There were no signs of a depressed Chinese outdoor market at at the last edition of the Ispo Beijing show, held in the country's capital on Feb. 19-22, which was again dominated by outdoor-oriented companies. The number of trade visitors was up by 8 percent and reached some 30,000 entries.

The growing success reflects the current market situation in China, where the market grew by “only” 24 percent last year compared with 2012 according to figures put out by the Chinese Outdoor Commerce Alliance (COCA). Market observers told this publication that the situation in the market is highly critical – for various reasons:

The number of points of sale grew faster than the actual market in 2013. This is good news on the one hand, because it means an increased penetration of third-tier cities in the western part of the country. On the other hand, it is bad news because this means ongoing over-demand in the big cities in the wealthier eastern regions along the Pacific coast.

The outdoor market continues to grow faster than the overall Chinese economy. Last year, China's GDP grew by 7.5 percent, which is a lot by Western standards, but the minimum in China to keep the local financial system alive and kicking. The vulnerable point of the outdoor industry is still that it is mainly fashion-driven and carried far less by “real” outdoor enthusiasts than in more mature markets. Therefore, the business depends to a high degree on quickly changing preferences of the consumers.

The strong attendance at Ispo Beijing proves that the widely expected sweep-up in the retail landscape, notably among smaller stand-alone shops, has not yet begun. The larger retail operations, on the other hand, are longing for additional financing to help their expansion across the country.

The Chinese government banned new initial public offerings in 2012 to cool down the economy. Basically, this regulation was lifted at the beginning of this year. Citing technical reasons, however, the government decided to postpone any IPOs until further notice. Currently, larger operators such as Sanfo, one of the leading specialty outdoor retailers in China, and Northland are standing in line, eagerly waiting to refinance their companies through the stock exchange.

Meanwhile, as reported before, Messe München, the organizer of Ispo Beijing, is busy negotiating with the local market players for the best possible time and location for the launch of a summer show next year. The show is going to be held either in June or July. The location is yet to be decided, but Klaus Dittrich, chairman of Messe München's executive board, emphasized in Beijing that both the capital and Shanghai are suitable candidates to host the show.

Executives of Messe München did not stress the point that they are mainly after the outdoor companies as exhibitors. Certainly, they are objects of desire, but there seem to be many more categories than just outdoor that need to be developed and deserve an appropriate platform, notably action sports and water sports such as paddling.

Since the outdoor category is important, it would not be surprising if China would face something like a “German dispute” that we faced a few years ago when Messe München and Messe Friedrichshafen were competing for the same exhibitors for summer shows. A similar situation is evolving in China.

Knut Jaeger, the executive of German Messe, a joint venture in which Messe Friedrichshafen is involved, has denied that there are any plans to launch a winter outdoor show in reaction to Messe München's new plans for the summer season. German Messe is the organizer of the Asia Outdoor show scheduled to be held in Nanjing this year on July 23-26. Rather, Jaeger said that the market is still too small to allow two winter shows. Jaeger told this publication that he sees the possible competition as encouraging improvement in the quality of the Nanjing event.

One new initiative is the launch of a (trail) running village at the next edition of Asia Outdoor to meet the demands of both the exhibitors and the market. At the next Asia Outdoor, a prominent new exhibitor will be Mountain Hardwear, the higher-end brand under the umbrella of Columbia Sportswear. Certainly not a coincidence, as Samson Wong, the chief of Columbia's new Chinese joint venture, which has been operational since the beginning of this year, has been appointed to Asia Outdoor's supervisory board. The same goes for Bruno Feltracco, the boss of VF Corporation in the Far East and acting chief of The North Face in the country following the departure of Jacob Uhland, who recently accepted other responsibilities for TNF in the Americas.