Outdoor Retailers Taking Fewer Risks

SALT LAKE CITY — Outdoor buyers are sticking with what works for 2009.

Retailers shopping the Outdoor Retailer trade show, held here Jan. 22-25, said they were attacking a down economy by going deeper with proven winners.

Kate Rosso, owner of The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum, Idaho, said that after a promotional holiday season and late snows in her resort town, the store was looking to be judicious with its spending — including shortening the OR trip and traveling with fewer staff members. In terms of buying, stocking sure bets is the plan. “I would say we’re trying to focus and narrow,” Rosso said. “We’ll concentrate on the styles we do well in and [add] some fun things that pop off the shelf.”

Lauren Barra, who oversees outdoor footwear buying for Backcountry.com, said she’s focusing on bestsellers.

“We’re looking at our top 20 styles and making sure we buy those. We don’t want to overassort anybody,” she said. “I’m telling [my vendors], ‘Do what you do really well — don’t branch off into something you might do well.”

Barra said SmartWool’s new slipper collection, as well as winter product from The North Face and Salomon, looked strong. And for fall ’09 and spring ’10, Barra expects après-ski boots, slippers and multisport shoes to gain momentum.

Light hikers have been solid sellers for 45 Degrees in Stillwater, Minn., as well as lifestyle product from Keen, Chaco and Ugg. “Casual shoes are really holding me in there,” said owner Jim Anderson. Shopping for fall, Anderson said he was impressed by Keen’s offering, but additional buys there meant fewer for other brands.

Beezer Molten, owner of the eightstore Half-Moon Outfitters chain based in Charleston, S.C., also said casual and light hiking products were strengths, but he added that vendors were being cautious. “It seems like everyone’s going for predictability,” he said. “But there’s still plenty to buy.”

Also generating buzz at the show were two acquisitions announced on the first two days of the show: Chaco by Wolverine World Wide and Ahnu by Deckers Outdoor Corp.

Anderson said he had some reservations about whether Chaco would keep its individuality in the merger, but he was optimistic about the fate of Ahnu under Deckers. “They were going in a great direction, and [the deal] will help with marketing and developing some solid product,” he said.

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