For the more than 230 brands and 2,300 retailers that planned to be in Denver the first week of November, last month’s news that Outdoor Retailer (OR) was permanently canceling its Winter Market and merging it with the January 2020 OR Snow Show likely came as a surprise. But maybe it shouldn’t have. 

The November show was first held in 2018, just more than a year after OR—amidst a public lands controversy in Utah—moved its annual trade shows from Salt Lake City to Denver. While historically the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market was held each January and the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market took place in August, Emerald Expositions (OR’s parent company) drafted a fresh plan for Colorado, launching a November Show called the Winter Market and rebranding its January event as the Snow Show. 

The plan was to host all three OR events at the Colorado Convention Center each year, but last year’s Winter Market saw meager attendance compared to the other trade shows. This, coupled with feedback OR received from the majority of retailers, who said they didn’t see value in the November show, lead to change in format. 

“After the [November 2018 show], as we moved through the year, a sentiment became prominent that [exhibiting brands] preferred for the whole community to be together rather than have two shows divided by the sell cycles,” says Marisa Nicholson, show director for OR and vice president of the outdoor group at Emerald Expositions. “Our job is to offer the greatest value for our customers and the community we serve, so we made the decision to bring the two shows together.” 

It’s unclear if the cancellation was a result of OR struggling to sell floor space. When asked, an OR spokesperson would not discuss sales specifically, but pointed to data showing the November show was smaller than the others. Representatives from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), which partners with OR on the shows, declined an interview request for this story, but passed along a statement from executive director Amy Roberts that reads, in part: “It is clear now that the industry would like one consolidated winter show and we support Outdoor Retailer’s decision to bring the two winter shows together under one roof and in one timeframe.”

Still, the cancellation leaves some brands in a difficult situation, especially because of the late notice. 

“We were surprised that [the Winter Market] was canceled so close to the event,” says Mike Leffler, owner and president of Appalachian Outfitters, a Peninsula, Ohio-based retailer. “Unfortunately, most of our fall orders for the following year are due by late December. A January show has almost no benefit to us.” 

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Retailer

For Leffler, the situation is increasingly frustrating. He’s a former board chairman for the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, an organization comprised of 70 independent outdoor specialty retailers and brands, which co-located their invitation-only trade show, Connect, to Denver last November to time with OR.

“Grassroots Outdoors Alliance worked very closely with Outdoor Industry Association, Visit Denver, Outdoor Retailer, and others to co-locate our show with OR, last November,” he says.  “Our members had only positive things to say about the co-located shows and the wonderful Denver hospitality. Losing the November co-located show is a great loss to us.”  

But for the rest of the industry, the numbers are clear. The four-day OR Snow Show in January 2018 was a huge hit, with more than 28,500 attendees, including 7,500 retail buyers from 60 countries, and more than 1,000 brands represented. The total attendance at the 2018 Summer Market was close to 26,000. But just 9,800 people came to Denver for the November 2018 show.

More than 21,000 industry folks gathered in Denver in January 2019 for the OR Snow Show. By combining the November and January shows, Emerald Expositions expects about 29,000 people to turn out for the upcoming Outdoor + Snow Show, which takes place January 29–31, 2020.  

It’s still unclear what sort of economic loss the city of Denver will feel as a result of the November show being canceled. In a study commissioned by Visit Denver, the Colorado Economic Development Commission found that the three trade shows generated a collective economic impact of $143.6 million: $57.7 million from the Summer Market and $42.9 million from each of the winter season shows, according to the Denver Business Journal.  

Emerald Expositions remains confident, however, that the annual economic impact of OR in Denver will be close to $110 million moving forward. And Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver, says that city officials are optimistic that they’ll be able to fill the November time slot at the Convention Center with other meetings moving forward. 

“Winter Market was created to satisfy a specific buying cycle,” says Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver. “As we understand it, Emerald Expositions is making a business decision in response to market forces calling for one consolidated show under one roof.”