

People are arriving from all around for Salt Lake's largest convention.
People are arriving from all around for Salt Lake's largest convention.

So now what? For about the past year, discussions have been quietly going on about the show's future here, and how to handle its continued growth.

"How much do we want to grow; how big is too big?" asks Kenji Haroutunian, the show director. "It's not really sustainable for a show to grow forever, beyond the shopability of that show."

The Outdoor Retailer Summer and Winter Markets started in Salt Lake in 1996. Attendance was about 7,000 the first year. But the numbers have more than tripled, and that creates an interesting dilemma.

"It is true that we are definitely contemplating the landscape of other options, the options to stay. What would it look like, how much can we grow and stay here", Haroutunian says.

Scott Beck, President & CEO of Visit Salt Lake, says a lot of ideas have been discussed already.

"Can this show become a multiple venue, multiple day show for tens of thousands of people?" he said. "And what a better venue than Salt Lake to do that. We've proven that with the Olympics that we can do that type of show. There are several trade shows in our industry that have that type of format. We're hopeful that the natural environment and what we have here can continue to be relevant to the Outdoor Retailer Market."


This is sort of a good problem to have: a business that continues to grow, 6% last year, bucking the current economic climate.

This is sort of a good problem to have: a business that continues to grow, 6% last year, bucking the current economic climate. Outdoor recreation, and all the businesses associated with it, contribute nearly $6 billion to Utah's economy every year.

The Outdoor Retailer convention is booked through 2014. A decision on whether to extend past that will be made early next year. And the issue of the show's growth will factor heavily into that decision. Hugelmeyer says all entities will have to be involved.
"It's going to take more than just the local community and Salt Lake County, it's really going to take a state commitment for us to continue to meet the growth needs of the show in the state and that's what we hope will happen."

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Keith McCord

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