When we announced the launch of The Big Gear Show (BGS) in December 2019, we had an inkling that it signaled a shift in the greater outdoor trade show landscape by offering a hardgoods-centric show that directly competes with what is widely accepted as the Goliath: Outdoor Retailer.
The industry was already having tough conversations about what our trade shows should look like and how they should better serve our community.
Then a true trade show crisis hit, in the name of the coronavirus. The event world ground to a screeching halt just weeks after the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market wrapped in January 2020.
As events dropped off the calendar in rapid succession, BGS clung to the hope that its inaugural show, scheduled for July 22 to 25, would be in the clear. BGS finally pulled the plug on the event in mid-May. Then they got to work planning for 2021.
Today, BGS lays out its vision for the summer 2021 event, which includes some significant changes but still has the original goal in tact: be the place where hardgoods-centric retailers can see product, try product, and buy product all in one place.
New dates for the Big Gear Show
The 2021 event is scheduled for August 3-5, 2021. “We always wanted to be in first week of August,” Sutton Bacon, co-founder of BGS. “It’s two weeks after fly-fishing show IFTD and right around the time that Outdoor Retailer used to take place. It’s just a better time for retailers to be away from the store, especially hardgoods retailers.”
New location for the Big Gear Show
Initially, BGS was to be held at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. The new show will stage at Deer Valley Resort, 40 minutes outside the city. BGS has signed a multi-year agreement with Deer Valley. Why the change? Bacon says “Traditional trade shows, with 25,000 people you don’t know cooped up indoors, may not come back. The entire world has changed. We’re small and nimble and in order to stay relevant to our retailers, we knew we had to evolve and reinvent our event.” The new BGS will be an outdoor show that’s actually outdoors. Booths will be open-air affairs, with paddlesports companies set up along the waterfront of 6-acres of ponds; bike and outdoor exhibitors will stage near the chairlifts which will afford access to the trails.
“We want exhibitors to let their gear and their people tell their brand stories without stressing about the beauty pageant of the traditional trade show model,” says Bacon. “There are no unions restricting set up, no expensive furnishings or decoration. We will be in a true outdoor paradise, where the weather is reliably good in August. BGS will be an experiential outdoor exhibition like no other.”
The consumer-facing portion of the Big Gear Show is on hold
One of the big differentiators between BGS and other outdoor trade shows was to be a day and a half of welcoming consumers to the event. That plan has been put on hold for 2021. “Our pivot on this is in response to our new normal in the face of the pandemic,” says Bacon. “It’s a health and safety decision. We feel it will be better for the first show to be limited to familiar faces. We do still believe in the integrated consumer model and we hope to deliver on that in future.”
The Big Gear Show will focus on quality, not quantity
Traditionally, the success of trade shows is based on numbers. How many exhibitors were there? How many attendees? Bigger has always been better. But BGS is taking a different tact and expects to be about 90 percent smaller than Outdoor Retailer Summer Market or Interbike in its heyday. “We’re intensely focused on hardgoods, innovation, and small companies, so space will be extremely limited on site,” says Bacon. BGS is limiting exhibitors to 250 and will cap out the retailer attendee list at 500 (invite-only) unique stores. “Slots are filling up fast,” says Sutton. “Only 120 retailer invites remain open.”
Who will be exhibiting at the show? It’s a little unclear at the moment as BGS will be leaning on the opinions and desires of the registered retailers to decide which brands will be invited to exhibit. “All brands will be hand-selected by us, vetted for relevance, and voted on by the retailers” says Sutton. “We have extremely limited space for vendors. If brands would like to get information on how to request an invite, they can do so on our website.
The Big Gear Show wins endorsement of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance and National Bike Dealers Association
Grassroots, the coalition of 83 outdoor specialty shops in the U.S. and National Bike Dealers Association (NBDA), comprised of 600 bike shops, have both officially endorsed BGS.
“Grassroots fully supports The Big Gear Show as our official paddlesports buying show,” said Rich Hill, president of Grassroots. “The unique demo-centric format of the show allows our members to see, feel, and test gear in a way that allows them to be strategic in times of unprecedented demand and challenges that our retailers face.”
Kent Cranford, board chair of NBDA says, “The Big Gear Show team clearly sees the importance of specialty retailers by providing us with an exciting experiential buying and educational event. This B2B format is long overdue and we now feel we have the perfect partner going forward.”
These partnerships include subsidized travel and perks which will ensure a core group of motivated retail buyers are in attendance.
According to Sutton, big indoor shows are going to be very challenging to stage until the pandemic has gone away and we have access to a reliable vaccine. “No one has a crystal ball, but it’s quite possible that BGS will be the first post-coronavirus outdoor industry event,” he says.
BGS promises to deliver a robust educational program specifically tailored for retailers leading up to and during the show. “The idea is to find meaningful ways to connect retailers with retailers, across the artificial category lines [like bike versus outdoor versus paddle] created by other shows and associations,” he says. Sutton says BGS will be working closely with Grassroots and NBDA to create the programming.
The Big Gear Show joins Outdoor Industry Association
BGS recently became a member of the Outdoor Industry Association. Sutton says that he and Darren Bush, BGS co-founder and owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports, are huge supporters of OIA (both have served on the board in the past.) “By joining OIA we feel that it’s one small way that we can contribute to an organization that we care deeply about and that does important work for our industry,” he says.
OIA is the primary partner for Outdoor Retailer and takes the lead in directing all of that show’s educational programming. But Sutton says he has “No expectations of reciprocity in terms of OIA supporting BGS. We just want to do the right thing and supporting OIA is the right thing.”