SALT LAKE CITY — The outdoor industries’ biggest gathering in the world, the Outdoor Retailer Expo in Salt Lake City Jan. 22-25 was a shocking example of the magnitude of the industry and the weight that Utah holds in it. Held twice a year at the Salt Palace Convention Center, the OR show revealed, Altra, one of many Utah companies is making a splash in the industry.
This show ran Tuesday – Saturday and was an anthill filled with swarms of runners, skiers, hikers, and outdoor-lovers of all kinds not to mention white collar business executives, public relations firms, and media companies. The expo was an outdoor-lovers mega-mall, showcasing products that range from hi-tech Black Diamond skis to Petzl technical climbing equipment to Coleman camp stoves, not to mention troves of trendy outdoor clothing companies like North Face, Patagonia and Columbia.
Utah companies were prevalent at the OR expo and have always had a major presence in the outdoor industry. Well-established companies like Black Diamond and Backcountry.com were born in Utah and continue to have major pull. However, newcomer shoe company Altra was a standout at this season’s show.
Altra, which started in Orem in 2011, had a tiny little kiosk years ago at the OR show but only brought prototypes for shoes, its founder, Golden Harper, said. Now, at this year’s expo, Altra’s expo space – a temporary bonafide shoe store – was shoulder-to-shoulder with buyers gobbling up their 12 distinctive shoe styles.
“OR is a big thing for us,” Harper said. The expo has contributed to Altra’s quick growth, he said, and passersby were drawn like magnets to its expo space.
This expo illustrates their growth, but so do their sales numbers. Altra has seen a 300 percent growth rate over the last two years, Harper said. Besides their sales skyrocketing, their retail presence is swiftly growing as well. They only had shoes in 25 stores their first year but now, two and a half years later, they’re in approximately 700 retail stores.
In stores, their nontraditional shoe design certainly stands out. It’s based on a revolutionary concept: simplicity. Their two key design concepts, “zero drop” and “foot-shaped technology,” are a rebellion against modern shoe designs. “A lot of our technology is based on anti-technology,” Harper said.
Zero drop means that the sole of the shoe is perfectly flat from back to front. Modern shoes typically have an elevated heel thus tilting your foot on a downward slope. Zero drop shoes have no downward slope. Altra maintains that this is a more natural way to run.
Their second key design concept is “foot-shaped technology.” This means Altra’s shoes are wider in the toe area, often referred to as “wide toe box.” Their theory is that modern shoes aren’t designed around the natural shape of the foot, they’re designed, as Harper said, like a torpedo. Therefore modern shoe shapes smash most peoples toes together. Altra’s leave plenty of room for your toes to spread apart. “When you get the shape of the shoe and the shape of the foot to be one in the same,” Harper said, “good things happen.”
Although most of the original shoe models were named after mountains in northern Utah’s Wasatch mountain range – “Lone Peak” and “Olympus” – Harper has deep roots in in Southern Utah as well. His family has a second home in Washington City, he said, and “St. George is our second home, literally and physically.”
Harper’s family has been visiting and running in Southern Utah for years. He has been running the St. George marathon since he was 10. Both his dad and mom have won the St. George marathon, and his mom has also taken second place a few times, he said.
Harper also has close associations with the St. George Running Center, that consistently carries Altra running shoes. Keep an eye out at the Running Center for Altra’s first triathlon shoe coming out soon.
Outdoor Industry Statistics:
The outdoor industry is responsible for $646 billion in annual consumer spending according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s most recent economic report. This rivals the outpatient health industry – $767 billion – and the financial services and insurance industry – $780 billion. Also, outdoor industry consumer spending is twice as much as the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S.
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