Grassroots Connect says farewell to Knoxville with big attendance, big venue news, and big conversations

July 11, 2023

Grassroots Connect, the twice-annual buying show of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, wrapped up its June show last month with record-setting attendance of more than 400 buyers from 142 independent retailers engaging with 215 outdoor brands.

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE (July 11, 2023)/OUTDOOR SPORTSWIRE/ – Grassroots Connect, the twice-annual buying show of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, wrapped up its June show last month with record-setting attendance of more than 400 buyers from 142 independent retailers engaging with 215 outdoor brands.

At the show-starting Grassroots membership meeting, the big announcement was that the June event would relocate to Reno, Nevada, beginning in 2024 – ending a 10 year run in Knoxville.

“Knoxville has been a great home for Grassroots Connect, and while we’re thankful for the city’s kindness and professionalism, we’re also appreciative of how this area has helped the organization grow to what it is today,” said Gabe Maier, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.

After a day full of educational panels, a capacity Discovery Marketplace – which doubled in size from its launch event last fall – and four days of business meetings with approximately 10,000 pre-scheduled appointments, Grassroots Connect ended with big sentiments that blended positivity and honesty regarding the season ahead.

According to Grassroots sales reporting, specialty retail has been strong year-to-date in 2023 as more than half of Grassroots retailers met or exceeded the previous year’s growth. At the same time, approximately 50% of retailers and 40% of brands currently reported feeling “over-inventoried” and are planning towards stability following two years of record growth brought on by the pandemic.

In the voice of attending retailers, the tone of business meetings on the floor of the show ranged from “guarded optimism” (Ed McAlister, River Sports Outfitters) and “cautiously optimistic” (Tracy Mayer, Backcountry North) to “quite positive” (Marc Sherman, Outdoor Gear Exchange) and even “surprisingly strong” (Chuck Millsaps, Great Outdoor Provision Company).

While the positives were anchored in a long-term belief in the strength of the overall outdoor recreation economy, the negatives were tied to more specific concerns – such as oversupply and regional weather challenges.

“Our meetings were quite positive despite a universal understanding that the marketplace is overstocked across the entire supply chain for both vendors and dealers, and that hardgoods sales were off by more than 30%,” said Sherman. “In my experience, Connect is a gathering of like-minded friends and colleagues who typically exist in a world of bonhomie and good spirited outlooks. That being said, we’re all trying to figure out how to get back from the east-coast winter that wasn’t and a saturated marketplace that is the hangover from the pandemic.”

“I was concerned that the inventory imbalance/glut would cast a bit of a shadow over the typically optimistic view of the retailers. We seem to be punching above our weight for the first months of 2023 as many other retail categories are struggling to hit pandemic high spikes of 2022. I hope that the vendors are able to restrain their production to keep 2024 out of the ditches and that retailers like ours can continue to add luster to brands that innovate and inspire,” said Millsaps.

“I like to say at these meetings that we sit down and take out a box of risk and place it in the middle of the table, then we spend the next 45 min pushing it back and forth, trying to get the other to take a bit more,” said Todd Frank, owner of the Trail Head in Missoula, Montana.

The updated calendar for the next two Grassroots Connect shows now includes Kansas City, Mo. (Nov. 6-9, 2023); and Reno, Nev. (June 10-13, 2024).


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 next Connect will be held June 12-15, 2023 (Knoxville, Tenn.). 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. The next Discovery Marketplace (LINK) will be held June 11, 2023 (Knoxville, Tenn.).