Flying higher: Outdoor industry notches record sales in 2012

Mother Nature may seem undecided on bringing winter back, but consumers felt good enough to help the outdoor industry notch record sales in December and the full year 2012.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.


Mother Nature may seem undecided on bringing winter back, but consumers felt good enough to help the outdoor industry notch record sales in December and the full year 2012.

Outdoor retail sales rose 6 percent in December to a record $1.1 billion for the holiday month, according to the latest figures from Leisure Trends Group. The rise came largely thanks to a 5 percent increase in average retail sale prices, while unit sales rose just 1 percent. And it was a record full year for the outdoor industry. Sales climbed 5 percent to a record $6.5 billion in 2012, while units sold rose 2 percent.

Apparel and accessories led the gains in December, while footwear sales came in flat. Apparel is the industry’s Superman at the moment, saving the free-falling winter equipment category, down 10 percent in sales and units this month. “Winter gear’s weakness is of particular concern because it comes on top of December 2011’s 24 percent dollar plunge,” Leisure Trends said.

Frigid weather and snow on the ground greeted Outdoor Retailer attendees in Salt Lake City, but it’s been far from a consistent winter.

This late fall/early winter season continued the warm and dry trend, but snow finally arrived to give many a white Christmas, boosting some last-minute sales. Then things got wacky with freezing low temperatures in Southern California, a snowstorm in the Southeast and 50-degree days in New York City in mid-January. By show time, a cold front dipped in, creating the coldest temperatures so far this season.

Outdoor brands and ski resorts need it. Many are just now feeling the negative effects from last year’s weak winter. A week before the show, Columbia Sportswear warned it would miss its previous fourth quarter expectations, with sales declining 5 percent due to the mild start of winter. Similarly, Vail Resorts recently cited a “challenging early season” in a pullback of its profit guidance, despite a 4.3 percent increase in season pass sales.

There is some good news. The overall economy continues to slowly improve, and some outdoor companies said 2012 was their best ever. Brooks Range Mountaineering Equipment reported sales up 40 percent to a record high in 2012, in part due to its early adoption of DownTek water-resistant down products. And that burst of snow right at Christmas seemed to have spurred some consumers to remember winter.

“The fresh powder really helped fill some December lodging vacancies at ski resorts as well as generating buzz and bookings for January and February, ” said Ralf Garrison at Mountain Travel Research Program, which track the market.

There’s still a lot of catch-up.

Expect more cheers at Summer Market, which will benefit from last year’s sunny skies and warmer-than-average temperatures.

--David Clucas

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