by Sarah Ryther Francom
Utah Business Magazine

The great outdoors was quiet this weekend, as fishermen, kayakers and outdoor enthusiasts of all makes and models ditched their sports for the summer Outdoor Retailers Market. Approximately 22,000 attended the event, which started last Friday and ends today.

The event brought more than 1,000 exhibitors to show off their latest and greatest outdoor gear and, of course, check out the competition. According to Kenji Haroutunian, show director for Outdoor Retailer, the twice-a-year show is a must-attend event for outdoor retailers. "It's so important for retailers to attend because the pace of the business changes all the time," he said. "It lets them see what other retailers are doing different. And there's nothing like seeing your partners and competitors face to face."

The packed event allows new companies to showcase their products, as well as brings in core companies like Teva and Wenzel. Haroutunian says that a huge part of the event that's often overlooked is the raw materials component. "There are more than 100 companies and 1,000 brands that show their raw materials, like buckles and zippers. It's a huge part of the event." All-in-all, if it's an outdoor product, the show's got it.

But the event brings more than outdoor enthusiasts and gear to Salt Lake-the event rakes in an estimated $19 million, according to the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR). That's because exhibitors and attendees spend their dollars on hotels, restaurants, local attractions, etc. In fact, according to the BEBR, a Salt Lake convention delegate in 2007 spent approximately $889 during in an average three-day stay.

And though the nation's economy has hit a hurdle, Haroutunian says that the outdoor industry is still moving full speed ahead. "The economy hasn't really impacted the industry," he said. "Certainly we are dealing with common challenges, like increased shipping costs and fuel costs. But there's not the kind of drop off that we've seen more drastically in luxury goods or cars, for example. Even though outdoor equipment may be discretionary, it's much cheaper. And since people are ‘stay-cationing' they're still buying tents, kayaks. These items are still a lot cheaper than a trip to France."

The event has been coming to Utah since 1996, and according to Haroutunian, it's not going anywhere. "We love Salt Lake City," he said. "Utah is the country's playground. There are very few mountain towns that have the combination of hotels, amenities and exhibit space. Salt Lake's really been a great home. We'll find a way to stay here."

Utah has a growing reputation as being the nation's outdoor playground, and the outdoor industry has equaled tremendous economic growth for the Beehive State. It contributes $5.8 billion annually to Utah's economy, supports 65,000 jobs, generates nearly $300 million in annual state tax revenues and produces nearly $4 billion annually in retail sales and services across Utah, accounting for almost five percent of the Gross State Product, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.