It’s good for business (and good for the environment).
—by Rachel Silverstone
Much like what New York is to the fashion industry, twice a year Salt Lake City becomes the hub of the outdoor equipment and apparel industry. The Outdoor Retailer trade shows give retail buyers (gear stores) and exhibitors (gear companies) the opportunity to do face-to-face business transactions, clink glasses and enjoy the great outdoors.
The spirit of play and celebration abound, as do flannel, boots, beers and gear. An equipment demo day precedes the show with a ski day at Solitude Mountain Resort. On the event schedule are daily happy hours, a “Conquer the Elements” fashion show, after-hours industry parties and of course, a Friday morning hangover breakfast. These are outdoor enthusiasts, after all; they are experienced at having wild good times.
The good times might not last, at least, not in Utah. According to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), the Salt Palace is too small for the growing $33.3 billion business. This “sleeping giant” industry, as it was called by Bruce Babbit, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Interior, may leverage its up-to-40,000 attendees out of Salt Lake City’s January inversion by 2016.
Hopefully though, the outdoor equipment and apparel industry won’t abandon the essence of what drives demand, Utah’s great outdoors.
In his talk at the Conservation Alliance Breakfast at the show, “Preserving America’s Wild Landscapes,” Babbit urged the outdoor industry to work to ensure the nation’s public lands aren’t sold off or developed. “This is the moment to come together, stand tall, raise your voice, put your industry into the fight. It will make a real difference,” Babbit said. His talk was received by a standing ovation.
The Utah legislature and Governor Herbert are singing a different tune. Babbit’s cry for action came at an opportune time, as the current Utah political battleground heats up over the Transfer of Public Lands Act. The bill, passed by the Utah legislature in 2012, demands the transfer of 31 million acres of federal land to state management. Utah GOP leaders are getting ready to file a court case in order to force the transfer. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said via spokesman Marty Carpenter that he believes state management of the lands would help preserve Utah’s beauty and cultural heritage and ensure “appropriate public access and multiple use”—code for ATV trails next to oil wells in what was meant to be wilderness.
Babbit’s stance on state management of the land is quite different. “Our public land heritage really is under attack. We’ve got a crowd of uninformed, misguided politicians who are attempting to dismantle or abolish public lands and the agencies that administer them.” Babbit also said Utah’s land transfer law is a conduit so public lands can be served up to the coal, oil, gas and mineral industries for exploitation. We hope the outdoor industry will take heed of Babbit and rally its power to keep public lands protected.
A few exhibitors I spoke with proposed some creative approaches which included taking Gov. Gary Herbert and other representatives to some friggin’ mountains as well as getting the weatherman to predict lots of snow. According to the Sports Once Source Group (outdoor industry data collector), the weather is a primary factor in the buying decisions of consumers, across all activities and demographics. If we can get more people outside, maybe we will get more people to care about protecting the environment. To that end, join Protect Our Winters (POW), pro-snowboarder Jeremy Jones’ organization to mobilize snow sports athletes and youth to influence Congress to protect the environment. www.ProtectOurWinters.org
Rachel Silverstone has a degree in economics from Cornell College. She is the daughter of associate publisher John deJong.