What Issues Are Plaguing the Outdoor Industry?

Although brands presenting at this month’s Outdoor Retailer Winter Market were excited to show their fall ’17 collections, execs weren’t shy about expressing what the industry needs to do better.

One challenge, according to Topo Athletic founder and CEO Tony Post, is attracting more millennial consumers, a demographic he described as largely untapped. “They define [outdoors] differently than my generation, but they’ve developed appreciation for outdoor lifestyle,” he said.

“They’re not looking for single-use product. They like affordable, multiuse, versatile product that has great functional design and authenticity.”

Post’s take is that retailers are often unwilling to dedicate shelf space to untested brands, although some of them could appeal to the millennial crowd. “I don’t think retailers have figured out how to draw those consumers in and how to buy products they’re interested in,” he said. “Even if they just take 5 or 10 percent of their open-to-buy and dedicate it to [newer brands], they will see great opportunity there.”

Topo Athletic Terraventure
Topo Athletic Terraventure.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

New Keen president Casey Sheahan agreed, adding that brands are accountable as well for styles failing to meet the demands of today’s consumer. “Manufacturers and retailers need to take a hard look at the way customers are actually living,” he said. “There’s opportunity to inspire people to live outside in the product we’re making. If all of us focus on inspiring customers to get out in new ways and enjoy the outdoors, our business would be solid for the long term.”

Keen Portland Factory
Inside Keen’s footwear factory in Portland, Ore.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

While some players believe the industry needs to do a better job of creating must-have product, other insiders believe the marketplace is simply oversaturated.

“There are too many brands and too many products on the market, and not enough retailers selling them,” said Peter Sachs, GM of Lowa. “As a result, there’s a constant stream of closeouts, markdowns and off-price scenarios. When I talk to retailers, they’re complaining about discounting, then they complain they can’t make any money.”

Lowa fall ’17 cold weather lifestyle looks.
CREDIT: Peter Verry.

The solutions to oversaturation aren’t simple: Slimmer seasonal offerings and brand mergers in theory would work; however, they are unlikely to happen in an attractive market with plenty of opportunities.

George Curleigh, VP of Vasque, said having quality goods for young, future outdoor enthusiasts will help provide the experiences that will win them over.

That’s why Vasque has a new kids’ collection on the way. “[The line is] a takedown from the adult boots, which is cool,” he said. “They’re not cheaper versions; we have all leather versions [and] waterproof versions made with good rubber.”

Vasque fall '17 trail running sneakers
Vasque fall ’17 trail running sneakers.
CREDIT: Peter Verry.

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