Bryan Dingel: NRS veteran talks expanding paddlesports market

NRS veteran sees expanding paddlesports market with outdoor, surf, yoga and fly fishing.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. 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.

Droughts, floods, record snowfalls and hurricanes — they might be exciting for sports and news junkies, but Bryan Dingel’s hope is for boring, consistent weather.

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That’s what translates into a good year for paddlesports, the NRS vice president and 20-year company veteran tells us. Leave the excitement in the category to the product innovations.

And there are plenty at Summer Market as paddlesports evolves thanks to greater influences from the outdoor and fly fishing markets, which have always played roles, but also yoga and surf, which are injecting everything from brighter colors to tighter-fitting apparel into the field.

The paddlesports category continues to become a larger player at Outdoor Retailer. In what ways do you see outdoor and paddlesports converging or diverging?
Paddlesports has always been a part of the larger outdoor market. The transition to being a larger player at Outdoor Retailer is a natural progression of the maturing category. Paddlesports enthusiasts are outdoor enthusiasts and their recreation habits include many of the same variables as any other outdoor category. They are consumers of quality outdoor gear for lifestyles that are active and engaged. While coastal retailers may be more “paddling” specific in both hard and soft goods, inland paddling adds multiple dimensions to gear and clothing that’s closer to the general outdoor market and in line with traditional outdoor product.

It would also seem that the paddlesports community is merging more with the fly fishing market these days — there’s even SUP fly fishing out there. What are you seeing in that respect?
It’s a natural progression that fly fishing would adopt the popularity of the SUP market with a product of its own. But, this statement could have easily been made years ago about the popularity of canoe, kayak or personal pontoon boat fishing. While the product and options for access to the fish has evolved slightly, the relationship between paddlesports and fly fishing has existed ... in one form or another, for decades.

What are the other top trends you’re seeing in the paddlesports world?
Brighter colors, better materials and more fitted options in clothing. The SUP world has started a synergy between traditional paddlesports, the surf industry and now yoga. Where the paddling retailer used to be the domain of watersports-exclusive labels, now we find Roxy and others. Even Lululemon used a SUP board in advertising as the yoga SUP market has expanded. For traditional paddlesports, the trend includes a greater emphasis on safety. PFDs are thoughtful, knives are paddle safety specific, helmets improved and swiftwater rescue gear and survival equipment have become as mainstream as a good pair of booties.

Word is that the lack of winter a year ago hurt the whitewater market, but helped other areas like SUP because of the long, hot summer. What were sales like last summer and how are they shaping up for this summer and next?
As with any outdoor sport, weather plays a big part. The 100-year drought hurt as much in Colorado (both ski and paddlesports) as much as the 100-year floods in the Midwest wiped out a spring paddling and fishing season. Last year, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc along the East Coast for paddling, camping and fishing for weeks ... and in some places longer. Extreme conditions always disrupt traditional business levels, and rarely for the better. Extreme high snowpacks might be temporarily good for ski resorts, yet a strong spring runoff may literally wash-out a large portion of the paddling season due to dangerously high water levels. Our preference is for news that is unremarkable, hoping to find information that weather patterns have been normal or even boring, by historical standards. This summer has been mixed, but the general market sense is that customer action is ranging from consistent to strong. It’s too early to boldly predict for 2014, as both the weather and economy will factor in, but the target at this point is for the gradual upward business trend to continue.

What are you on the lookout for at Summer Market?
Rarely is a new company or innovative product found that changes an industry. We look for trends. Clothing, lifestyles, activities and the efforts companies are taking to innovate. A single snapshot of an industry is a tough gauge to the direction of a market or strength of an economy. But, followed over time, these changes and nuances tell a story of an industry that can be followed and, by astute and creative manufacturers, guided.

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