OR Retailers Upbeat on Minimalism, Color

SALT LAKE CITY — Retailers shopping the Outdoor Retailer show, which ended here Aug. 5, predicted the minimal movement in athletic and outdoor footwear would continue to fuel business.

“The hot trend is still minimal,” said Jill Rettinger, buyer for Laramie, Wyo.-based Sports Locker. “Pricing unfortunately keeps going up, but the advantage of minimal products is that they’re still a little bit cheaper [than traditional athletic styles].”

Great Outdoor Provision Co.’s VP of merchandise Travis Zarins was also confident about the salability of minimalism for next spring. With brands such as Vibram FiveFingers already taking off at his Raleigh, N.C.-based chain, Zarins said the buying team was considering bringing in more natural running products from vendors including Altra, Merrell and Brooks.

Retailers are placing bigger bets on the minimalist category as it continues to show strong sales increases. According to SportsOneSource’s second-quarter report, sales of shoes in that sector doubled last month, and the category is on track to total about $500 million this year.

But not all buyers at OR were as enthusiastic about minimal. Dennis Lunsford, co-owner of the Runner’s Shop in Rapid City, S.D., said he would balance out his spring ’13 offering with more traditional running sneakers. “We’re not gung ho on the minimal products,” Lunsford said. “I don’t think the minimal thing is for the entire market. There’s still a demand for other items as well.”

Already carrying brands such as Asics, Brooks, K-Swiss, Saucony and New Balance, Lunsford said he planned to buy about the same amount of footwear as last season, but increase his spending in other categories, such as apparel.

Color was a priority for Edward Shook, buyer for Little Rock, Ark.-based Dillard’s department stores. After a mild winter affected this year’s outdoor product sales, Shook said bringing out bright product early is a safe contingency plan for spring ’13.

“It’s really about having brighter colors earlier in the season instead of having dark and drab items in February and March,” he said. “Sales were a little bit tough because of the fall [weather] last year, but we had a great spring selling season.”

Despite a soft economy and weather woes during the first half, retailers still expect strong sales for the rest of the year. Great Outdoor Provision Co.’s Zarins hopes to end the year well, targeting 3 percent to 5 percent sales growth. “We finished July pretty clean and sold most of our items at full price,” he said.

Mike Allen, operations and marketing manager for Boulder, Co.-based OutdoorProLink.com, said he is optimistic that economic factors won’t keep consumers from their outdoor activities.

“The industry is growing, and although consumers are cutting back on a lot of things, they’re still buying outdoor [gear] for recreation.”

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