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Hiking Is Booming — Here’s How to Capitalize on the Movement in 2021

The hiking boom is real.

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association stated in its Annual Topline Participation Report, which was released Tuesday, that day hiking was one of five outdoor and racquet sport activities in 2020 to experience its largest number of participants in the last six years.

The report revealed almost 58 million people went out for a day hike at least one time throughout the year.

What’s more, the SFIA report uncovered the activities that people intended to continue participating in for the next 12 months, and hiking appeared in the top 10 for every age group, from 6 years old to 65-plus, as well as at every income level.

With the increase in participation came a climb in hiking footwear sales.

Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser for The NPD Group Inc., stated in a January blog post that hiking footwear sales improved in the second half of 2020, and offered a prediction for 2021 that hike will be a leading footwear category for the year.

Now, with momentum in its favor, it’s up to brands in the outdoor market to capitalize. And that starts with dismantling the bad habit that has plagued the industry for years: focusing on the elite adventurer.

“The No. 1 thing is to understand who this new customer is and what their needs are, and that those needs may be different than what the industry has been used to thinking about,” Powell said. “The new participants are not pinnacle users, these are not the folks who are going out for a three week pack-in. These are these are people who are walking around the neighborhood, walking maybe in the park.”

He continued, “The bottom line is these folks don’t need pinnacle product. They need much more moderate product, opening price point products that will meet their needs.”

Further discussing price, Powell said customers new to the outdoors are looking to spend in the $80 to $100 range.

To assess get newcomers into the right product, which Powell said is critical to retention, brands need to communicate messaging and end use effectively.

“The key is to steer people to the right product. If you’re selling somebody a shoe that is way above their capabilities and needs, they’re not going to be very happy with it.” Powell said. “There needs to be solid education on the brand websites explaining the product, and the brands need to work with their retailers to make sure the salespeople interfacing with customers are telling the same story.”

Jon Zalinski, owner of Colorado-based Treadz Shoes, also believes the answer to how the industry can best capitalize on the hiking boom lies within retail.

“I can sell a quality product as a sit-and-fit store better than just somebody seeing a bunch of shoes with a price. If it was up to me, I would have companies make quality product and push consumers to go into a retail store instead of going direct-to-consumer because customers are going to get lost,” Zalinski said. “You want that new customer to have a great experience, do it again and buy more product. The only way to do that is to get the right tool for the job.”

He continued, “If they’re just interested in the one hit wonder where sell this shoe that’s going to work for a season and then it’s done, that consumer is going to be short-term, they’re not going to enjoy their experience and probably not do it anymore.”

However, to ensure longevity with customers who are stepping into a store, Zalinski said retailers may need more help than ever from brand partners.

“We try to get our name on all of the vendors dealer lists so when you go online to do a little initial shopping online so our name is out there,” Zalinski said. “Also, my big thing is I have to have it in stock. The days of special ordering products for customers are over because they’re like, ‘I could just order it myself.’ The retailer has to stock more product and deeper size runs just so you’re hitting that customer’s immediate need.”

Powell also believes each interaction at retail could prove critical in capitalizing on the hiking boom.

“The specialty industry is so focused on the elite, and these new customers clearly are not elite. Maybe they will be one day, but right now their needs are very moderate, very basic,” Powell said. “You want to welcome people who have no idea what they’re talking about and say, ‘I want a shoe to hike in,’ but when you talk to them, what they really are going to do is walk in the park. And don’t look down your nose at the fact that that’s what they’re going to do, match them with the right product.”

As newcomers have entered Treadz, Zalinski said the hiking boots they’re most interested in come from Merrell, Keen, Salomon and Oboz. And if they’re feeling especially adventurous, they’re buying mountaineering boots from La Sportiva and Scarpa.

Several of the leading hiking brands with newcomers at Treadz are also among the top-selling in the hike category for 2020.

According to Powell, the top five best-selling brands in hiking footwear last year were Merrell, Timberland, Columbia, Keen and Salomon. These five brands, Powell said, did 60% of the business in the category.

The industry insider also revealed the five best-selling hiking boots from the year, which includes a pair of looks from Timberland (White Ledge Mid and Mt. Maddsen), the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof, the Columbia Newton Ridge and the Keen Targhee.

Those boots are in the $90 to $150 range, with three priced at $100 or less.

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