Outdoor Retailer SVP on Launching First Digital Show
Outdoor Retailer is typically one of the busiest trade shows of the summer season.
This year, the show is going virtual for the first time. We were curious about what that looks like and how retailers and brands have responded to the new offering, so reached out to SVP and Show Director Marisa Nicholson to find out more.
What has been the response so far to Outdoor Retailer Online? Have any notable brands signed up?
Marisa Nicholson: We were having conversations with brands even before we launched Outdoor Retailer Online, and now we’re getting new contracts in every day. Among the first brands to sign up were Gore, GCI Outdoor, Jetty, Sawyer and Zippo. Everyone we’re talking to really likes the fact that this platform is an all-in-one place to connect with buyers and host meetings, and that it is accessible through the end of summer. Retailers and media will be able to search and sort by brand, category and product to find out what’s new or who to meet with. And we’ve seen a great response since registration opened – a lot of retail stores and buyers, including Academy Sports + Outdoors, Moosejaw, Sports Basement, REI and Wayward. Registration is free, and all education sessions will be accessible with registration.
What has it been like to put this together? It must be quite a challenge to build a virtual trade show from scratch.
Marisa Nicholson: Normally, anyone would like more time to prepare for shifting their business model. But we’ve all been rapidly adjusting how we work. We also quickly learned there are hundreds of platforms out there that can support certain pieces of what we produce at the in-person shows, but we knew we could never replace everything we do when gathering in Denver. We stood grounded in finding a solution that met the challenges that our industry was having. Between ongoing conversations and surveys, we heard there was a need to still be able to meet, see product, and find out what’s new or upcoming in outdoor. And we didn’t want to settle. We worked hard to find a platform to align the industry’s needs and to find the right partner to give us all a way to stay connected while apart.
How have you tried to balance the commerce with the education and networking pieces?
Marisa Nicholson: All attendees have different objectives, goals and needs that they’re fulfilling by being at the show. That is the goal with Outdoor Retailer Online as well. As brands are launching new products, and as retailers are either looking to fill at-once inventory or plan for future inventory, this provides an opportunity to come together, to have those conversations, and to work through it all.
Just like at the show, the education and networking are invaluable, so we wanted to make sure that also played a big role in this event. Attendees can expect the same inspiration and expert insight during the three-day live education from July 21-23, and the daily schedules match what we do in-person. The Outdoor Industry Association’s Industry Breakfast kicks it all off on July 21 where we’ll hear from Angelou Ezeilo of the Greening Youth Foundation, and in other sessions we’ll learn from The Conservation Alliance, Camber Outdoors, the NPD Group, RANGE, and Promostyl will provide a trend report live from Paris.
Are there benefits to an online show that are not available at a physical show?
Marisa Nicholson: Within a virtual event, exhibitors have the ability to capture new data and track booth visits, product views, downloads, and more – every engagement is a recorded activity. Through the in-booth chat functions and forms, they can start and build relationships with new customers. And, exhibitors have an opportunity to meet with more people for more days. As this online platform is accessible from wherever you are, it also allows those to attend who may have not been able to come to the in-person show and reap the benefits. All exhibitors and attendees have a chance to network with a greater audience, as well as watch all of the education sessions that may not have fit into their schedules. The Outdoor Retailer Online platform will be accessible beyond the three days, so everyone can book meetings or watch the education on-demand when it best works for them. There can be continuous engagement with the platform through the end of August.
How are retailers responding? What are you hearing about what they need right now from a trade show?
Marisa Nicholson: Retail stores are looking for motivation to push forward and guidance around making the changes needed to navigate this time. Inventory challenges come in many different forms, and it’s difficult for retailers to make informed buying decisions when they’re not going to be able to rely on data from this year. This platform provides an opportunity for the retailers and brands to come together, get on the same page, and talk about what recovery and the future looks like. Retailers are having to pivot to new categories that are selling well, so this will give them a place to find needed sales contacts.
They’ll also have a place to find new brands and products to fill their shelves in areas where inventory may be low. And, we’re hearing that retailers are grateful that this platform will be available through August as they have more time to get everything done while still adjusting to changes with their stores. We hope this gives everyone in the industry the tools to learn and support each other.
Are you confident the technology piece of it will run smoothly?
Marisa Nicholson: We’ve partnered with a technology platform, Convey Services, to bring Outdoor Retailer Online to life. They began as a web conferencing and telecommunications company and have continued to develop those services to include networking, marketing and virtual events. Our partnership was driven by their background and knowing they could provide the live, face-to-face video meeting components, as well as the live online education features, that our industry was looking for. Of course, as we’re all now using various video meeting services, we’ve come to understand there can be brief moments where the picture or audio isn’t perfect. We even see it with the late-night talk show interviews. There’s a level of forgiveness, and we’re confident with the tools Convey is providing.
How can this show help brands right now?
Marisa Nicholson: Outdoor Retailer Online will be another way for brands to have conversations with retailers and reinforce their commitment to retail. They will be able to better understand the current needs of retailers, such as with at-once orders, inventory needs, what they’re forecasting for the future. Brands can then plan accordingly. It will also be an opportunity to showcase new products to both retailers and media, and the tools to do so are all built into their online booth space. Without in-person shows or the ability to travel, this is really a way for our whole community to come together and connect this summer. And we’re excited to still be able to see everyone, even virtually.