Outdoor retailers share positive sentiment for 2015

Dips in gas prices and thermometers are driving sales for outdoor retailers. The outlook for 2015 is bright for these retailers we talked to at O.R.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 20 – 24. 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.

Sunny skies matched sunny moods at Outdoor Retailer’s All Mountain Demo in late January as attendees braved chilly morning temps at Solitude Mountain Resort to sample the latest in ski and snowshoe gear, plus gloves, cookware and water purification systems. But the wintry weather drew few complaints from retailers, who know that a plunging thermometer often means rising sales — and besides, a blazing bonfire and hot cocoa in giveaway mugs from MSR were on hand for a boost of warmth.

Most retailers reported steady-to-good sales so far for the fall and winter seasons, but they didn’t turn to the weather report so much as to the business section for an explanation: For many attendees, the recovering economy and diving gas prices are fueling consumer confidence. “[Sales have] been pretty good compared to the last couple of years,” said Richard Rasmussen of REI in Salt Lake City. “The public isn’t afraid anymore. The economy isn’t as horrible. People are buying new off the floor again.”

Steamboat Springs Ski and Bike Kare in Steamboat Springs, Colo., has noticed a similar trend, said bootfitter Kevin Anderson. “Our mountain shop is up 66 percent from the previous year. People are spending more money, buying more boots and higher-end skis.”

“People were a little more into Christmas this year,” said Sharon Dugger of Girls Outdoors in Bozeman, Mont. “People were shopping for others happily, not begrudgingly.”

That open-wallet attitude even extends to big-ticket items such as paragliding and kitesurfing gear, said Steve Mayer of Cloud 9 in Draper, Utah. “In 25 years, we had our best year ever. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. People are loosening up and thinking about new toys.” Hopes are high that these trends will continue throughout the year: “I hope for an increase in sales across the board because the economy is on the upswing,” said Chet Howard of Jordanelle Reservoir in Orem, Utah.

Recent rock-bottom gas prices also have retailers feeling optimistic for 2015. “I’m figuring sales will pick up,” said Tom Wolfe of Shaka Laka in Kaysville, Utah. “With the drop in gas prices, people are going to go out more.” But general economic trends can only go so far. Snow and cold — or lack thereof — remains a major player in winter sales. Some parts of the continent have been lucky in that department: “If it’s cold in the middle of the state, we’re good,” said Dana Meyers of River Jack Outdoor Trading Company in Southern Pines, N.C. “And it’s been cold enough,” powering healthy sales in outerwear and shoes. And in Quebec City, Quebec, a cold, snowy January has been moving snowshoes and winter footwear at outdoor shop Latulippe, said Francois Latulippe.

Other retailers in places like Utah’s Wasatch and southern Idaho blamed a thus-far warm, dry winter for below-average sales in skis, snowshoes and insulation. Alaskan shops in particular reported weather woes: “It’s hard to sell skis when there’s no snow — hardcore skiers are going almost 300 miles [to ski],” said Claire Waxman of Homer Saw and Cycle in Homer. “And when it’s 40, 50 degrees, nobody cares if they have gloves.” On the bright side, “lightweight jackets are selling well,” said Waxman.

And at In My Element in Fairbanks, Alaska, Sheryl DeBoard hopes to expand the store’s non-technical apparel to combat balmy temps. “I’m nervous — we’ve only hit below zero twice this year,” she said. “So I’m looking more into casual lifestyle [pieces] with a wider range,” such as wool tights and insulated skirts.

-- Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

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