The Pandemic is Making Brands Embrace Grassroots Marketing Over Trade Show Booths

The Pandemic is Making Brands Embrace Grassroots Marketing Over Trade Show Booths

Words — Jen Murphy

Outdoor Retailer Snow Show, the biggest ski industry gathering of the year, will look and feel a lot different this season. In 2020, the Denver-based megashow drew more than 25,500 attendees and more than 1,00 exhibiting brands. After hosting a virtual event in 2021, the tradeshow returns to in-person gathering this year and kicks off January 26. Of the more than 350 exhibiting brands, there will be some new inclusions this year, including Allred Skis, Gear Hugger, Rig Strips, AWKA Skis and Chuck Rack. But there will also—quite noticeably—be some staple brands, both big and small, opting out for a more grassroots approach to showcasing their products to a targeted audience in a fun, engaging way.

Jess Fiaschetti, President of OutsidePR says none of the brands represented by her firm and partner PR firm, JAM collective, including, Arc’Teryx, Mountain Hardwear, Osprey and Cotopaxi, plan to attend OR this year. In November, the agency instead hosted Outside Jam, a two-day virtual media tradeshow. The 200 attending journalists were able to watch live presentations, ask questions to product engineers, access exclusive product information, request request one-on-one meetings with brand representatives after the event’s conclusion. After its success, Fiaschetti says they plan to host second virtual show this April.

Brands like Cotopaxi, Arc’teryx and Mountain Hardwear are opting to avoid Outdoor Retailer this season, opting for more intimate experiences with media reps and retail buyers. PHOTO: Courtesy of Cotopaxi

Vermont-based ski headwear and accessory brand, Skida, has also opted out of OR and, instead, will be hosting its first-ever pop-up shop in Jackson, Wyoming. “Skida is alive and well in the Jackson ski scene and we are excited to build on the brand connection through personalized experiences in the shop, on the hill, and out on the town,” says spokesperson Eliza Nixon. Located on Jackson Street, a portion of the space will be dedicated to displaying the brand’s upcoming 2022-23 product line and Skida will offer private buyer showings, ensuring on-time order placement, up-close product demos, and new print reveals in-person.

During the shop’s three-month stint, Skida hopes to bring awareness to the brand through team member engagement and brand storytelling. This grassroots approach aims to leave both the Jackson community and visiting consumers with a lasting brand impression designed to familiarize those who visit the store with the brand’s overall vision and product. More importantly, connecting with customers and retail buyers within this curated space will likely have those people seeking the product at their next shopping experience, says Dixon.

Peter Arelin of MountainFlow eco-wax exhibits his all-natural, 100 percent plant-based ski wax products at a recent media event hosted by Boulder-based Meteorite PR. PHOTO: Courtesy of Meteorite PR

Pit Viper, a brand with a cult-like following and a mainstay host of some of the most epic offsite OR events, has also decided not to activate at the show this year. “We feel the Pit Viper brand is better experienced in the wild, on the hill, on the track or at après,” says spokesperson Devan O’Connor. “It’s easier for us to focus the incredible spend tied to exhibiting at OR into our in-store experience and our new philanthropic channel ‘Pit Viper Gives a Fuck.'”

Earlier this week, Boulder, Colorado-based PR company Meteorite hosted an intimate Winter Adventure Camp at Eldora Mountain, another community-focused event designed to connect media personnel with the brands and retailers on a more intimate level. The one-day, on-mountain event allowed the 40 invite-only media, athlete and retailer attendees to learn about and demo new gear from brands including Dynafit, Pomoca, Sweet Protection, Rab Equipment and WNDR Alpine. Most importantly, says Meteorite founder, Eric Henderson, it allowed people to get out and celebrate winter together.

Scarpa was originally planning to attend OR but pulled out due to the resurgence of Covid-19. Instead, the ski boot brand participated in Night Zero on January 25. The highly curated event, organized by Eventus Outdoors, hosted about 100 attendees and showcased brands such as Hestra, Mountain Hardwear and Giro, amongst others.

“We’re launching our new 4-Quattro sustainable boot, just signed Bode Miller and wanted [to participate in] an event that was a bit more geared toward the media and key dealers,” says Melanie Hood, communications manager at Scarpa North America. Hood says part of the appeal opting for the showcase during Night Zero was being able to be showcase new product alongside like-minded brands that didn’t compete with each other. “It’s hard to activate products at a big tradeshow,” says Hood. “At Night Zero, we had a rooftop patio where people could try on our boots or actually feel how warm Hestra gloves are in real-time.” 

With so many brands moving away from the tradeshow exhibition model, including industry staples like The North Face, Marker/Dalbello/Volkl and others, it begs the question of what will happen with Outdoor Retailer moving forward. Getting the entire industry together in one place undoubtedly has its benefits; but intimate on-slope events, consumer-facing experiences and one-on-one gear exhibitions are beginning to show their benefits.