The start of 2020 saw the outdoor industry at a record breaking $887 billion dollars, growing at a rate faster than the nation’s GDP. And while things have changed since then, many outdoor brands continue to persist and find success despite the challenges of the new normal.
How are outdoor brands rising to the challenge? In this post, we explore the obstacles the industry is facing and the new avenues companies are taking in response.
The Impact of Coronavirus on the Outdoor Market
Many outdoor brands have long relied on face-to-face encounters to drive their business forward, from face-to-face meetings with retailers to in-store hiking boot fittings.
Now, many within the industry have taken the majority of sales online or sell in-store while meeting government guidelines. But with this shift, many are able to streamline their selections to better fit consumer demand, and develop new strategies for selling online.
The industry’s trade shows are also on pause, one of the most important sales opportunities for outdoor labels. Outdoor Retailer, the outdoor industry’s most prominent trade show, was cancelled on the 2nd of April - but quickly pivoted to a digital trade show.
Outdoor Brands’ Response
Brands have been agile and quick to shift their selling and production strategies. To avoid excessive markdowns and discounts, some are delaying Fall 2020 product lines and returning to their most essential, best-selling offerings for 2020 and 2021.
As Wes Allen, owner of Sunlight Sports of Yellowstone National Park in Cody, Wyoming, highlights, “Big product launches and strategic stuff are a nonconversation with us. We’re in survival mode.”
But with new challenges comes new opportunities to come back better than ever, while also contributing to a greater good. Countless brands have come forward with producing masks to reduce infection rates. Others have donated thousands of reusable cotton gowns and masks to their local communities.
Forloh, a startup who specializes in high-end hunting apparel, noticed the rising demand for medical gowns. This resulting in largely successful partnership with Merrow Manufacturing to become ”the largest manufacturer of medical isolation gowns in the U.S.”.
Retailers have shifted their focus to target the new boom in stay-cations resulting from restrictions on air travel. In fact, bookings for camping have grown 116% in August alone. In additional, Kampgrounds of America reports that 20 percent of these campers are first-timers.
On the operational side of things, the industry have turned to tech and a little bit of creativity to bridge the distance between us all right now.
Sales reps for outdoor brands can no longer rely on selling a company’s products via face-to-face sales meetings and trade shows. Instead, turning to virtual offerings - such as online presentations and video conferencing platforms (like Zoom) to sell a brand’s products to retailers.
Outdoor brands are also moving towards to a touch-free buy. Even before COVID hit, many outdoor brands were already moving towards this business model. The North Face has already had digital catalogs for the last three years. It’s also introducing 3D cads and high-res imagery to represent the 21 season.
Now, brands have an opportunity to come forward with their best assortments for specific retailers, streamlining appointments and production.
Digital Selling: The New Normal?
Despite the upheaval to the industry caused by the outbreak, many brands are seeing this moment as a time for growth and opportunity. Rich Hill, executive director of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, a community of independent outdoor specialty retailers, says the new difficulties facing the industry have given many outdoor brands the chance to fulfill their desire to go virtual.
Hill states that many outdoor brands have wanted to go virtual long before the crisis and are beginning to recreate the virtual experience for buyers online. Hill notes that the most popular industry trade shows and events will likely become a hybrid of the digital and physical: blending the best of both after the threat of the virus has passed.
Other leaders in the industry believe that the impressive capabilities and simplicity of virtual offerings will do away with physical events and meetings all together. “Trade shows are probably going the way of the dodo,” reflects Casey Sheahan, CEO of Simms Fishing Products. “Why do we need to go shake hands with a bunch of people when we can create a product digitally, we can show it digitally, and we don’t even need to be in the same room with other people to sell it?”
Is Digital Up to the Challenge?
Others question whether there are solutions to meet the needs of both smaller and larger brands looking to recreate an immersive buying experience. Berne Broudy, writing for Outdoor Retailer observes, “It’s also unclear how small brands that don’t have rep forces will get their product in front of retailers if they can’t easily walk into a shop for a showing. Allen wishes for an online Venture Out, where retailers can see and buy small brands efficiently. Multi-brand selling platforms exist in other industries like the gift market, but, to date, there is no wholesale-focused online buying platform for outdoor.”
NuORDER offers outdoor brands a digital wholesale solution. Virtual merchandising solutions ease the transition into a touch-free buy for both large and small outdoor companies. Virtual showrooms provide outdoor brands with the chance to offer an immersive digital experience for buyers.
Our whiteboard feature offers customizable visual merchandising that enables sales reps, as well as smaller teams without reps, to tell the story of an outdoor brand and its products and present personalized buys and images for each retailer. The whiteboard feature connects images with integrated clickable ordering capabilities that send interested retailers directly to product catalogs – simplifying the sales process.
NuORDER allows outdoor brands to show their lines digitally to retailers with personalized sales proposals and product catalogs - streamlining the digital sales process and heightening buyer confidence. Product information and account data can be accurately uploaded by integrating your back-of-house system with the NuOrder platform.
The Outdoor Market Weathers the Storm
The outdoor market has taken a huge hit and while the path ahead may be painful; but the industry is tough and resilient. With old avenues, such as physical trade shows and face-to-face meetings with buyers temporarily on hold, outdoor labels have pivoted their production lines and to a largely digital sales model. Despite the stumbling blocks that have cropped up alongside this forced adaptation, many companies are seeing the opportunities inherent in rising virtual offerings.