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Q&A With OR's Kenji Haroutunian

The event director talks changes to the winter market and the state of retail today.

Kenji Haroutunian

Kenji Haroutunian

Photo By Courtesy Photo

For Outdoor Retailer’s winter edition, the focus will be on the mountain. According to director Kenji Haroutunian, the semiannual trade show, held in Salt Lake City from Jan. 21-24, will have a new focus on backcountry sports, including snowboarding and skiing. (That concentration will appear in everything from the pre-show All-Mountain Demo day to a challenge during its design competition, Project OR.)

The move is part of a bid for further inclusiveness, Haroutunian said — a sentiment that was echoed earlier this month, when show owner Nielsen announced that the niche Fly Fishing Retailer event would be folded into OR’s summer market. The changing face of retail and the outdoor consumer, Haroutunian said, is driving the changes.

“We see the products reflecting a broader market,” he said, “and we think the timing is right for OR to transform.”

Here, Haroutunian discusses the changes for the winter market, the current retail climate and what he sees in OR’s future.

FN: After a tough year, how do you expect vendor and retail participation will fare?
KH: We’re really happy with the booth renewal space. It will be really close to last year’s square footage. And we’re tracking even with last year’s attendance. The environment is not quite as volatile as it was last year. Where [last year’s attendees were] looking into the crystal ball and all they saw was emptiness, now companies feel more solid about where they’re going to be. We’d like to see an increase in attendance, but 15,000 to 16,000 people is a good number.

FN: What differences are planned for the show this season?
KH: For winter market ’10, the theme we’re going for is an all-mountain treatment, with an appeal to the backcountry sports that aren’t necessarily resort-based. It will permeate throughout the show.

FN: How will the new categories, such as fly-fishing in the summer show, affect the feel of OR?
KH: OR will really be opening up to a broader selection of retailers. We’ve been successful building on the backcountry sports, and as outdoor has become more mainstream, we’ve seen buyers come from Nordstrom and Macy’s and the big-box stores. We see the products reflecting a broader market, and the timing is right for OR to transform. In 2009 and going into 2010, it may have been hard for retailers and vendors to feel that they want to take a risk, but the show has to take a risk. We’re committed to this broader integration strategy.

FN: How did you make the decision to expand the show’s reach to a broader market?
KH: We look very closely at the retail landscape, and we try to pay attention. Intelligence within Nielsen [tells us that] retailers are changing quickly ... to have a broader appeal to the general outdoor consumer. They’ll ride snowboards, they’ll try Nordic and alpine skiing, and in the summertime, they’ll paddle and rock climb. That’s the multisport consumer we’re seeing emerge. All the core sites online sell a really broad array of traditional outdoor equipment, and that’s pointing the way to the future.

FN: Is there a danger that the show could get pulled in too many directions?
KH: That’s something I pay close attention to. It’ll be really important as we broaden the scope of the show not to lose the focus on the core [outdoor sports], but we need to make sure we have one eye on the [more niche] activities, too. The goal of OR is not to be a show for everyone. In the end, people want to feel like part of a community, and we will focus on that community. [We won’t be adding anything] completely outside the fold — just [markets] that are logical and tangential.

FN: Are customers more willing to spend than they were last year?
KH: [Yes.] At least now that the economy has stabilized, they’re pulling out their wallets. They want to play in the snow, maybe keep it a little closer to home, do a little more in the accessible backcountry areas and in the resorts.

FN: This summer, OR announced it would move its summer ’10 dates to the first week in August. Are more calendar changes ahead?
KH: No, I feel good about the dates. We’ve been in a strong position the whole time, and we needed to lean into the earlier zone. We know who we are and who we’re serving. For the winter show, it’s a good time to get a lot of business done after the holidays disrupt the business. It’s a very important first chance to lock down some business opportunities. The show is the first international event on the calendar in the sports market.

FN: What else are you looking forward to?
KH: There’s some really exciting technology [out there] — eye-popping stuff. Innovation and the application of technology is truly the driver of excitement in this market.

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