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20 Years of the OutDoor: Symbol of the Success Story of an Entire Industry

26.06.2013
Trade fair reflects the development of the entire outdoor industry - positive expectations for the future

Friedrichshafen - The OutDoor will take place in Friedrichshafen from 11 to 14 July 2013, the 20th edition of this remarkable trade fair. In the beginning, the meaning of "outdoor” was understood in continental Europe by only a small community of enthusiasts. Today, across large parts of the continent, the term stands for a movement in sport, the success story of an entire industry and even a lifestyle all its own. Over the course of its twenty-year history, the trade fair OutDoor has grown from a speciality fair with a modest 231 exhibitors in 1994 into a leading global trade fair and central meeting place for the international outdoor industry, with 913 exhibitors today. Visitor numbers and especially the international relevance of the OutDoor have also grown dramatically. "At Lake Constance, the industry and Messe Friedrichshafen have together decisively shaped the outdoor concept and the worldwide movement associated with it. It is here that the outdoor concept took centre stage, coming into its own as an industry distinct from the broader sport segment”, explains Klaus Wellmann, CEO of Messe Friedrichshafen.

The English expression "outdoor” has since become widespread in France, Germany and Italy. When leading German brands like Deuter, Big Pack, Jack Wolfskin, Lowa, Meindl, Salewa, Tatonka and Vaude initiated the first OutDoor, the industry found itself somewhere between camping, hiking and mountaineering.

In an era dominated by trade fairs that covered the entire spectrum of sport, the outdoor community needed a platform which could do justice to its individual, pioneering spirit - and so the outdoor working group began the search for a home for the first OutDoor. Ludwig Meier, already Head of Marketing in Friedrichshafen at the time, remembers: "At this time, we were still at our previous and admittedly rather outdated fairgrounds. So we really couldn’t impress potential exhibitors with our modern infrastructure. Instead, we assumed the role of a ‘flexible, helpful customer solutions provider’. We oriented ourselves strictly - something that is even more true today - around the needs of an industry which was slowly beginning to blossom and presented them with a comprehensive concept. Everything was included, from the logo, which is still used in a modified form today, to the marketing strategy and even the supporting program.” That went over well in an industry in which getting the job done and a strong "roll up your shirt sleeves” attitude are widespread. Friedrichshafen won the contract.

When the first OutDoor was held in 1994, 231 exhibitors welcomed 5,490 trade visitors. When it was over, everyone was very pleased with the results. So the dramatic growth that occurred in the OutDoor’s first three years was no surprise. Already by 1994, the exhibition halls at the old fairgrounds were completely booked up with 453 exhibitors, and had the new fairgrounds had not been inaugurated in 2002, the OutDoor would have had to look for an alternate location.

But the development of the outdoor movement had paralleled that of the trade fair and it took the entire industry with it. Hiking lost its outdated wool and lederhosen connotations, the frequency of travel increased and everyone wanted to get out into nature, whether it was the Highlands, the Himalayas, the Pyrenees or Peru. The growth of certain brands also led to the internationalisation of the entire industry.

Political changes in Europe, an increasingly global supply chain, as well as strong competition among brands and with other trade fairs level brought with them new challenges for the young and growing industry. To meet these challenges, the European Outdoor Group (EOG) was founded, holding its very first in-person meeting at the OutDoor. Driven by the idea of concentrating on a single, strong European trade fair, the common decision was made to transfer the rights to the OutDoor brand to the EOG. The concentration of the most important producers at a single leading trade fair in Europe, English as its working language, as well as the new fairgrounds created the basis for the OutDoor to grow from a German-speaking trade fair into the industry’s leading trade fair with global significance.

The growth in exhibitor and visitor figures for the OutDoor - average annual growth has averaged about 8 percent between 2003 and 2013 - continued to be paralleled by the growth in the industry. The outdoor concept was growing out of its niche. The longing for peace and quiet, real-life experiences in nature and the need to counterbalance hectic work routines coupled with an increasing health consciousness positively influenced the industry’s development, an effect that continues to this day. Societal developments also led outdoor apparel to be seen as the antidote to "Fast Fashion”. Characterised by its performance, durability and comfort, outdoor apparel in particular became just as well-suited to city or everyday use, truly representing a new lifestyle. During the economic crisis, the industry showed its strength and continued to grow, even if not at the same levels as before. "The most influential factor is and will remain the weather”, explains Mark Held, Secretary General of the EOG.

Today, the industry and the trade fair have grown up to become much more professional, a quality they will need to properly react to recent developments. Many European markets are saturated with long-lived products, investors are looking to profit from the outdoor industry’s success story, both producers and retailers are undergoing a period of concentration and consolidation, and sustainability and corporate social responsibility are presenting new challenges. The air is filled with questions: How much growth is ultimately possible? How can changes in raw materials and the employment market be met? How can performance be combined with sustainability? And will the industry remain loyal to itself and preserve its unique character?

"Although we are all looking to the future in these economically challenging times, we also want to allow ourselves to celebrate the success of the OutDoor over the past 20 years. This birthday is an important moment for both the OutDoor as a trade fair, as well as the outdoor industry as a whole. Throughout the history of the OutDoor, we have seen a lot of changes and our industry has developed very positively during this time”, says EOG President David Udberg. As Europeans, we can proud of the four days in July in which the Lake Constance region becomes the world’s outdoor capital, welcoming brands, retailers, manufacturers and journalists from all over the world.” Messe Friedrichshafen CEO Klaus Wellmann holds a similar view and is emphasising continuity: "We will continue to orient ourselves around the needs of the industry, without reservation.”

When the 20th OutDoor opens its gates on July 11th, the expected 20,000 trade visitors will not only come together with 913 exhibitors across over 85,000 square meters, but they will also encounter an industry full of vitality, dynamism and innovative power. Despite the challenges they face, the OutDoor and the outdoor industry are looking optimistically towards the future, together.

The OutDoor 2013 will be open from Thursday, 11 July until Sunday, 14 July, to trade visitors only (Thursday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). More information is available at www.outdoor-show.com.

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