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Outdoor retailers try it, like it: Demo Days a draw at Salt Lake convention

Outdoor retailers get to try out the latest, greatest gadgets

HEBER CITY — Legendary surfer Mike Doyle and his wife Annie specialize in making stand up paddle boards that allow anyone to enjoy the exploding new sport.

But how would those people, especially those who've never even considered surfing the kind of waves that made Mike famous 40 years ago, know why a Doyle board is any different from any of the other brands out there?

"Look at this," said Annie Doyle motioning to the dozens of stand up paddle options crowded onto the beach at Jordanelle Reservoir Wednesday morning.

"This industry changes every six months... Demo days is the best."

What Demo Days allows outdoor manufacturers, retailers and suppliers to do is try some of those things that are hard to sell in pictures.

To choose something like a stand up paddle board, one needs to try it. Which is why the Outdoor Retailers Convention starts with Demo Days, which allows those participating in the four-day convention to network with others in a very hands-on way. A trail run, a treasure hunt (using GPS devices) and lots of stand up paddle opportunities were just a few of the ways in which outdoor business leaders looked at innovative new products.

The remaining four days of the convention will feature more than 25,000 manufacturers, retailers and suppliers demonstrating the latest the industry has to offer.

"It is exciting the outdoor industry and Nielsen Business Media continue to embrace our destination and the business opportunity this trade show represents for their industry," said Scott Beck, President and CEO of the Visit Salt Lake. "Trade shows continue to be an important business tool for this industry, due to the importance of face-to-face contact with their clients and their peers. When you combine the incredible natural surroundings of Salt Lake and the Wasatch mountains, our destination is the perfect place for this unique gathering of outdoor-related businesses and retailers."

Take, for instance, Paul Fowler. He owns Apple Saddlery in Canada and was at Jordanelle Wednesday looking for new products to offer his customers.

He and his daughter tried out a product called "the piggyback rider." It's meant to help parents comfortably carry children who may not make an entire hiking expedition.

Paul Fowler carries 10-year-old Charlotte on his back, but instead of sitting like a lot of carriers, she is standing.

Creator Jonathan Lifshitz said he got the idea when he was trying to figure out how to accomplish household tasks with his son.

"I wanted to be able to get things done," he said. "They don't like sitting... The seated carriers are passive carriers. They're not part of the adventure."

Because the child is standing, he or she can see over her parents head and it makes them more likely to be engaged in the outing.

"We call them our navigators and co-pilots," said Lifshitz, who started the business with his two brothers. "You've just got to watch out for trees."

Doug Browning and his wife started a business called "Sweaty Bands" four years ago. But this is their first year at the Outdoor Retailers Summer Market in Utah.

"We just wanted to grow our business," he said. Sweaty Bands are popular with runners, but he said they're hoping to introduce the attractive but practical hair band to those who cater to other types of outdoor enthusiasts.

Dan Ritter, president of BugBand said this is his fifth year at the Utah event.

"As a manufacturer, you have to choose carefully which (conferences) you go to because they are expensive," he said. "This one here is very worthwhile."

Despite the shaky economy, the Outdoor Industry Association's benchmark reports show retailers reporting growth in sales from 43.1 to 46.5 percent.

This weekend's conference is expected to have a significant economic impact on the state as the industry continues to explode in growth in Utah.

Utah outdoor recreation fuels tremendous economic growth in Utah, contributing $5.8 billion annually to Utah's economy, supporting 65,000 jobs, generating nearly $300 million in annual state tax revenues and producing nearly $4 billion annually in retail sales and services across Utah, accounting for almost 5 percent of the gross state product.