This is part one of a multi-part series. The next installments will be published in the coming weeks.

It's been a long time coming, but the SNEWS Retailer Survey is finally back. A few years have passed since our last iteration of this series, and in that time, the industry has changed a lot. New players have come onto the scene. Some old favorites have said farewell. And of course, this year, everything was flipped on its head as we figured out how to come together as a community and help each other through one of the most challenging periods in the history of our industry.

So consider this a new beginning for the SNEWS Retailer Survey series. The data this year are bound to be a little wild, given the whiplash of the pandemic, but they're illuminating nonetheless, and a good place to start.

Breakdown of respondents

To understand the numbers we'll present over the next several week, it will help to understand who responded to our survey—the jobs our participants hold and the businesses they represent.

We chose to open the survey to anyone working in independent outdoor retail, at any level, in any shop. We got 172 responses from across the country, from Alaska all the way to Maine. The majority of respondents were owners, presidents, founders, and CEOs of gear shops, but we also received entries from managers, buyers, sales associates, mechanics, merchandise planners, operations directors, and more.

We asked respondents to identify their specific store type, and found that the largest share of participants—37 percent—worked at traditional outdoor speciality shops, with more niche categories like bike shops and paddlesport stores accounting for the rest.

Specifically, the numbers came in as follows

  • Traditional outdoor specialty (37 percent of respondents)
  • Lifestyle plus outdoor specialty (15 percent)
  • Cycling only (10 percent)
  • Paddlesports plus outdoor speciality (8 percent)
  • Cycling plus outdoor speciality (6 percent)
  • Snow sports plus outdoor speciality (6 percent)
  • Traditional sporting goods plus outdoor speciality (4 percent)
  • Other (10 percent)

Sales volume, 2019 and 2020

The pandemic brought almost uniform misfortune to some industries. Thankfully, specialty outdoor retail was not one of them—a trend clearly reflected in the data we gathered.

Overall, we found that sales volume polarized slightly from 2019 to 2020. The share of respondents who reported bringing in less than $500,000 jumped from year to year (15 to 20 percent), but so did the share of respondents who reported bringing in more than $5 million (11 to 14 percent).

These numbers are consistent with other reporting we've done, showing uneven growth and decline in the retail sector. The reason for this pattern likely has to do with concentrated spikes in demand for certain outdoor products that make up the core sales of some shops, like bikes and kayaks, and a general decrease in demand for categories that boost the bottom line of others, like apparel and accessories.

Specific, concentrated demand, in other words, is one possible explanation for the trend we see here: Seven percent of respondents from the middle-tier sales volume brackets in 2019 were pushed into either the highest or lowest brackets in 2020.

What's coming next

This is just the beginning. In the coming weeks, we have much more data coming out, from the best and worst manufacturers to do business with, to the bestselling brands in various hard and softgoods categories, to the fastest-growing gear categories overall, and much more.



Man riding a bicycle past a tan building.

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