Why Hiking, Extended Sizing and Beginners Are Key to Outdoor Success in 2022

The outdoor business in the U.S. continues to grow, but industry insider Matt Powell of The NPD Group Inc. is adamant that companies in the space need to capitalize on several opportunities to sustain that growth.

During his semiannual presentation at Outdoor Retailer this morning, Powell, the senior sports industry adviser for NPD, cited data highlighting the industry’s year-over-year growth since 2019. According to The NPD Group Inc. retail tracking service, from January to November 2021, the outdoor industry grew 23% over the same period the year prior to $23.1 billion, and experienced an increase of $4.4 billion over that period in 2019.

October and November of last year witnessed growth over 2020 of 25% and 18%, respectively, and NPD’s data showed double-digit gains in Q1 (19%), Q2 (27%) and Q3 (26%).

Powell outlined several areas of opportunity during his presentation, a list that included backyard activities, people returning to travel and more. However, one of the biggest opportunities, according to Powell, is something the market watcher has long encouraged: shifting the focus to beginners.

“It’s really important to remember that the people who are participating in the outdoors are not elite. The growth is coming from novices,” Powell said. “We need to rethink our mix of products away from focusing strictly on the elite consumer to make sure that we’re putting the beginning consumer in the right products for their needs.”

Powell also made mention of DEI and accessibility, and an opportunity to tackle this through offering extended sizes.

“Most American women wear a size larger than an extra large, and we’re really not we’re really not covering that consumer well,” Powell said. “The Gap is virtually taking every single product that they make all the way to 4X. While I’m not suggesting that we move that quickly, that aggressively, I think it’s really important that this industry you start to consider extended sizes.”

Purpose, according to Powell, is also something all retailers and brands need to think about on an even greater level in order to connect with consumers moving forward.

“The purpose of why retailers exist, why brands exist remains very much in the forefront of consumers minds in evaluating these brands and retailers. I think every brand and retailer needs to really ask themselves, ‘What’s my purpose? Why am I in the business? What am I trying to accomplish? And how do I do that better each and every day?'” Powell explained.

The insider also stressed the importance of sustainability, and offered his thoughts on the messaging surrounding being eco-friendly.

“Sustainability has never been more important. We need to keep pushing forward here,” Powell said. “I think the message needs to be progress, not perfection, and that we’re staying on top of this. We’re never going to be perfect here, and we shouldn’t hold ourselves accountable for being perfect. We should hold ourselves to be better every single day.”

Specifically covering the growth of footwear within the outdoor industry, the NPD data Powell presented this morning showed a 24% climb year-to-date from January to November last year over 2019, which is an increase of $1.04 million.

One of the more prominent categories in outdoor footwear is hike, which NPD data showed experienced a 25% climb for year-to-date November 2021, an increase of $159 million.

Breaking down the category further, NPD’s data shows men’s hiking footwear makes up 71% of the volume, which is up 20% over 2019, and women’s hiking is 25%, an increase of 42%.

“There is a big opportunity for the women’s [business] here. It’s growing faster than men’s,” Powell said.

The market leader is Merrell, which holds 18% of the market, and Skechers made the most significant gain in market share, up three points for the period. The data showed an increase of two points in the category for Timberland, Columbia and Avia.

By year’s end, Powell stated he expects the growth of the outdoor business to slow, but said he believes 2022 will be “a good, but not great” year for sports retail. Also in his predictions, Powell said he expects running, trail running and hiking to drive footwear sales.

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