Outdoor March sales climb on early spring gear, winter discounts; barefoot/minimalist footwear outlook mixed

During the warmest March on U.S. record, the Outdoor Industry Association and Leisure Trends Group reported outdoor sales by dollar up 1.1 percent and 7 percent, respectively, for the month, compared to a year ago.
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The warm and pleasant weather that plagued outdoor retailers this winter is now benefitting them in spring.

During the warmest March on U.S. record, competing data analysts Outdoor Industry Association VantagePoint and Leisure Trends Group reported outdoor sales by dollar up 1.1 percent and 7 percent, respectively, for the month, compared to a year ago.

Consumers spurred March 2012 sales with early purchases of spring apparel and gear and they also scooped up some discounted winter items, according to both groups. The balance of the two trends left average retail prices per item about even in March, according to Leisure Trends.

Despite higher overall sales, increased inventory, particularly from unsold winter items, remained a problem for retailers. At the close of March outdoor specialty retailer had 16 percent more dollars tied up in inventory than last year, according to Leisure Trends. With such a polar opposite winter from last season to this season, outerwear inventories are up by 19 percent, winter equipment up 39 percent, and winter boots up 89 percent.

Weaker boot and barefoot sales at the tale end of winter drove overall outdoor footwear sales down 3.2 percent in March, according to OIA VantagePoint, which partners with SportsOneSource Group for its data.

“The growth trend in barefoot may have peaked after two years of meteoric sales growth,” OIA VantagePoint officials said. Leisure Trends officials predicted that the overall minimalist category (which covers more than barefoot), might see some dispersed sales among brands, but overall sales in the category would continue to be “extremely successful.”

Outdoor hardgoods were up 1.6 percent in March, led again by paddlesports, according to OIA VantagePoint officials, who said the category continued to shine at specialty retailers versus Internet sales. Outdoor apparel sales, on the other hand, continued to shine online — up 37.7 percent versus up 9 percent in specialty stores, according to OIA VantagePoint.

Overall, outdoor online sales were up 11 percent in March, specialty outdoor sales rose 3 percent and outdoor chain store sales gained 8 percent, according to Leisure Trends.

Depending whose numbers you go with, the outdoor industry either under- or over-performed overall retail sales in the United States. The National Retail Federation reported retail industry sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) up 6.6 percent from a year ago.

--David Clucas

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