'Louisa Albanese'
Outside Business Journal

Op-Ed: Let’s Redirect Some of Our Trade Show Dollars to Supporting What Really Matters

Industry veteran, Maro LaBlance, says the dollars we spend on booths and exhibition fees is not only crazy, it’s hypocritical, and might ultimately be counter-productive to the greater good of the industry

Maro LaBlance

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Outdoor Retailer brings together some of my favorite people in the world, people I am so grateful to call friends and colleagues. I thoroughly enjoy getting together with these fine people of the outdoor and snowsports industry. But the reality is that the thrice-annual OR shows create an enormous carbon footprint and is woefully behind in bringing an industry clamoring for change into the future. It is wasteful of our money, time, and resources, and if there is not a complete overhaul in the format, it will eventually die, and could stunt the growth of struggling brands in the process.

Maro LaBlance and man posing in a booth at Outdoor Retailer wearing orange.
Maro LaBlance and skier, Marcus Caston, get “oranger” at the Blizzard/Tecnica booth at ORSS 19. The alpine brands lightened up the spirit on day two, poking fun at themselves and the abundance of tech talk heard on the show floor. (Photo: Courtesy)

My experience with OR began nine years ago, when I was a marketing department of one. The heritage French outdoor and ski apparel brands I worked for, Millet and Eider, were known and respected within the industry, but failed to break through at the consumer level, largely due to the fact that 70 percent of my marketing budget and time was allocated to attending three national trade shows, leaving insufficient resources to support sell-through. It was incredibly frustrating.

Last week, as news spread of the massive layoffs at Ten—leaving many of our media friends without jobs and some beloved titles, like Powder, Transworld Snow, and Adventure Sports Network in dire straits—that frustration with the hyper-inflated cost of OR evolved into anger. We’re spending thousands of dollars to rent a piece of cheap carpet for our booths, but don’t have enough budget to support our struggling endemic publications—who, it should be noted, still have loyal readers (a.k.a. our customers) but no longer have our advertising dollars.

We are giving millions of dollars to an exhibit corporation that has in mind the best interests of its profits, not the outdoors, while our grassroots organizations, like POW and Conservation Alliance, work tirelessly to preserve our environment and only receive a tiny piece of our budgets. And as my pal, Andrew Gardner of Press Forward PR, pointed out, brands, organizations like the ones mentioned above, and our industry leaders are telling grandiose stories of our sustainability efforts and achievements, while shipping massive, heavy crates and printing large-scale graphics that are trashed three days later. By continuing in this manner, we are being grossly hypocritical.

There was a time where orders were written at OR and the Snow Show. That is rarely the case these days. Regional shows, buying groups, and Grassroots Outdoor Alliance have proven to be more efficient forums for the sell-in. Sure, press coverage received from OR generates welcome buzz and awareness for brands, but any PR professional will tell you that that can easily be achieved through email, press trips, and just about any setting other than the 20-minute meetings we rush through with dazed journalists at our booths. A place to showcase our marketing stories for next season? Marketers can (and ahem…do) create more impactful activations at a lower cost outside the confines of the convention center walls.

That leaves the argument that we “need a national show to gather and stay connected,” and I whole-heartedly agree. The bond the people of the outdoor and snowsports industry share is special. That bond is a love and passion for outdoor sports and good times. So why are we traveling long distances and spending a ton of time and money and carbon to crowd inside a convention center? Why don’t we converge and showcase our new products in the venue they’re intended for—outside. Why don’t we utilize indoor spaces for meeting rooms, seminars, or small-scale displays and then hit the ski resorts, Nordic centers, town parks, bike paths, hiking trails, waterways, and mountains for our bonding rituals and to check out the latest gear?

This, however, will require boldness. To be true to our values and to see progress, we have to move past an antiquated model that doesn’t serve our needs or a way forward.

Many in the industry have felt hostage to Emerald Expositions events, but with attitudes shifting, it’s time for OIA and SIA to make some drastic changes and to mine for a more relevant, affordable, and sustainable format. The alternative looks a lot like Interbike.

The views expressed here are solely the author’s, and not a reflection of Outside Business Journal or Campfire-Collective clients or affiliates. 

Maro LaBlance, of Campfire-Collective, is a marketing and PR professional in the outdoor and snowsports industries. She values accountability and good times, in that order, and seeing blatant waste gives her a category-five panic attack.