First OIA conference makes the right connections
The first Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) conference, held at Corus Hotel, Solihull, 2-3 March 2011, has been hailed as a success by the delegates who attended. Around 60 representatives from all parts of the outdoor sector gathered for the event in Solihull last week, which was sponsored by the Camping and Caravanning Club. They participated in a full day of presentations and interactive workshops, and were addressed by the local MP, who offered a political perspective on the importance of the work that the OIA does.
The conference was opened by OIA chair Corry Taylor, who issued a rallying cry to outdoor organisations to work closely with the association to build the industry's size and influence and to collaborate on projects designed to encourage more people to experience the outdoors.
Chief executive Louise Ramsay made reference to ongoing research into the size of the UK industry, which is set to reveal its true economic contribution to the UK. She pointed out that the final figures will show that the sector has been 'underselling' itself for too long and the OIA will use the data to lead a sustained campaign to improve the outdoor industry's profile and influence at a national level.
Louise then outlined the OIA's main plans for 2011 and introduced two of the year's key initiatives. The first of these is the launch of an industry wide retail training skills programme and the second is The Active Guide (TAG), which was described in more detail by its developer, Nick Salloway of Different Digital. This was followed by a lively discussion about TAG, with contributions from the floor that will help shape the final product before its launch in April.
The morning session concluded with a speech by Lorely Burt, MP for Solihull, and a Liberal Democrat business spokesperson and co-chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary committee for business, innovation and skills. Mrs Burt provided an insight into the Government's approach to dealing with the country's economic challenges and assured the conference that there is room for optimism, particularly for the outdoor industry. She cited improving public health and wellbeing as areas that the Government is pursuing with vigour and pointed out that the outdoor sector can make a big contribution to these agendas. Mrs Burt concluded by urging the OIA to open up a long term dialogue with Government and offered to assist in facilitating that.
The conference delegates attended a series of interactive workshops covering a range of topics: 'Green labels – what do they mean for brands, retailers and the consumer', led by Charles Ross of Bushbaby; 'how important is customer service to the bottom line', led by Don Gladstone of Peoplework; 'applying social media in business', led by Nick Salloway of Different Digital and Chris Lines of Press Ahead; and 'will the consumer finally have to start paying the true cost of their apparel, footwear and accessories', led by Mark Held of the European Outdoor Group.