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Outdoor Retailer outgrowing Salt Palace, considering options

By Keith McCord | Posted - Jan. 20, 2012 at 6:43 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Outdoor Retailer annual winter market is back in town and bigger than ever, but that's creating some challenges -- especially in terms of the future of the show.

The Salt Palace Convention Center has expanded twice to host the show. The outdoor industry, and all the products associated with it, just keeps growing, and more and more companies want to be a part of this show every year. It's kind of a nice problem to have, companies say.

"With 21,000 pre-registered attendees, this makes this the all-time record, biggest outdoor winter market we've ever had in Salt Lake," Scott Beck, President and CEO of the Salt Palace.

The ballroom is full, as are the hallways, and the entire 679,000 square foot main floor. Nearly a thousand manufacturers are displaying their new products and making the sale.

"Roughly 10-12 percent every year are new exhibitors, and that's what gives this show great relevance," Beck said.

Which is why it's growing, both this show, and its summertime counterpart. But the Outdoor Retailer shows have now reached a turning point where the organizers are seriously looking at its long-term future. They're wondering: is bigger necessarily better?

"Being a retailer from my past years, it's always good to be a little bit sold out, but it's not good to be a lot sold out," said Kenji Haroutunian, director of the Outdoor Retailer Show.

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For attendees, it's a challenge to negotiate the crowded floors and finding all the products they want to see. The city's infrastructure is becoming tapped out too as hotels are filled to capacity. So the outdoor industry folks, and their Salt Lake hosts are having serious discussions about the decade ahead and ways to handle the ever-expanding show.

"I think we're looking at things like a multi-venue show, a multi-day show, a longer show," Beck said. "Lots of things in the industry are out there that can hopefully keep us relevant well into the future."

As the city's largest convention, Salt Lake doesn't want to lose the Outdoor Retailer show. A decision on extending the contract past 2014 will likely come later this summer after a lot of discussion.

"(They're) saying, ‘does this work? Does this work? How about this plan?" ...It's a very fun conversation, but one that is very serious as well," Beck said.

Salt Lake has hosted the Outdoor Retailer Show since 1996, and the city has invested in the convention a bit since then, and it has given a good return. This week, it will generate $20 million for the local economy.

Email:kmccord@ksl.com

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