Retail Report: early sales upbeat as re-order business explodes

Lean inventories combined with deep early snowfall equal a booming re-order business for ski manufacturers as retailers race to re-stock the walls. SNEWS has the details.
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Early season sales are starting to take off in the WinterSports industry as fantastic November and early December snowfall in the west and clean inventories across the country have sparked a run on equipment re-orders.

In skis and ski boots especially, manufacturers are scrambling to fill re-stocking orders on gear that they had not expected to ship until Christmas or the New Year.

“Re-order is kicking ass right now,” said Andy Hare, Nordica director of product. “And that’s across the board, from every product, for every manufacturer.”

Hare said inventory positions for retailers across the country are as healthy as he has ever seen them, and that the specter of Christmas past -- when liquidators were pumping warehouses full of off-price product into the market -- has all but disappeared.

“Early sale activity and store traffic has been better than most of our members anticipated,” said Steve Rogers, president and CEO of the Sports Specialists Limited retail buying group. “The dollars are better than last season but not as good as a few years ago. It is my observation that the retailers who survived the 2008-09 season are now reaping the rewards for their responsible business management.”

Snowsports Industries America (SIA) reports that alpine equipment sales are at a 10-year high in units and dollars through the early season sales period from August to October. Women’s ski systems in particular are up 27% through that period, and according to retailers, kids gear and rockered skis are also doing well.

“Kids stuff continues to be really strong in early season sales," said Tom Gately, president of the Snowsports Merchandising Corporation retail buying group. "That is great news for the 'big picture' in snowsports, because it bodes well for the long-term health of the industry."

Gately added that, “The challenging side is that the pipeline is drying up quickly. Most suppliers aggressively backed up inventories and even so, are already out. Some are scrambling to fly in more.”

SIA reports that the one category that has failed to keep pace thus far is apparel, which at the end of October was down 6% in units and dollars. According to the SIA sales release, “The slump in apparel sales may be due to continuing economic concerns, difficulty shipping goods from production facilities in China, and warmer weather through October.”

Carryover sales are down across all categories as retailers started the season with leaner inventories. SIA reports that, “Snow sports specialty shops enjoyed strong equipment sales and an overall increase of 3% in dollars sold,” and adds that, “Online sales have finally leveled off after four seasons of vast increases in sales, and chain stores sales are down 14% in units and 5% in dollars sold through October.”

There is still plenty of time for apparel and online sales to surge through the holidays, especially as the Northeast begins to experience heavy snowfall. For equipment manufacturers, however, it already feels like an early Christmas with the welcome return of healthy hardgoods sales.

“We are out, or almost out, of inventory across all of our brands and divisions. This is especially true for new ski technology -- rockered ski designs -- and new boot designs," said Tait Wardlaw, VP of marketing and communications for Rossignol, Lange and Dynastar.

Speaking to the question of whether that lack of inventory might leave “some sales on the table,” Wardlaw said, “We know some retailers are concerned about a shortage of available inventory. And while that may be the case to a certain degree, retailers and suppliers in general also agree that tight inventories translate into higher average net selling prices for retailers and suppliers alike. And, in this flat industry, that’s a good thing for everyone.”

It certainly could and should translate into retailers hitting the SIA Snow Show with a considerably larger open to buy than they have enjoyed in the past few years, as well as some interesting business opportunities deeper into the season.

“It would appear if sales continue at this pace, our members will be out of stock on key models before President’s Holiday break,” said Rogers. “That will be good news and bad news at the same time -- good to be sold down, bad to miss out on a sale. Finding promotional product for key retail sales events for the end of the season and for next early season will be tough to find. We are on the prowl for those kind of goods right now.”

--Peter Kray

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the start of the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at pkray@snewsnet.com. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!

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