Grassroots Connect returns to Kansas City, bringing together premier outdoor brands and specialty retailers during season of ‘mixed’ signals

October 25, 2023

Event will welcome 409 retailer buyers from 145 independent specialty stores as they engage with 190 total brands – 123 on the main floor and 68 in the Discovery Marketplace

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI (OCTOBER 25, 2023 ) /OUTDOOR SPORTSWIRE/ – Grassroots Connect, the twice-annual buying show of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, returns to the Kansas City Convention Center next month, gathering the outdoor sector’s leading brands and independent specialty retailers in the midst of a season marked by mixed business indicators.

Slated for Nov. 5-9, 2023, Grassroots Connect will welcome 409 retailer buyers from 145 independent specialty stores as they engage with 190 total brands – 123 on the main floor and 68 in the Discovery Marketplace – throughout more than 9,500 pre-scheduled appointments, as well as a full slate of education and networking events.

Heading into the event, Grassroots retailers are reporting a flattening of overall sales in the trailing 12 months prior to September, an expected return to earth after back-to-back record growth seasons in 2021 (+32%) and 2022 (+11%). Within those numbers, 32% of Grassroots retailers are reporting growth of more than 3% in 2023 (YTD), while 46% are showing a decline of more than 3%.

In addition to mixed sales results, inventory issues are also unresolved. While manufacturing and buying behaviors have largely normalized from the mood swings of the pandemic, impacts of past oversupply are still being felt in the marketplace and caution is in the air as the outdoor sector readies for the transition away from usage of PFAS beginning in 2024.

“Most of what we’ve encountered in the last six months are stories of mixed success and outlook. For instance, the iconic shop Midwest Mountaineering is closing its doors after 53 years in business, while other retailers are having record growth, opening new doors and bringing new energy and enthusiasm to the table,” said Gabe Maier, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. “At Connect, we’re expecting to see a substantial focus on pre-season planning conversations as both retailers and brands attempt to find balance.”

One factor contributing to optimism ahead of Connect is news around broader ownership trends within the group. According to a September retailer survey, 10% of Grassroots retail stores have successfully moved to new ownership in the past two years, and 11% of the membership is anticipating opening new doors in 2024.

“There’s a new generation of retail ownership that’s slowly and steadily moving into leadership roles within the Grassroots community. Those stories don’t always get all the media attention they should because they’re happening behind closed doors, but they’re an important indicator of how these businesses are perceived as valuable long-term assets at the local business level,” said Dana Howe, vice president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.

Grassroots Connect will begin on Sunday (Nov. 5), with Exhibitor Move In and Education Day and will be followed by four days of pre-scheduled show meetings, lunchtime learning sessions and evening special events (Nov. 6-9). Details of key events at the upcoming show include:

  • Education Day (Sun., Nov. 5) – Following the annual membership meeting, Grassroots Education Day will fill the late morning and early afternoon with presentations and conversations on essential topics, including: “Building a Remarkable Basecamp: Retail Brand Experiences that Increase Sales, Customer Satisfaction & Return Business,” hosted by Wes Allen of Sunlight Sports; “Your Store is a Talent Incubator: Reframing Employee Development for Specialty Retail,” hosted by Tara Kuipers; “The Hidden Influence of Buyers in Shaping the Shopper’s Experience,” hosted by Carrie Watson of Outside Looks; and “Retail’s Best Ideas: The Idea is Right!” also hosted by Tara Kuipers.
  • Discovery Marketplace (Sun., Nov. 5) – With the goal of igniting new relationships, the Grassroots Discovery Marketplace will showcase 67 rising brands to buyers from 4-6 pm, and to all attendees from 6-7 pm. The curated brand gathering is specifically structured to introduce prospective new vendors to the Grassroots community with a causal meet-and-greet format.
  • Super Happy Hour (Mon., Nov. 6) – The Night One happy hour will gather all attendees for libations, including alcohol-free options as well as appetizers. The event is sponsored by Mountain Hardwear, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
  • Service Project – This fall’s Grassroots Connect service project will be personal care kit building for distribution to the Kansas City unhoused. Sponsored by Keen and Oboz, the kit station will be located near the registration desk.
  • Lunchtime sessions – During the midday pause between scheduled appointments, several learning opportunities will be hosted throughout the week including the annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon (Monday, noon); a presentation by international mountaineer Phillip Henderson of Full Circle Expeditions (Tuesday, noon); and the “Sharing the Stoke” mini-film fest featuring film creations from both brands and retailers (Thursday, noon).
  • Open Houses – Two “open house” sessions are slated for the main show floor, providing a casual counterbalance to the solidly scheduled format of Grassroots Connect. The open houses are slated to include a happy hour on Tuesday (Nov. 7, 5-7 pm) as well as an after-lunch session on Wednesday (Nov. 8, 1-2 pm).

For more information on Grassroots Connect, a complete schedule of the upcoming event is available at Connect.grassrootsoutdoors.com.

Additionally, the most recent episode of “The Grassroots Podcast” provides a deeper dive into the upcoming show and its various elements (LINK: Spotify)



Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is a retailer-owned active network of 101 independently owned outdoor retailers and 69 vendor partners, working together for the health and growth of specialty outdoor retail. Through data collection and analysis, direct member support, specialty events and deep vendor partnerships, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is creating both a vision and roadmap for the long-term success of independent specialty retail. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is recognized as a catalyst for the success of its retailers and vendor partners; an advocate for specialty independent retail; a promoter of education and community within the specialty channel; and a key influencer of the national outdoor industry. For more information on Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, please go to www.grassrootsoutdoors.com.

Connect by Grassroots is our twice annual legacy show experience that spans 4 days offering an efficient and structured format for retailers to conduct their pre-season line showings and business conversations. Connect appointments are scheduled well in advance of the show which supports brands that already have established business with our retail attendees. Connect is focused and efficient and allows retailers and brands to conduct business together at the right time in the buying cycle, while also incorporating opportunities to celebrate the outdoor industry and retail community. The schedule for upcoming Grassroots Connect shows include Kansas City, Mo. (Nov. 6-9, 2023); and Reno, Nev. (June 10-13, 2024).For more information, please visit https://connect.grassrootsoutdoors.com.

Discovery Marketplace by Grassroots is our exploration experience aimed at introducing our attending retailers to new, niche, and exciting brands in a 3-hour unstructured open format offered at the beginning of Grassroots. The Discovery Marketplace is about making introductions and building new relationships between retailers and emerging brands.