Top trends from OR, SIA and ISPO Winter 2014

Learn five big-picture trends our reporters came away with after visiting Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, SIA Snow Show and ISPO Munich this year.
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This SNEWS Outdoor trade-show recap is brought to you in partnership with the Outdoor Industry Association.

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The 2014 outdoor and ski winter trade show season is a wrap and the SNEWS team has a stack of notes, workbooks and business cards full of story ideas for the new year.

And although Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, SIA Snow Show and ISPO Munich, speak to different markets, there are always those top trends and business insights that attendees see repeated at each event.

Whether you made it to one, two or — man do we feel for these folks — all three major trade shows over the course of just two weeks in late January, we’re here to try and make sense of it all with several big-picture takes of what’s ahead. The observations are a mix of our own coverage — such as from the Outdoor Retailer Daily and SIA Snow Show Daily — and our contacts in the field, who made the overseas trek to Munich for ISPO.

Outdoor fitness
We’ve seen the fitness side of the outdoors grow rapidly in the summer, especially with activities such as trail running, but winter presents an even more varied and opportunistic picture with everything from sweat-busting, uphill skiing to off-season, indoor training pursuits such as yoga and CrossFit.

They’re all rushing to outdoor specialty retail looking to tap the same active-enthusiast customer. Outdoor brands aren’t sitting quietly, launching new product lines and technologies with fitness in mind. We saw a big push toward “active insulation” pieces that aim to keep athletes warm in the cold, but not too warm to where sweat becomes a problem. Plus, stretch is key ingredient here, providing more mobility for the high-intensity workouts.

What’s driving the outdoor fitness boom? It’s a perfect storm of trends that are top of mind for consumers these days: urbanization, tighter schedules, digital fitness apps, healthier lifestyles and, yes, the age-old quest to shed some pounds.

Outdoor urbanization
Whether it’s New York City, London or Shanghai, outdoor brands and retailers are coming to the realization that an increasing amount of their customers are living in the urban environment. It’s one of the leading drivers to why outdoor lifestyle products have exploded in the past several years and why so many pieces today boast the well-worn cliché: “from the slopes to the streets.” But beyond fashion, it’s also evolving the definition of the outdoors to include urban outdoor adventures, whether they be a trail run at city park, the morning commute or a bicycle brewery tour.

Backcountry blitz
Core-outdoor enthusiasts needn’t fret; people are still escaping the cities and even the boundaries of cell phone signals. Consumer participation, interest and sales in backcountry-related categories continue to grow. The proof is in the dollars chasing the sector with more true innovations and improvements in avalanche airbags, beacons, shovels and probes than in any other category we saw at the shows.

Experience matters
There’s a perception that outdoor specialty brick-and-mortar stores are on their deathbed, losing a price war with tech-savvy, online-shopping millennials. But surprise, surprise, these same millennials aren’t as focused on buying products as they are experiences, and that’s an advantage the real world has over the virtual one. Organizations such as the Outdoor Industry Association, Snowsports Industries America and the European Outdoor Group spent a bulk of their sessions at the shows educating brands and retailers on the experience economy and how retailers can revive traffic in their stores.

Along these same lines, look out for the rise of the sharing economy — think Zipcar and Airbnb — where access to experience is valued over ownership. While we doubt consumers will be sharing a pair of hiking socks, more hardgoods rentals could be an avenue into this trend for outdoor retail.

Winter’s return
Apparently all those snow dances and powder prayers worked — at least in the Rockies, Northeast and even the Southeast portions of the United States. Old man winter came back with a vengeance this season, boosting outdoor retail and snowsports sales up about 10 percent in December, compared to last year. Not everyone was in on the cheer, however. California and parts of the Pacific Northwest continued to suffer with drought, affecting one of the largest markets in the United States.

Stay tuned to SNEWS as we follow these stories, trends and breaking news in the outdoor industry throughout the year. And, as always, feel free to reach out to us with more ideas, thoughts and opinions on our Facebook and Twitter pages and/or email at snewsedit@aimmedia.com.

--David Clucas

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