2008 Annual SNEWS® Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: The best and worst - SNEWS

2008 Annual SNEWS® Specialty Outdoor Retail Survey: The best and worst

The 2008 SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey is out -- the one place where outdoor specialty retailers get to speak their minds and offer industry observations and commentary on what is great, good, not so good, and desperately needs improvement in the industry. Beginning with the much anticipated "best" and "most difficut" category, SNEWS will begin presenting the full survey results in sections over the next couple of weeks.
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Welcome to the 2008 SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey summary, where outdoor specialty retailers get to speak their minds and offer industry observations and commentary on what is great, good, not so good and desperately needs improvement in the industry. New this year, the full survey, complete with expanded and detailed analysis of each category’s results, will be presented to our Full Access SNEWS subscribers over the next two to three weeks in sections, beginning with an expanded version of the "Best" and "Most Difficult" categories, which first appeared in summary form in the 2009 SNEWS Winter Outdoor magazine.

Although SNEWS sends the survey to hundreds of outdoor specialty retailers all over the country, this survey is by no means scientific in its approach. We do believe the results are quite representative of the outdoor specialty retail market as a whole, and those surveyed are consistent from year-to-year, so comparing answers from past surveys presents a useful picture of trends, market conditions and retailer moods—one of the most useful features of this survey.

The survey was available for retailers to fill out online from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Those completing it represent approximately $3.5 billion in outdoor specialty sales. More than 75 percent of those responding to our survey represent businesses with three or fewer storefronts. Eighty-nine percent of our respondents classify themselves as “outdoor specialty stores,” while 9 percent call themselves a “destination resort specialty store.” Results are representative of the U.S. market in 2008 through September.

Who do you rate as the “best” supplier to do business with?

The North Face -- 14%

Werner Paddles -- 12%

Osprey -- 9%

Merrell -- 7%*

Patagonia -- 7%*

Hobie Kayaks -- 5%

Aquabound -- 3.5%*

Black Diamond -- 3.5%*

Smartwool -- 3.5%*

Cascade Designs 3%


*Tied companies are listed randomly and all are considered statistically equal in terms of ranking. All answers have been rounded up to the nearest 0.5 percent, and since we don’t name every single company name or category with a percent, the percentages may not total 100 percent.

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Big Agnes, Chaco, Columbia Sportswear, Icebreaker, Legacy Paddlesports, Mountain Hardwear, Northwest River Supplies and Yakima.



Though the overall number of retailers responding to our survey this year dropped 12 percent (fewer paddlesports-only stores and specialty stores in the “other” classification responded), the trend continued where there is not one dominant player, and respondents nominated a wide spread of companies. This year, more than 22 companies received multiple votes. Patagonia, which had owned the top spot in our survey since 2004, continued its slide, plummeting to the fourth spot overall— perhaps a wake-up call to the company that retailers aren’t as enamored with the brand and its level of service as in years prior. The North Face finally worked its way into the top spot after telling us that has been its goal since, well, it garnered top billing in the “Most Difficult To Work With” category a number of years ago.

Of course, the company still can’t get itself off the “Most Difficult” list, and sits near the top this year. Cascade Designs, which has made no bones about wanting to regain the top billing it once held on this list, finds itself in danger of slipping off the list altogether. Congratulations to Merrell, which leapt onto the list in fourth place from not even garnering one vote in last year’s survey. A true reflection of the current executive team’s efforts to roll up their sleeves and ensure the company is executing the basics in retail 101.

As in years past, retailers seemed to agree on the reasons for voting a company into top spot: treating retailers as partners in a business, open and honest communication, consistent on-time and complete delivery, fair margins, good quality product, etc. It’s boggling that so many companies still struggle with these basic concepts and provide even adequate retail service.

Who do you rate as the “most difficult supplier to work with” in the business?

Confluence -- 28%

The North Face -- 14%

Patagonia -- 8%*

Legacy Paddlesports -- 8%*

Too Damn Many to List 6%

Johnson Outdoors -- 4%*

Life Is Good 4%*

Crocs -- 4%*

Marmot -- 4%*

Burton -- 3%

*Tied companies are listed randomly and all are considered statistically equal in terms of ranking. All answers have been rounded up to the nearest 0.5 percent, and since we don’t name every single company name or category with a percent, the percentages may not total 100 percent.

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Keen, Leki, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Timbuk2, Uggs and Yakima.

OK, so we were wrong. Last year, we said, “We’ll go out on a limb here and say we will be very surprised to see Confluence anywhere near the top of the top 10 list of most difficult companies to deal with next year.” In truth, fixing the problems, which CEO Sue Rechner and team are by all accounts doing, has been much more time-consuming and difficult than previously anticipated. Retailers we have spoken with acknowledged that deliveries have improved, but some are still receiving products not ordered. And while product quality has improved somewhat, there is still room for improvement. Overall, the biggest place where Confluence still appeared to be upsetting retailers is with simple communication from the customer service end. With that said, we are going out on a limb one more time here, because we believe in all the steps Rechner and team are doing, and because we've seen positive results from retailer reports. In our 2009 retailer survey, we will be stunned if Confluence is anywhere near the top of this category, and we'd expect to see Best Supplier to Work With votes as well.

Why is The North Face on this list at the same time it sits atop the best supplier list? Can we say “inconsistent service?” It appears, from checking the retailer response logs from our survey, there are retailers who consistently get very good service from the company and others who appear to continually receive less than stellar service and support. And why is Patagonia on this list for the first time? We have taken several comments and meshed them into one to shed light on that: “Absolutely the biggest pain in the #@% company among many to deal with this year. The company appears arrogant at times and seems to be forgetting that as retailers, we are their customer too.”

We are continually disturbed that retailers responding to our survey continue to write in “too damn many” as a top vote getter in this category—although, at least, the percentage slipped a bit in 2008. We also received several comments of “we stop doing business with any” who are most difficult. Companies out there need to realize there are simply too many brands and choices these days to be sloppy or difficult to deal with.

Overall, what we said in last year's survey and the survey before that and the survey before that apparently needs repeating until manufacturers actually get it: As manufacturers who earned a "Most Difficult to Deal With" acknowledgment, you are continuing to fail your specialty retailers if you are: Breaking promises, not taking responsibility for your actions or inaction, being very difficult to deal with, not delivering, delivering poor quality product, not communicating, lying about what you have or have not done, and not showing retailers the respect as customers they should deserve – especially in this economy.

If you're on the list of most difficult to deal with for 2008, read the paragraph above carefully and then look in a mirror. You're on this list, retailers tell us, because more than one of the reasons above apply to you.

What are the top-selling hardgoods categories this year?

Backpacks – 20%

Rec Kayaks – 14%

Sleeping Bags – 13%

Climbing – 8.5%

Tents – 6.5%

Sit-on-Tops – 6.5%

Travel – 4.5%

Footwear – 4%

Camping Accessories – 4%

Paddles – 4%

What are the top-selling softgoods categories this year?

Women’s Sportswear – 25.5%

Men’s Sportswear – 20%

Socks – 10.5%

Footwear – 8.5%

Women’s Outerwear – 7.5%

Men’s Outwear – 7.5%

Underwear – 5%

PFD’s – 4%

Travel Clothing – 3.5%

Technical Fleece – 3%

What were the fastest-growing product categories this year?

Women’s Sportswear – 10.5%

Hydration (Non-BPA) – 7.5%

Outerwear – 7%

Travel – 6.5%

Footwear – 6.5%

Sit-on-Tops – 6.5%

Climbing – 4%

Backpacks – 4%

Paddles – 2%

Tents – 2%

What is your total sales volume year to date?

Less than $499,999 – 10.5%

$500,000 to $1 million – 15.5%

$1 million to $2 million – 19%

$2 million to $3 million – 12%

$3 million to $4 million -- 12%

$4 million to $5 million – 2%

$5 million to $6 million – 3.5%

$7 million to $8 million – 2%

$10 million to $20 million – 12.5%

$20 million to $50 million – 3.5%

Over $50 million -- 5%


How are your sales this year compare to last YTD

Up between 1% and 10% -- 41.5%

Up between 11% and 20% -- 17 %

Up between 21% and 30% -- 8.5%

Way Up! (over 50% up) – 3.5%

Down between 1% and 10% -- 15.5%

Down between 11% and 20% -- 3.5%

Down between 21% to 30% -- 3.5%

Even -- 7%

Our next look at the SNEWS Outdoor Retail Survey results for 2008, we'll bring detailed analysis in the overall camping market, including reports on best selling brands for backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, outerwear, sportswear, footwear and more. Look for that report Monday, February 23.


The SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Survey may not be reproduced for redistribution of any kind, in whole or part, including for promotional or sales purposes of any kind, to consumers or the trade, without the written consent of SNEWS. Contact SNEWS at survey@snewsnet.com for reprint details and restrictions.

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