Growing the Outdoor Market -- An OIA Rendezvous Report

A typically small last-morning breakfast crowd at the 2003 Rendezvous sipped coffee waiting for what on its surface appeared would be a dry statistical presentation by a dry statistician. What we received was more than an hour of anything but dry.
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A typically small last-morning breakfast crowd at the 2003 Rendezvous sipped coffee waiting for what on its surface appeared would be a dry statistical presentation by a dry statistician. What we received was more than an hour of anything but dry. Steve Kraus, a partner at Yankelovich Partners who is involved in OIA's research into the consumer market to determine best ways to attract more participants, has won Harvard University's award for excellence in teaching twice. No wonder. He presents stats, charts and graphs in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat and even laughing.

His talk was the first stage of slightly more general research before the firm gets into a more customized study in partnership with OIA. He covered general societal characteristics, such as mindset, today's societal climate, its affect on optimism, what he called "post-accumulation marketplace" (i.e., money can't buy happiness), and how the public is reassessing and reprioritizing. Long story short, fewer people are panicking about their lives, more are feeling optimistic about their future, fewer are worrying about what they can't control, and everybody seems to be heightening priorities such as family and friends, while decreasing the importance of work, TV and shopping; that seems to indicate a longer-term increase in participation in outdoor activities despite a slight decline since 2001, he said.

"We're looking for something beyond 'stuff,'" Kraus said. "We're sowing the seeds so when these kids grow up, they'll be interested in these (outdoor) activities."

The primary driver, he said, is an active lifestyle, and one that extends beyond sports and includes everything from gardening and taking a walk to exercising. "They are less likely to be couch potatoes, and watch TV," he said, and the regular outdoor participants are also more likely to exercise. "It's a pattern of an active lifestyle," he added.

But so far these interests haven't played out in numbers, with Yankelovich seeing a decline in participation of about 2 percent to 4 percent, and a decline in "enthusiasts" of about 10 percent to 15 percent, with overall participation declining with age. One thought is for the industry "to broaden its promotion horizons to other areas where these people are," such as movies, gardening or places they exercise.

In addition, "outdoor activities" mean different things to different generations -- an important point to recognize -- and it's not necessarily tough, rad or gnarly. For boomers, the world, with its peaks and waters, is certainly their playground, but for older people being "outdoors" can just mean getting away quietly somewhere. Kraus said the industry may have to shift from its "edgy" portrayal as boomers age.

Meanwhile, the industry could do two things to grow: Try to take those participating at a lower level to a higher level, or grow the frequency of those participating by shifting more of what they do to human-powered outdoor activities.

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