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Sneakernomics: The State of the Outdoor Business

Jul 25, 2017
Matt Powell, Vice President, Industry Analyst ;
Sports

The overall state of the U.S. outdoor business has not been very good. According to data from NPD’s Retail Tracking Service, dollar sales are down year-to-date through May 2017 compared to the same period one year ago, across the men’s, women’s, and kids’ markets.

Some of the reasons are well-known. The closing of The Sports Authority and Sport Chalet created a void that has not been filled. Outdoor products sold through the athletic specialty/sporting goods channel have declined in the high single-digits. At the same time, little of these lost sales have been picked up in the outdoor specialty channel, where sale are down in the low single-digits for the year so far. Even sales in outdoor e-commerce have declined.

The ongoing retail rationalization has had an impact on the entire retail business. Retail sales in general are slowing. Consumers are spending more money on travel and experiences, and less on things like shoes and shirts. The cold and wet spring in much of the nation did not help. All these are part of the problems in outdoor retail.

The sports specialty business remains under siege as well. As we look across that landscape, sales are tough for specialty categories like cycling and running. Outdoor specialty is not immune to these forces. There is likely a “silent” rationalization happening in the specialty businesses where small stores and chains are shuttering as well.

Looking at specific categories, the outdoor accessories business declined in the high single-digits for the year so far. The luggage business did trend positively, a reflection of the robust travel business. Travel remains a great opportunity for the outdoor industry to exploit. The bag business is down in the mid-singles, with only sports equipment bags trending up. Sunglass sales are down in the mid-teens.

Outdoor apparel declined in the mid-singles. The cool spring no doubt helped certain categories as headwear, handwear, cold weather undergarments, and outerwear all posted gains. This, however, was offset by declines in sportswear and sweats/active bottoms.

Outdoor equipment sales were down in the low-teens. Equipment accessories also declined in the low-teens as a sharp drop in cookware and instruments business offset growth in coolers, where the soft-sided business is surging.

The camping business, a bright spot a few years ago, posted a high single-digit decline year-to-date. The hot climbing business was also down, dropping in the low single-digits.

Footwear sales were also soft, down in the high single-digits, as very weak running shoe sales tempered low single-digit growth in outdoor footwear.

When we look at the outdoor business by brands, we see that those including Patagonia, Marmot, SmartWool, Arc’teryx, Osprey, Kuhl, and Keen all had increases. The North Face, Columbia, Merrell, and YETI all experienced declines for the year so far. 

All in all, it has been a tough year for the outdoor industry. While there are opportunities like travel to exploit, the industry must respond to the ever-changing retail business.


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