My unofficial, unauthorized, semi-serious pitch to move the OR show to Tulsa

The Arkansas River, just south of downtown Tulsa.

The next great host city for Outdoor Retailer? YES!

The battle for public lands is spilling over into the world of commerce. And that smells like opportunity to me.

Salt Lake City has been home to the twice-yearly Outdoor Retailer show, a trade show that brings gear manufacturers together for a chance to show off their latest products in all things outdoor recreation. Salt Lake City is a great spot for this to be, as it’s close to great skiing, hiking, climbing and a whole bunch of other activities that the participants of the OR show cater to.

But here’s the problem: Utah’s governor, state legislators and congressional delegation have been hell-bent on pushing new laws to divest the federal government of its public lands inventory in favor of state control or private development. And really, “state control” is a euphemism for eventually selling out to the highest bidder, be that the energy industry, mining interests, loggers, or real estate developers hoping to sell big parcels to people who want their golf course mansions to have mountain views.

This hits home to the companies who attend the semi-annual expo, as these folks depend on people who like to hike, fish, hunt, climb, bike, ski, camp and otherwise play in the nation’s public lands. Reduced access has a way of deterring said playful activities, and that means these folks buy less stuff from gear-makers. No bueno, dude.

So OR’s organizers are talking about pulling out of SLC. It’s not because the skiing sucks or the national and state parks there are lame. Totally the opposite. But if that state’s leaders want to turn the place into a giant mine pit, well, why stay there at all? One manufacturer, Patagonia, has already said it won’t be at any more OR shows until it leaves Utah or until state officials get a clue. Others may follow suit.

So where might OR go? Seattle? Denver? Las Vegas?

Great choices. But let me make a dark horse pitch for a city that won’t be on anyone’s list.

Come to my city. Bring OR to Tulsa!

What it looked like on another ride.

Your new home, OR. Oh yeah.

OK, OK, quit laughing. Really. Stop already! I’m kinda serious here. Let me make my case…

As I see it, an event like OR needs some things: convention space, hotel rooms, some infrastructure, entertainment options, access to outdoor recreation (duh!) and local support. Let’s break it down:

Convention space: The Cox Business Center downtown has 227,000 square feet of meeting space. Not big enough? The Tulsa Expo Center has another 448,000.

Hotels: There are more than 1,650 hotel rooms in downtown alone, and that doesn’t include one new 8-story hotel opening soon. Add to that the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino east of downtown and the new RiverSpirit Hotel and Casino in south Tulsa. And plenty more. Like more than 14,000 rooms. Not more than SLC, but hey. We’re workin on it.

Downtown Tulsa as seen from the Brady Arts District. Brady used to be a rundown warehouse district, but is now home to a number of galleries, restaurants, pubs, music venues and a sweet little park that is home to live music and food trucks. A free outdoor music festival last summer drew some 40,000 people here. I run here a lot, and there is usually something pretty cool to see.

Downtown Tulsa as seen from the Brady Arts District. Brady used to be a rundown warehouse district, but is now home to a number of galleries, restaurants, pubs, music venues and a sweet little park that is home to live music and food trucks. 

Entertainment options: There is an entire section of the north side of downtown (the Brady Arts District) dedicated to having a good time. Music venues, art museums, pubs, bars, dance clubs and then some. Craft brewers, too. We’ve got our own ballet company and symphony. And I did mention casinos? Not as many as Vegas, but way more than Denver or SLC. Imagine the bliss of closing a deal over a rousing hand of Texas hold-‘em. Can’t do that in Utah, but you can here!

Direct flights: Yup. To and from New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix and then some. We ain’t LaGuardia, but I’m told that’s a good thing.

Runners and hikers can coexist with these guys. I promise.

Singletrack goodness for miles.

Outdoor rec: No, there are no big mountains here. But we aren’t bereft of things for the outdoorsy set, and you don’t even have to leave our city limits. Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness is 300 acres and 48 miles of singletrack goodness, one of the top mountain biking destinations in the country, and is a haven for hikers and trail runners, too. Imagine doing demos out there! Tulsa was recently ranked third in the nation among the most popular cities for active millennials (important demographic!). Rowing/paddling sports can be had on various stretches of the Arkansas River, and there are loads of lakes and state parks with places to hike, climb, bike, paddle, camp and run. And if you’re trying to show off the latest in fishing gear, you will find no more fertile ground for this sport than right here, which has twice hosted the Bassmaster Classic.

turkey-grid-map1

Commitment to public lands: Locally, we’ve got it in abundance. When the city had a choice between wild green space and an outlet mall, it chose the former, eventually doubling down by including a $7 million expansion of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area as part of a sales tax initiative passed last year. The city is also in the midst of completing a $350 million park and green space project near downtown. Our city leaders get it. Just don’t ask us about our state leaders or congressional delegation. Yeah, let’s glaze over that one for now…

So there you have it, my unofficial, unsanctioned and unauthorized pitch to flee Salt Lake City and find a new home for one of your two (soon to be three?) shows a year. We’re pretty awesome, and we’d be good hosts. I’ll personally give you the dime tour. What about those state/federal elected officials, you ask? Did I mention the amazing trails and casinos?

Bob Doucette

Five thoughts on REI’s #OptOutside Black Friday campaign

If you want to shop here on Black Friday, you're outta luck. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

If you want to shop here on Black Friday, you’re outta luck. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Outdoor retailer REI made big news Monday when its corporate leadership announced that it would not open its stores on Black Friday.

This is a serious commitment for any retail company, as Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — is usually the biggest in-store shopping day of the year, and kicks off the industry’s most crucial period. Christmas is our excuse to buy a lot of stuff, after all, and there are a lot of consumers who know outdoorsy types who’d love a jacket, a tent, a pair of skis or some sort of gadget to go play outside.

The move is much more than a spontaneous measure of goodwill. It has plenty of layers. So here’s some snapshot thoughts of what REI’s Black Friday announcement means:

This was a seriously thought-out plan. The decision was packaged well, complete with its own social media hashtag, #OptOutside, and a web page that asks visitors to participate in their own version of Black Friday. It’s interactive, slick, and very visual. And its framework fits nicely with a younger generation’s aptitude for making statements of belief and values through social media outlets. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are being peppered with beautiful images, provided by REI, that express people’s desire to forego the shopping mania of Nov. 27 for some good times outside. REI’s CEO didn’t just dream this up over the weekend. This is a carefully crafted media campaign designed to make REI stand out from other retailers.

REI is taking a risk. Undoubtedly, REI will lose sales it ordinarily would have earned from shoppers flooding its brick-and-mortar stores. Other outdoor retailers that are more online-based, but still have physical stores, could get away with this more easily, but not REI. Online shopping is plenty big with REI, but this is a company committed to in-store sales. Closing on Black Friday won’t put REI out of business, but it will feel this. The bottom line will be affected.

REI is the type of company that can get away with this. The first question a lot of people unfamiliar with REI’s business model would ask is, “What are the shareholders going to say?” But REI is not a publicly traded company. Despite its huge presence and impact on the outdoor retail industry, REI is still a co-op of members, just like it was when it was founded. This gives REI more latitude on decisions like this than, say, Macy’s, Target or Wal-Mart.

#OptOutside is a major statement of corporate values. The company’s CEO, Jerry Stritzke, had this to say in an open letter to customers: “For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.” This move goes beyond counterintuitive, as other retailers are opening not only earlier on Black Friday, but also on Thanksgiving Day. So while employees of those companies will have to work long hours and may have to squeeze in a Thanksgiving meal around their Thursday shift, REI employees will be getting paid not to work on Black Friday. So not only is the company going to lose money on sales, but will also spend money on workers who won’t be generating income for REI. In the corporate world, you don’t make this sort of financial commitment unless you really believe in it.

The Friday after Thanksgiving looks like this. And increasingly, so does Thanksgiving Day. (eiu.edu photo)

The Friday after Thanksgiving looks like this. And increasingly, so does Thanksgiving Day. (eiu.edu photo)

#OptOutside is also a strong statement to change overall cultural values. You’ve seen the footage of frenzied Black Friday shoppers gobbling up TVs, gadgets, clothes and toys, surging through glass doors and whipping out credit cards like it was the last day shopping would ever be allowed. People camping outside stores. Stories of hapless consumers being trampled by hordes of single-minded buyers. Even fights breaking out, sometimes with weapons. These are the extremes of Black Friday, to be sure, and the stories make the online rounds as endless Thanksgiving holiday clickbait. But they exist. REI is pumping an alternative narrative hard, that instead of spending so much energy buying stuff, that maybe we should spend the day burning energy on a bike, hiking a trail, climbing a crag or camping with friends. The storyline is that time outdoors is far more memorable and fulfilling than cashing in on doorbuster sales. Consumerism drives the economy and keeps millions of people employed, but too much of a profitable thing can be toxic. That’s my thinking, anyway, and at first glance, that appears to be the idea REI is trying to convey as well.

Here's the view I hope to get on Black Friday as I #OptOutside. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Here’s the view I hope to get on Black Friday as I #OptOutside. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

My plans for Black Friday have been developing over the past several weeks, long before #OptOutside was made public. I’m going to be in Tennessee that week, and if the weather and logistics cooperate, I’ll be in the Smokies hiking a mountain. But in spirit, I’m all in for #OptOutside. Who knows how long REI will keep this up, but I hope it becomes a lasting — and growing — trend.

So what do you all think? Will you shop till you drop, or are you going to get outdoors instead? And what do you think of what REI is doing? Give me a shout in the comments.

Bob Doucette