Positive Retailer Outlook As OR Summer Market Approaches


On a singularly beautiful summer day, it’s hard to imagine spending even a single moment of it inside. But gathering in the final hours of the Outdoor Reps Association show in Madison, Wisconsin, retailers and sales professionals alike basked in the glow of flourescent lights at the Alliant Energy Center to conclude their business with a profound sense of satisfaction and optimism for good things yet to come. In the midst of exceptionally good weather nationwide and an economy in full rebound, buyers from shops across the country report a steady flow of customers with money to spend and no shortage of destinations to indulge their passion for outdoor activities of every imaginable kind.

“Anyone not making money this year isn’t paying attention,”said Matt Ostrom owner of Active Endeavors in Davenport, Iowa. “With this weather we’ve been having, we’re up in almost every category.”

Specialty stores that offer gear, clothing and footwear to support the broad range of active lifestyle pastimes have enjoyed a well-deserved season of prosperity. Excitement in the Midwest reflects the sentiments of shop owners and managers from coast to coast in the few weeks leading up to Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, which starts August 6. With plenty of snow through a long brutal winter, most stores came into spring already on a high note.

“We had good cold, snowy weather which for us is never a given but it is always welcome,”said Gregg Perry, manager of Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport. “Although we had a late summer with cold and damp conditions, the business has been very, very good. We’re really happy with how things are going.”

With strong sales in apparel. some retailers leveraged their floor space to expand underperforming categories. “Women’s sales have been a little bit better in both clothing an footwear,”Perry said. “But we have also committed more energy to the men’s end of the business and that is paying off.”

In some regions where the sale of hard goods, like tents and sleeping bags, have been soft, clothing seems to have picked up much of the slack. And this thriving retail environment has allowed many stores to truly play their strengths. Brenda Mohr, a buyer at The Alpine Shop in St. Louis, said their watercraft business continues to grow as new customers are looking to get into stand up paddling.

“I think a lot of kayakers are giving it a try,”she said. “We also have a full complement of classes this season and they’ve been selling out every week.”

Savvy retailers aren’t just providing their customers with products to buy, they’re also working to facilitate their desire to experience different outdoor activities while there is such great weather to enjoy. Andrew Zalewski, at buyer in New Paltz, New York, says his trail-running business is expanding steadily. Rock and Snow, a destination shop near the Gunks, a favorite climbing spot, picked up the category this year to fill the void left behind by another store in the area that had closed. And Kelsey, the manager of NoMad Ventures in Escondido, California is providing equipment for gym climbers making the transition to rock routes outdoors and thru-hikers dialing in their gear for Pacific Crest Trail.

“As the seasons change we get people in here as their activities change to get the equipment they need,”she said. “It hasn’t been dropping off.”

Even areas that haven’t had the best spring weather are making hay while the sun shines, to turn a Midwestern phrase. Persistent ice on Lake Superior across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has made the transition from spring to summer a bit challenging. With frigid water temperatures, the demand for SUP boards and equipment has completely collapsed. But Bill Thompson, owner of Downwind Sports in Marquette, says his business after a profitable winter is still doing well.

“This spring was horribly cold, wet and rainy, which you’d think would cause sales to tank, but we’re up,”he said. “What it’s been for us is biking.”

Local investments in the creation of a world-class system of trails has made the Upper Peninsula an attractive bicycle destination. With support from the International Mountain Biking Association, (IMBA) and the hiring of a full-time trail builder, Marquette County has made a positive retail environment where Thompson’s business can take full advantage of this recreation resource. And his customers can enjoy more than 60 miles of trails with bikes, clothing and accessories on display at a well stocked shop just a few miles away.

Paying attention to every opportunity that presents itself through these boom times of favorable weather and economic growth, specialty outdoor retailers are in an excellent position to boost their sales through the remaining summer months and right into the fall. And as the temperature slowly dips in favor another chilly, winter they’ll hopefully have the right assortment of items on hand to meet the demand, whatever it might be.

“As long as we get the cold and snow early,”Thompson said, “we’ll kill it!”

How is business in your part of the country? Share your thoughts and experiences at info@joytripproject.com


The Joy Trip Project is made possible with the support of The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market!

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.