As retail sales slow, SNEWS looks at wintersports highlights

Wintersports blisteringly hot retail sales pace final leveled off, and that means retailers are re-evaluating just how much more money they'll spend to stock up on next season's product. SNEWS re-calibrates the numbers, and gets a glimpse of next season's forecast.

The retail sales sprint that stoked the industry this season appears to have finally slowed to a walk. After hitting more than $2.6 billion in total sales through January--capping record sales of $500 million in the month of January, and a record $1 billion dollars in sales in the month of December--both shoppers and inventory appear to have worn out.

“Profitable sales slowed down dramatically right during and after Presidents Weekend,” said Steve Rogers, president of the Sports Specialists Ltd., retail buying group. “By that time people that were going to buy had already bought, or were waiting for total markdowns on what’s left.”

Those markdowns may be few and far between according to Scott Jaeger, a senior retail analyst with the Leisure Trends Group. Jaeger said that through the end of January, his data showed a 60 percent sell-through in many categories, adding that “inventories are the tightest that I have seen in the 11 years that I have been doing this.”

That means retailers have been able to hold their margins, as both softgoods and hardgoods liquidation channels have all but dried up.

“The most exciting thing about this season is the return to profitability for retailers,” Jaeger said. “Manufacturers may not have gotten as much in sales as they wanted, but they know the supply chain is clean now and retailers can feel good about not having too much product.”

And the second most exciting thing? “The fact consumers are spending money again,” Jaeger said. “I recently heard the term ‘frugality fatigue,’ and I think that it’s accurate. People are sick of not skiing, and with the addition of all the snow this year, the hot new technologies were flying off the shelves.”

That hot pace means sales for the entire season are still expected to set an all-time record of somewhere north of $3 billion, despite the Presidents Weekend slowdown at the cash register. But some of the enthusiasm for aggressively restocking the shelves for next year appears to have also tapered off.

At the SIA Snow Show in January, retailers optimistically predicted their open to buy for next season would increase by as much as 20 percent. Now, retailers and manufacturers alike are reporting that increase will more likely be closer to 10 percent.

“From sell-through to margins to a substantial increase in kids’ sales, there are some very positive indicators for the future of the business. But there’s still a real reticence to just go bananas on orders for next year,” said Willy Booker, president of Nordica USA. “Retailers are reluctant to repeat the pattern of over-exuberant buying from the past.”

And despite the wealth of new technology on the table for next season, they also appear to be sticking with what works.

“The things that have sold well during the current season are the things that tend to be high in the open to buy for next season,” said Marker-Volkl USA VP of marketing Geoff Curtis. “The skis we had out there doing well are doing really in terms of replacements, and rocker is a significant part of that.”

According to SIA, rocker ski sales were up 150 percent in units and dollars through January, with more than 40,000 units sold. Other hot trends included insulated parkas, which jumped 25 percent in dollars and 23 percent in units, and goggles, which saw sales of nearly 1.5 million pairs’a jump of 22 percent in units.

Jaeger said greater profitability on the products sold, “empty wagon” inventories, and an aggressive return on consumer demand, are all positive indicators for next season. Once the snow starts, of course.

“Weather is the wild card every year, but we’re still seeing a lot from consumers that is driving growth,” said Jaeger. “I think sales will be strong next year, but it would be hard to think they’ll stay as strong as they have been.”

--Peter Kray

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