Retailers Seek Sure Bets at Outdoor Retail Show

SALT LAKE CITY — The retail picture is still a bleak one, but store owners shopping the Outdoor Retailer show, held here July 21-24, said that strength in flip-flops and light hiking shoes, as well as value-oriented offerings, have given them some optimism for the future.

For Kim Walker of Boulder, Colo.-based Outdoor Divas, the key driver for business right now is price — and that was reflected in her show shopping.

“[We’ve been] actively seeking closeouts because our customers are really looking for deals. Before, it was a nonissue,” she said. Walker also said she would be reducing her ordering for spring and “working as much as possible on just-in-time buying” to avoid sitting on inventory.

And while she predicted that the first quarter of 2010 will show some improvement, she is not banking on it happening immediately. “With flat being the new up, we’re going to be flat, and we’ll be happy with that,” she said.

But there are pockets of recession-proof spending, according to some retailers. Road running, hiking and the women’s sandal businesses have been strong for Kent, Wash.-based REI, according to women’s footwear buyer Denise Friend. The retail chain is looking to continue the trends for spring ’10, said Friend, who added that sales have been strong even at premium price points. “We don’t have any problem selling a $110 Olukai [sandal] or a $250 hiking boot,” she said.

Jeff Anderson, owner of 45 Degrees in Stillwater, Minn., said that while he was interested in some of the more competitively priced product from vendors such as Keen, he was seeing strong sales in higher-priced brands, including El Naturalista.

For spring ’10, Anderson said he will trim his vendor list and introduce more lifestyle looks in place of technical hiking product. “The heavier stuff just sits on the shelf and eats my money,” he said.

And while Anderson said he thought the retail climate was improving, he was planning cautiously for the season. “I definitely won’t be increasing my orders from this spring,” he said. “I’ll keep it conservative. We’re still not out of the woods.”

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