Outdoor trade show: ‘Anything to turn heads’

Salt Lake City expo attracts mostly retailers

People browse the aisles of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market on Friday in Salt Lake City. To stand out among the 1,300 exhibitors in the outdoor sports industry, gear and apparel makers must use creative – and sometimes gimmicky – marketing techniques. Enlarge photo

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

People browse the aisles of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market on Friday in Salt Lake City. To stand out among the 1,300 exhibitors in the outdoor sports industry, gear and apparel makers must use creative – and sometimes gimmicky – marketing techniques.

SALT LAKE CITY – Getting noticed isn’t easy at the world’s largest expo for outdoor and sporting gear.

With 1,300 exhibitors packing the Salt Lake City expo, high-definition displays weren’t enough. Nor was it just the bikini-clad models on standup paddleboards in a splash pool.

The show drew a gorilla mascot, and another man walked around as Moses. There was a “dog party” for the convention’s registered pooches. And nothing drew crowds like the beer kegs that exhibitors pulled out after 4 p.m. on the four show days, sometimes with live music.

At times, the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market that drew to a close Saturday was more theater than trade show.

One vendor, California’s Outdoor Adventure River Specialists, hired a gorilla man to take a seat on a portable toilet for snapshots, part of a raffle for a whitewater rafting trip. “It’s our attempt at guerrilla marketing,” said Lauren De Remer of OARS, making a pun.

Jordan Rampersad of Logan said he was a freelancing mascot who worked four years for Utah State University. “I got maybe 50 to 60 photos,” he said at the Salt Palace convention hall. “Anything to turn heads.”

Also drawing crowds was a dog party sponsored by Ruffwear – “performance gear for dogs” – that served up Dawg Grog, a leftover-mash drink. Both suppliers are from Bend, Ore.

“It’s Yappy Hour,” said Dayna Stern, who joined the fun at a booth for Mountaineers Books of Seattle. She’s an author of a Utah guidebook for dog hikes that are easy on the paws and close to water.

Yellow Labs were big at the outdoor show.

“How many places can you bring a dog?” said Charlotte Bell, a retailer who runs an eclectic saddle shop in Tubac, Ariz., with her husband, Tom Bell. They had two yellow Labs on leashes.

In another effort to grab attention, Brooks Running Shoes hired the gospel choir at Calvary Baptist Church of Salt Lake City to belt out scripted lyrics: “Are you ready for a new running shoe?” The Seattle company was promoting a new line of “Transcend” footwear.

The gear show brought together more than 25,000 people, mostly retailers of outdoor specialty shops, who browse the expo to place bulk orders for sleek apparel and high-end gear for camping, hiking, rock climbing, watersports and other outdoor activities.

Retailers can be tough customers, and for gear makers, it can take creative work to draw their attention.

Industry leader The North Face had an exhibit resembling an over-sized dome tent, one of its signature products. Others had kayaks and other gear hanging from the ceiling. GoPro, the portable camera many skiers wear on their helmets, had a dazzling television display.

Also on hand were outdoor celebrities including Gerry Lopez, 65, a surfing godfather known as “Mr. Pipeline” for his wave-riding skills.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Lopez has been riding waves since he was 10, when surfing was barely on anyone’s radar.

“It’s become a big industry,” said Lopez, who appeared in “Conan the Barbarian” and several surfing films.