Outdoor recreation industry doing well despite economy

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The Salt Palace Convention Center is packed with all sorts of winter recreation gear this week as the annual Outdoor Retailer Winter Market is underway.

Though there are some concerns about how the economy will affect sales, the outdoor recreation industry has weathered economic downturns before, and weathered them well.

"The buzz that's happening right now in the industry is that the days of the American people spending like a drunken sailor are over, and we know that," said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association.

Even so, the business of recreating outdoors, and all the gear that goes along with it, is still doing well. As the nation entered into its current recession last year, these folks saw growth.

"During that time, we were growing 9 to 10 percent as an industry; and we saw camping sales increase over 20 percent in this past year," Hugelmeyer said.

In terms of exhibit space and numbers of vendors, this year's show is off about 5 percent. But overall attendance is expected to equal last year at 17,000. Show organizers are thrilled.

"To talk about the scope of trade shows nationally and also globally, this is a great show -- incredibly healthy, incredibly strong," said Mike Wallenfels, of Mountain Hardware.

The positive outlook that's evident here is based on a couple of factors: First, the outdoor recreation business has been down this road before.

"We have a very long history over and over again in any recessionary periods where people return to us," Hugelmeyer said.

"With a little bit of gear that many people still have, recreating in our local parks is still an easy and affordable thing to do," Wallnefels said.

While people may already have the tents and the backpacks, they'll still need to buy other items: fuel for the camp stove, maybe a waterproof jacket or a new pair of boots.

So, while the current consumer psyche may be one of frugality, this industry feels it's still in a "What we're going to see is ‘fun frugality' is going to be the trend coming forward, and that brings them right back to camping, back to hiking, brings them back to our activities. And we know we're going to be playing a big role in healing the American public this year," Hugelmeyer.

A healthy outdoor industry is also very important for the state of Utah. It's responsible for generating $4 billion in retail sales here every year and 65,000 jobs in our states related to outdoor recreation.

The retailers convention runs through Sunday.

E-mail: kmccord@ksl.com

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Keith McCord


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