Apocalypse and the outdoor industry

The world is going to end today. According to the Mayan calendar, anyway. That’s good news for the outdoor industry — at least it is for brands in the business of preparedness and survival.
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The world is going to end today. According to the Mayan calendar, anyway.

That’s good news for the outdoor industry — at least it is for brands in the business of preparedness and survival. While no one wishes for panic, disaster or calamity, companies that address their aftermaths are seeing record growth. Events such as Hurricane Sandy, the election and, yes, the Mayan doomsday prediction have driven sales. In fact, the Mayan doomsday alone is responsible for at least $770 million in sales, according to a report by American Public Media.

Even more interesting is a recent shift in who’s buying these products. More and more, the mainstream consumer is the one stocking up on emergency supplies.

The reality is, preparedness is a big industry. And it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Dimensions of the Preparedness Industry

According to Chris Gubera, president of Adventure Medical Kits, preparedness products can be broken down into three categories: insect repellent, first aid and survival. Insect repellant sells because emergencies often involve stagnant water, while first aid items address immediate medical needs. Survival products encompass a broad range of items — many of which cross over with the core outdoor market — from water filters to emergency blankets to camp stoves. After all, someone out in the wilderness has similar needs to a person stuck in an apartment without heat or electricity following a natural disaster.

“This is a growth industry for sure,” Gubera said. Companies including Sawyer and Katadyn North America Foods posted record Novembers. Yet November historically is an underperforming month for them, since most of their consumers are celebrating abundance rather than responding to emergency. Following Hurricane Sandy, many companies could not meet demands for their products due to short notice and logistics hurdles. Best be ready in advance next time, some consumers might think.

“I was watching TV the other day and there were three programs at the same time — ‘Nostradamus,’ ‘End of Days’ and ‘Preppers’— all for the Mayan Calendar,” said Tim Pratt, sales project manager for Katadyn North America Foods. “Even folks who aren’t concerned think, ‘Well, I should at least do something.’” According to Pratt, TV shows, media coverage and government ad campaigns have put disaster preparation into the minds of the mainstream, a trend he hasn’t seen in such force since Y2K.

Many people in the U.S. do seem to be thinking about the end of the world. From Dec. 1 until today, the words, “the world is going to end,” was Googled about 10 times more often than the words, “global climate change” (see chart below). With all this hype, more outdoor companies might consider jumping on the survival bandwagon.

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“People will calm down, just like after Y2K,” said Pratt. “That’s why we don’t rely on our preparedness market as opposed to our outdoor market, which is much more consistent.”

According to an article in the Economist titled, “Counting the Cost of Calamities,” the cost of natural disasters has risen rapidly over the past three decades, and will continue to do so as storms become more severe and populations continue to gravitate toward coastal urban areas. Despite this rise in disaster spending, only certain manufacturers will succeed in the market, those that can stomach wild and sporadic swings in demand while steadily selling during times of calm.

In one month, many industry insiders will descend upon the state that is referred to as the “prepper capital of the United States”: Utah. The walkways of Outdoor Retailer will be filled with preparedness products meant for both the outdoors as well as survival. As outdoor enthusiasts, we may have unknowingly invested in the right market and perhaps, are already the most prepared people in the world. As Amy Stead, head of marketing and sales for Sawyer put it, “As a Sawyer employee I have more water filters in the storage than I know what to do with.”

--Yoon Kim

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