Outdoor Retailer Primed for Colorado Debut

Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show to descend on Colorado Convention Center Jan. 25 – 28

Denver's landing of Outdoor Retailer, the world's leading business-to-business outdoor sports show, was a coup for Colorado at Utah's expense. 

Outdoor Retailer resided in Salt Lake City for the last 20 years; its abrupt departure from Utah was contentious. Utah officials lobbied for scaling back Obama-designated Bears Ears National Monument, which the Trump administration now plans to reduce by 85 percent. In response, leaders at major outdoor brands, including Black Diamond and Patagonia seized the moment to elevate the importance of protecting wild places, long considered the lifeblood of the industry. That included calling a boycott of OR's host state.

Colorado jumped at the opportunity, putting together a proposal in just 18 months.

"When other CEOs were writing op-eds and saying Denver is where the show needed to go, the industry saw us as the place to have a collective conversation," says Luis Benitez, head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. "We were ready to put our best food forward, and Colorado and Denver rose to the top of the short list fast. Other states had the space, but we had it from a demographics and culture standpoint."

OR events, owned by Emerald Expositions, consist of trade shows in January, July and November – all at the Colorado Convention Center – and are expected to bring $110 million to Denver's economy. Starting this month, winter OR will merge with the existing Snow Show, which OR purchased from the SnowSports Industries America. The events are for retailers, importers/distributors, designers, nonprofits, media sales and manufacturers not exhibiting.

"Not only will Colorado be in the national  spotlight because of the shows, but over 85,000 retailers, brands and media will descend upon Denver," says Marisa Nicholson, vice president and show director of all OR events. 

The outdoor industry represents $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million American jobs. In Colorado along, the recreation economy is $28 billion, with 289,000 direct jobs, $9.7 billion in wages and salaries and $2 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association, which will partner with Emerald to produce the Denver shows for at least the next five years.

Sam Bailey, vice president of economic development for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., sees Denver as a natural fit for outdoor companies to gather. He cites local depth of knowledge, thought-leadership and talent that "has instilled a welcoming community where ski-makers, fitness-application developers, backpack sewers and others can excel with ease."

Companies like Topo Designs, Voormi and Down River Equipment are already succeeding here. 

"Colorado has been an incredible place for us to start a business," says Annelise Loevlie, CEO of Golden-headquartered Icelantic, a high-end free-ski manufacturer whose founder, Ben Anderson, grew up in Clear Creek County.

"The small-business resources, available to startups and the entrepreneurial community here is unparalleled. Plus, in terms of work-life balance, this state is hard to beat," Anderson says.

But the relocation of OR is not just about Denver – or even the Front Range. 

According to Benitez, Colorado's far-flung towns and rural communities may embrace this entrepreneurial opportunity by becoming incubators for small- and mid-sized outdoor companies.

"Colorado is not made up of 400-person companies, but rather the 10- and 15-person company," says Benitez, who grew up at his grandfather's specialty bird-hunting and fly-fishing shop in the Midwest. "Small family-owned retail is where I got my start. Recruiting organizations like that and getting them to move here is a lot less cumbersome, and I think we're going to see quite a bit of movement because of that."

He says companies like Bonsai Design in Grand Junction and Mayfly Outdoors in Montrose are examples of towns attracting "makers" and acting as mini economic clusters for outdoor innovators.

Outdoor Retailer's first hurdle comes this month as it combines two industry segments for the first time into one convention center – ski and outdoor. 

"Skiing is an outdoor activity, so it's a natural in my mind to combine the two," says Loevlie, who admits it can be tough for smaller businesses to compete among the big brands – and budgets – at multiple shows a year. "The outdoor industry, which Outdoor Retailer represents in thsi capacity, is a huge resource for us in terms of new retailers, athletes, reps and buyers. We're looking forward to being able to talk to a larger network – outside of the snow sports industry."


@ Colorado Convention Center, downtown Denver

JAN. 25 – 28

Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show

JULY 23 – 26

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market

NOV. 8 – 11

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market

Categories: Economy/Politics