Outdoor i Report: OIA Annual Conference & AGM

Credit: Editorial supplied with the kind permission of Outdoor i.


OIA Annual Conference

The OIA Conference opened with the annual update and review of the year from the Association’s CEO Andrew Denton. Always invigorating, Denton’s evident insight into the challenges we face struck more than just a chord with delegates and set the tone for a stimulating day. Under his leadership, the OIA has become a rallying point for stakeholders in the outdoors and a conduit for the representation of interests and access to influence.

He made the key point that representation of our interests is essential and that outdoor recreation is now on the government’s agenda and is a catalyst for change – for the nation’s health in tackling obesity, its mental health, combatting the ‘digital heroin’ of physical inactivity and, of course, our own commercial prospects. The OIA’s Manifesto is available as a downloadable PDF here.

Responding to the results of delegates’ surveys, much more time had been built into the programme to mingle, discuss, renew acquaintance and share concerns. It worked. In the course of a tweaked programme, participation partners – BMC, Ordnance Survey and Forestry Commission – raised the bar in terms of goals, reach and opportunity to develop outdoor activities throughout communities in the UK.

In his keynote, ‘Good for Business Good for the Planet’, Patagonia’s EMEA General Manager Ryan Gellert made a quietly forceful point that, “We do our best work when we function as an industry”. He has extensive experience working with direct action environmental groups, serving on the boards of the Access Fund and Protect Our Winters. It’s impossible to resist the charismatic appeal of Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard whose love of the outdoor environment, sturdily independent thinking and outstanding ability to galvanise trade and consumer activism is a beacon of light shining the path forward in our efforts to protect and serve.

From its roots as a bunch of dirt-bag climbers to a shrewd business and environmental protection leader, the stated values of Patagonia ‘to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’ go far beyond the caricature of ‘hippynomics’ used by ill-informed critics.

Gellert’s honesty was an important reminder that our collective interests are not only about ourselves and our businesses but also about the quality of life of our children and of theirs. Launching today, Patagonia’s Blue Heart initiative embraces the damage being done to Balkan free-flowing river systems by corporate hydropower schemes, ignoring the interests of local communities and driven by financial returns to shareholders.

It marks another step towards supporting activism and the driving of environmental awareness through Worn Wear – ‘repair is a radical act’ – and Patagonia Action Works, the ‘dating site or activists’. Although Patagonia has contributed some $100m to projects supported by 1% For The Planet, he made the point that, “We are not a sustainable company but we are a responsible one.” Food for thought.

An incredibly talented, multi-faceted individual, Amazon’s UK Country Manager Doug Gurr joined Amazon in 2011 and was President of Amazon China in from 2014 to 2016. His presentation, ‘Digital and Retail – It’s Still Day One’ was delivered in an engaging, self-effacing style that prompted one delegate to murmur, “A smiling assassin!”, despite the humour of his “Where’s my cow?” anecdote. His focus on the benefits Amazon brought to small-scale, rural enterprises – optimistically stressing the potential for reversing urbanisation – struck a chord and his observations around how businesses can use Amazon’s expertise to generate global sales was persuasive.

He observed that Mountain Warehouse generates some 10-20% of its UK turnover via Amazon and around 80% of its U.S. turnover. Despite the suspicion of its power, goals and lack of transparency, his pitch was powerful and has embraced many UK brands. Gurr made the point that, “It has never been an easier time to connect with consumers globally.” In a Q&A session, he fielded dispute resolution concerns adroitly but made the clear point that, “We never comment on future plans.”

In the later afternoon, presentations on Twitter, business in China, Open Data and the presentation skills of communicator Tommy Cooper rounded off a key event in the UK outdoor trade calendar. The revised programme focus worked, the venue needs to sharpen up services and food but the feedback from delegates was clearly in favour of being back next year. In summary, it was another win for the OIA and the work done by MCS to make the event seem effortless.


OIA AGM and Dinner

In recent years, the Annual General Meeting of the Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) has developed into an eagerly anticipated event featuring progress updates, new initiatives and a more stable financial situation. This year, it was preceded by an urban orienteering/climbing challenge to reach the venue. Led by CEO Andrew Denton, the OIA has evolved into a dynamic trade body with influence and a key role representing our interests with the UK government, in Europe and beyond. Building bridges with other stakeholders is a core function of a progressive association and the OIA has achieved a great deal in a short space of time. Robert Louden MBE, Chair of the OIA and representing the Camping and Caravanning Club as main sponsor, led the business of the AGM crisply and with warm humour; the Annual Report is available to download online. With the progress made on so many fronts, it is clear that a revised business model is needed to maintain and extend progress.

Mark Held, General Secretary of the European Outdoor Group (EOG), explained the concept, execution and result of its ‘Vision 2020 – The Future of OutDoor’ project that led to the trade fair relocating to Munich from 2019. The process was reported in previous issues of Outdoor i and is explored on the EOG website. Industry unity in the face of trying times and new opportunities was the message that resonated with delegates with Held noting that, “It is incumbent that we adapt to change. That had been blocked by emotion not facts and led to the extensive research of Vision 2020. Defined by consumers, we are looking at stretching the boundaries of our industry by extending the concept of ‘outdoor’.” Whilst dates have not yet been announced, ‘OutDoor by ISPO’ will take place next summer. A presentation by the C&CC was an eye-opener in terms of its heritage, reach and innovative adaptation to the changing market and had much to say on managing change and growth in the digital age. Nick Bullock’s animated performance of his encounters with bears was met with roars of laughter and was a real mood-setter for a very social and business-like networking evening. What has evolved over the years to be an informal dinner saw the sharing of the winners of the UK Outdoor Industry Awards though the spirit of the evening  proved to be a challenge to the announcements.. Katadyn’s ‘BeFree’ was the overall ‘Product of the Year’; full details here. Networking continued into the early hours with energy, good humour and passionate debate.


Credit: Editorial supplied with the kind permission of Outdoor i: www.outdoori.com