They’re calling for the groundhog’s head in some parts of the country — spring was supposed to arrive early this year — but a late winter helped fuel sales and bring some relief to outdoor retailers last month.
Outdoor sales exhibited healthy gains in February, according to two separate reports tracking the industry. OIA VantagePoint said outdoor sales rose 10.2 percent for the month, while Leisure Trends Group reported sales up 8 percent.
Analysts with both groups said a steady stream of winter storms across much of the U.S. led to higher sales, particularly in equipment, accessories and apparel. And the gains were widespread across sales channels, with Internet sales up 12 percent, chain-store sales up 7 percent and specialty retail sales up 6 percent, according to Leisure Trends.
OIA VantagePoint, which partners with SportsOneSource for its data, said outdoor hardgoods sales rose 14.4 percent in February, boosted by a nearly 20 percent rise in snowsports equipment as the segment looks to recover from last year’s lack of winter weather.
Leisure Trends reported a more modest 4 percent gain in equipment sales during the month. The two analyst groups each have their own category definitions and survey makeup, leading to the differing figures.
Apparel continued to lead the way at outdoor retail with a 19.4 percent rise in sales, according to OIA VantagePoint and an 11 percent increase, according to Leisure Trends. OIA officials noted that while “February is traditionally a clearance period,” the increase in sales was fueled by 12 percent higher average retail prices in the category.
Despite the overall gains, footwear sales continued to lag in February, falling 7.1 percent according to OIA, and down 1 percent according to Leisure Trends. The groups differed on where the trail running category was heading, with OIA saying sales were up by double digits and Leisure Trends reporting the category down 6 percent in sales.
As the winter weather continues through March — much of the country was dealt two rounds of snowstorms the first week of spring — next month will bring a clearer picture on how much winter inventory retailers were able to work through and how ordering will go for Winter Market 2014.
Also of interest, if the cold weather really overstays its welcome, will be how much it affects early spring and summer product sales. Through February, consumers were keeping their hopes for warmer weather high, according to Leisure Trends, sending tent sales up 18 percent and sleeping bag sales up 7 percent with double-digit growth in mattresses, camp furniture and tent accessories.