We just got back from OUTDOOR, the big international outdoor trade show, held once a year in July in Friedrichshafen, on the Bodensee (Lake Constance, in Southern Germany). The other big international show is OUTDOOR Retailer, held in Salt Lake City, Utah, which caters to the North American market.
Trish and I went there to talk to our current suppliers, and possibly make some new contacts.
The show is open to industry professionals only, which means you are probably a retailer or distributor/importer. This year there were 21,730 trade visitors, up slightly from last year. Which says a lot, considering the dwang that most of Europe is in economically. Apparently 1,019 journalists covered the show too.
This one excluded.
The physical size of the show is rather overwhelming. There are 13 halls with 907 exhibitors and manufacturers, from companies the likes of which you have never heard of: From the ABK Company from Sweden, to Zweibrueder Electronics GmbH from Germany. (By the way, the show does not cover cycling or paddling, just outdoor MOUNTAIN stuff).
And all the majors of course. What’s amazing to me is the number of brands that exist that don’t have a presence in South Africa. The likes of Arc’teryx, Berghaus, Fjällräven, Häglovs, Jack Wolfskin, Lowe Alpine, Lowa, Mammut, Marmot, Millet, Patagonia, Salewa, Tatonka. Of course some of them we do have through the larger chains such as Cape Union Mart or Due South – Adidas, Columbia, Deuter, The North Face, Vaude.
What you walk away with is the overwhelming size of the outdoor business in general.
The German Alpine Club alone has a stand staffed by 10 people. OK, Germany is a lot bigger than SA in terms of the economically active, etc. but still. The Deutscher Alpen Verein has 354 branches with 815,000 members and owns and operates literally dozens of indoor climbing gyms, and has it’s own publishing arm that puts out magazines and 100 books every year.
The MCSA in SA by comparison has 4,553 members and 14 sections. That’s 0.5%…. In fact the German Alpine Club is so big that 1 in a 100 Germans belong to it. If the MCSA were that popular in SA it would have 500,000 members.
Inbetween the actual show, the organisers try to do some entertaining for the visitors. There’s a dyno comp, a trail running course, slack lining (sketchy Andy), a high ropes course, beer tent, a fashion show, movies (Banff!), party night, it’s all a really big GEDOENTE.
But most people come there to do serious business, as did we.
We paid 120 Euros (R1,200!) to sleep in someone’s basement. The whole town of Friedrichshafen was booked out (and it’s not a small city), so we had to drive half an hour to a small town called Hagnau, along the lakeshore, famous for it’s wine and schnapps. Yes, we brought back a bottle or two.
The moral of the story: be careful on your next European holiday, you don’t just get ripped in Italy.
* The outdoors is getting greater. More people going outdoors, that translates to more customers and more stuff to buy and sell. Business is good.
* This show is as much about fashion as it is about outdoor equipment. Someone called the outdoor industry in Europe a combination of fashion and function, which sums it up rather nicely. It’s all about looking good while on that walk, hike, run, trail run, cycle, climb, or via ferrata. The hip colours this year were luminescent yellow, green, blue and orange. Everyone had some item in these colours. For most consumers it seems that looking cool is as important as staying cool. The brighter, the better.
* Everyone wants to be everything to everyone. Clothing companies getting into rock climbing. And vice versa, and everything in between. Adidas bought Fiveten. Lowa now makes climbing shoes, Millet does ropes, etc.
What we found interesting in the climbing department:
* Alien cams are back. Tech Rock, the Spanish holding company that owns Fixe and Faders (remember the R99 quickdraw from MMO?), bought the Alien design, and are manufacturing them again. We got 3 sets on our shelves already. Tech Rock also bought the bankrupt ROCA ropes company, so we should see them again in SA soon.
* We all know the current-generation Black Diamond C3s were never as good as Aliens or the newer Metolius Master Cams. Black Diamond realized that too, and are about to launch their own new range of small cams, appropriately code-named Predators. As in “Alien vs. Predator” I guess? The official name is X4. ETA in SA is February 2013, price about R859. The X4 design is rather interesting, it’s a double-axle offset design. Double-axle as in the Camalot design, for larger range, but BD offset the axles to narrow the head size to enable small sizes too.
This video is quite interesting to watch, it shows the BD designer discussing the X4.
* Edelrid showed a new 6.9mm twin rope called the FlyCatcher. Yes, 6.9mm! We are rapidly approaching dental floss here. Safe belaying becomes a real concern here, so Edelrid will only sell the Flycatcher with its own newly designed MicroJul belay device. I doubt we will see the Flycatcher in SA as it is a twin rope, intended for ice climbing (as opposed to a half ropes, which we use for trad climbing in SA).
* Environmental Award:
Normally I don’t believe too much in environmental products in the home. But I spotted a product that should become mandatory. BERG OUTDOOR from Portugal nogal introduced a fully bio-degradable plastic water bottle. So if you lose your bottle out there on TM – in 5 years time it’s completely gone. Our nice UV light will probably accelerate that process a little bit too. These bottles ought to become mandatory for cyclists, and the likes of Powerade and Energade.
* Mammut got a show GOLD award for a rope called the Sensor. The jury gave it a gold award because its midpoint and near-the-end are marked so that the belayer can feel and see those points:
“The end and middle of the Sensor single rope are different from the rest of the rope both visually and haptically (touch). This provides better orientation for the belayer and prevents accidents when a climber is being lowered because the belayer can feel when the end of the rope is approaching. Hopefully, the Sensor rope will soon make lowering accidents a thing of the past! Very well done!”
I did speak with Mammut about importing their products, but we just don’t feature on their radar screen, SA is just too small a market for them.
Speaking of Mammut: Sometimes Mammut makes good stuff. Sometimes you gotta wonder what they are smoking. They launched an integrated harness/shorts combo. I think the Sunday Times would give them the Mampara Award for this one.
* The Fiveten booth was completely overwhelmed with people. Probably because they were serving free coffee, coke and snacks. We found out that Fiveten now sells more mountain biking shoes than rock climbing shoes, quite a change for the company that started the sticky rubber climbing shoe revolution 20 years ago.
In the climbing shoe department, the company has cleaned up its product line, which had become confusing and too large over the last few years.
The best-selling Anasazi (Indian line) of shoes are still around, with some colour changes. But they have taken recent trends to heart, and brought out a new line of shoes called the Stonelands line. They call it the cowboy line (as opposed to the Anasazi Indian line). Different heel, not as cupped, different sole and toebox, and best of all a different, lower price point. As some of us have all noticed, climbing shoes have come down in price over the years, at least in Dollars or Euros.
See Charles Cole, FIveten designer and founder, discuss the new Stonelands line.
* Petzl showed a new helmet called the Sirocco. It won a GOLD award for its incredibly low weight – 165g. Most of today’s helmets are double that. My Petzl Ecrin helmet – albeit from the last millennium – weighs 445g, triple that. EINA!
Also en route are new SPIRIT quickdraws. Both will be arriving in SA in February next year.
* Ueli Steck, the “Swiss Machine” was at the Mountain Hardwear booth, talking about his design work with the company. Normally this is just corporate bladibla, but I have an incredible amount of respect for Ueli, I really think he is in a league of his own, doing Himalayan 8,000m Peaks alpine-style, and that his clothing truly does have to be a bit more high-tech than just a fleece top or two and a nice hard shell.
Mountain Hardwear won a ton of awards with new high-quality, lightweight equipment at last years’ show. Ueli did an oxygen-less ascent of Everest with the gear in May this year.
First Ascent really dominate the local clothing scene here in SA. Nothing against them, we sell a ton of their stuff, it’s great value for money, but looking at the quality and technology of the international brands like Mountain Hardwear you really do see a huge difference. The good news is that we have picked up the Mountain Hardwear agency for South Africa and so the brand will continue to be available in SA through us.
So what’s the bottom line?
After the show, we returned to Munich to fly out. We visited a big retailer there, a place called Sport Schuster, the store is five stories. They had, I kid you not 25 different helmets on display. Trish and I both looked at each other and thought “when is enough enough?“ No customer wants to try on 10 different helmets!? You would spend half a day just on that item.
We figured that all the really good items are available in SA, or will get to us next year. I jokingly call it Capitalism or Darwin – the good stuff ends up on our shores. South Africans tend to be a bit more budget-orientated and less fashion-conscious than their European counterparts – so in clothing that’s not quite the case, and I, personally am OK with it.
- Robert Breyer
CityROCK/Mountain Mail Order