Tom Herbst, VP Marketing, The North Face: “We are optimistic our industry will make major progress on inclusivity. We had great conversations the past year around Walls are Meant for Climbing. You’ll see more from The North Face celebrating community as well as a new effort to highlight our industry’s potential to bring about change. Making the outdoors more open and welcoming to everyone is critical for 2018 and beyond.”
Peter Sachs, General Manager, Lowa Boots LLC: “I think in general things are ok but we will continue within the outdoor industry to see the same issues that retail at large faces, which include too many stores, brand competition with DTC, Amazon competition, trying to understand what’s next online and so on. The better dealers have a game plan that makes them important in their communities so they can still sell products & services locally. In our case, boot fitting, dealers who lead hikes, work with local outing clubs or environmental organizations and those kinds of things seem to be ok. Inventories are conservative at retail and maybe too conservative to take advantage of opportunities. The cold & snow blowing through the upper half of the country and east coast right now should lead to great sell through at full or close to full price & margin with little clearance in clothing & seasonal footwear. The western states could use some cold & snow still so there may be some issues there.
“This year, every business will get a tax break so ownership, public or private, will be happy. In 2019, the challenge will be to anniversary and grow that bottom line number.”
Bob Philion, President, Puma North America: “For Puma, in North America, we feel optimistic about 2018 as we look to accelerate growth coming off a year of solid momentum for the brand. Our formula won’t change…it will be led by disruptive newness, product innovation and rich storytelling. We continue to see positive consumer trends fusing Sport, Lifestyle and Fashion which fits perfectly with our DNA at Puma. Our challenge, and a key one for the industry, is to continue to move at the fast-paced speed of culture.”
Matt Carlson, President & CEO, NSGA (National Sporting Goods Association): “While the sporting goods industry has always been one of innovation, now more than ever, adopting new practices is an integral part of success…and survival. The new environment dictates nimble behavior to exceed customer expectations like never before. We must challenge ourselves to improve and innovate while maintaining solid business practices, fueling industry growth. We see these advancements annually in the NSGA Innovations Arena, which provides exposure for new products in the industry and opportunity for retailers to diversify their offerings. Traditional relationships are evolving, and the speed networking during the NSGA Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit is an unmatched opportunity for companies that make products (manufacturers) and companies that sell those products (retailers and dealers) to make honest and direct connections.
“Mixing new opportunities (including adding new product and advancing business technology) and steadfast practices (such as utilizing independent distribution channels) will lead to a more prosperous 2018. Much like a stock portfolio, a prudent investor does not put all funds into one investment vehicle. The same is true about a distribution network…strength lies in diversity: using multiple and independent distribution partners reduces risk and strengthens a distribution network.
“Through NSGA’s unique research abilities, it was identified that the physical store is still a favorite choice. Our Shopper Insight Study concludes that nine out of every ten sporting goods shoppers continue to visit a physical sporting goods store. Retail establishments must find ways to engage their customers, provide satisfying experiences, and close the deal when those nine customers visit their brick-and-mortar location.
“In addition to the focus on business, improvement and growth, we continue to press Congress for progress in eliminating the sales tax loophole and leveling the playing field for brick-and-mortar outlets. The Marketplace Fairness Act (Senate) and the Remote Transactions Parity Act (House) would address that inequity. Also, as an original Founding Member of the PHIT Coalition, NSGA continues to support the PHIT bill, which has more bi-partisan support in Congress than ever. Both bills could influence the growth of sporting goods product end users and in turn, growth in the industry. We look forward to additional collaboration with reliable business partners and a prosperous 2018.”
Joey Pointer, CEO, Fleet Feet: “We often say at Fleet Feet that retail is not for the faint of heart, and we do not anticipate 2018 being any different. There will continue to be a greater separation gap between the winners and losers. For Fleet Feet, I am optimistic about our year ahead based on our commitment to unique products, solutions, and experiences for our customers across physical and digital platforms.
“We will continue to invest in technology to drive a more unique and personalized in-store experience. In 2018 we will scan over one million feet with our fit id technology and begin the integration of 3D-printed products into our store experience.
“We have just launched Fleet Feet Running Club, created originally back in 1976 by our two founders, as our national umbrella for all of our running programs offered at stores. This gives us a platform on a national level that invites runners of all levels to run on every surface and at any distance they choose through our programs.
“As all retailers must do, connecting with consumers both physically and digitally remains a top priority to create a more seamless experience no matter how a consumer wants to engage with Fleet Feet Sports.”
C.B. Tuite, SVP Sales & Marketing, OrthoLite: “As a direct OEM supplier of premium insoles to over 250 global footwear leaders, OrthoLite has visibility into brand, category, and product trends across multiple sales channels and we are extremely optimistic on the year ahead for the footwear industry as production will be up in 2018 and the brands we actively work with are also optimistic.
“Consumers are not only demanding comfort, quality and performance right now, they are also demanding that brands share in their values when it comes being more eco-conscious. The importance of sustainability is ramping up much faster than we have ever seen before and it will be mission critical for all brands to remain focused on creating eco-friendly solutions. In fact, brands are now setting eco-standards that suppliers need to reach when it comes to their materials having certain levels of eco-content.
“With more than 250+ eco-friendly insole solutions, OrthoLite has been a leader in this space from both processes to product for more than 20 years. It is core to our DNA and we appreciate the fact that brands are emphasizing a focus on sustainability.
“We pioneered the use of recycled rubber in our insoles and we also offer elevated eco-content options using a proprietary bio-oil technology, and today OrthoLite can be found in over 500 million pairs of shoes annually. On the process side, we use solar power at our factories, recycle waste water, have reusable shipping cartons. Not only are we embracing this sustainability trend, we are leading the charge and working closely with our Brand Partners to provide the solutions that consumers demand at retail.”
Joe Pellegrini, Managing Director, Robert W. Baird & Co.: “We continue focus our efforts on industry consolidation and new business models with sustainable and differentiated growth stories. Larger actors continue to rationalize and swap out portfolio assets via select acquisitions and non-core divestitures. We expect that trend to accelerate through 2018 and 2019. Our biggest concern is economic and/or political shocks which might exasperate consumer and investor uncertainty and dislodge market momentum. What gives us optimism is constant introductions of new industry actors that are revolutionizing categories with exciting new products, services and distribution models AND relentless innovation.”
Tim Wiseman, CEO, SKLZ: “We are extremely optimistic for 2018 in the Sports Training and Performance Training categories. More and more athletes are looking for an edge to help them improve, whether in their practice facility or at home. SKLZ can help give athletes that edge, providing product and content to improve sport specific mechanics, speed, quickness, strength and recovery. We believe our Soccer, Basketball, and Performance/Fitness categories, across genders, will lead our growth in 2018. We are also working hard to launch updates on our iconic Pro Mini Hoop and Sportbrella products.
“From a retail standpoint, the environment remains hugely volatile, so our plan is to focus on the areas we can control. We have planned growth for all channels of the marketplace including US Wholesale, Digital, International, and Team/Institutional. We continue to focus on the mobile consumer, making sure the digital experience and content delivery are appropriate for each channel. The brands that deliver the perfect blend of innovation and consumer value, coupled with compelling content to inspire their athletes, will definitely have the upper hand in 2018. Count on SKLZ being one of those brands!”
Dan Sheridan, EVP and General Manager of Global Sales, Brooks Running: “Despite a constantly changing marketplace, the performance running category is starting to show signs of stabilizing and Brooks is standing strong within the category. Our business has returned to growth after the industry slowdown of the past two years due to our continued focus on performance running. At Brooks, we continue to believe that performance products will remain timeless for consumers. For 2018, I think the industry will see a settling out as the strategies businesses put into place several years ago in the face of market headwinds begin to pay off. There are still uneven retail conditions across the board as runners’ shopping behavior and even their sport participation continue to evolve. These challenges will need to be met by brands and retailers alike. However, I’m optimistic that success for businesses within the running industry in particular is within reach. We have been focused on executing industry leading product, marketing programs that connect the runner to communities and experiences and servicing our runners and retailers exceptionally. And because of our focus on the run, we continue to see growth for our brand and our partners in 2018.”
Travis Campbell, President Smartwool & Chairman Of Board for OIA: “We are optimistic about both the present and future. Many companies and people have been discouraged by policy changes at the federal level. However, this has awakened advocacy and uncovered opportunities at the local level. We have stepped up our support of public lands and so have many others.
“Plus, there are three encouraging trends that have really helped Smartwool. People want to reconnect to nature and spend more time outdoors. Smartwool allows people to do just that. Secondly, they are supporting companies that reflect their values and Smartwool’s commitment to protecting the environment and its use of sustainable natural fibers really resonates with consumers. Finally, consumers are consuming less and looking for experiences. Our products allow customers to enjoy a life lived outdoors.”
Tom Cove President & CEO, SFIA (Sports and Fitness Industry Association): “We enter 2018 with cautious optimism. Last year’s challenges, particularly around retail, proved to last longer than many anticipated, but by Q4 we were seeing slight positives that indicate improvement in 2018. Healthy consumer confidence and the incremental cash from tax reform should fuel spending. It appears sports retail is rationalizing after an extended period of disruption, which will allow our companies to better engage and connect with consumers. On the down side, our industry continues to face an inactivity crisis, which hinders growth across all sectors.”
Tony Armand, CEO, United Sports Brands (Shock Doctor, McDavid, Nathan, Cutters, XO Athletic): “As our industry continues to evolve amidst unique retail challenges, United Sports Brands has stayed strong thanks to an unwavering focus on product innovation, e-commerce expansion, and superior customer service across all brands. We enter 2018 with an optimistic view of the year ahead, with plenty of initiatives in place to be truly excited. For one, we’ve strengthened our retail presence through innovative merchandising systems, rolling out to more than 13,000 locations across the country. And we haven’t stalled on our core mission which is offering truly great products.
“Shock Doctor is taking the mouthguard category to another level this year with the new Max AirFlow. This is the most advanced lip guard we have ever created—it features our largest breathing channel and fresh, very cool new graphics. The Max AirFlow has already been used in the College Football Playoff and NFL postseason, and we are excited to see it across the country when it officially launches this spring. We have two other mouthguard launches we are pumped about—we can’t disclose anything yet, but expect products that have never been seen before as well as several exciting collaborations!
“McDavid is furthering its leadership in protective apparel with new HEX technology, which has refined pad sizing and contouring for enhanced performance. Look for it on many popular designs, including the new Elite HEX Shooter Arm Sleeve, which is already a fixture in the NBA and NCAA ranks. McDavid, the leader in SportMed innovation, is also proud to unveil the new Versatile Over Wrap System in its new line of knee wraps—this technology is very easy to use and customize for maximum support and recovery.
“Also, both the Shock Doctor and McDavid brands have undergone packaging and product styling revamps for sports medicine that will be rolling out this year.
“The Nathan brand continues to deliver best-in-class hydration solutions for runners. This year sees the launch of the VaporZach and VaporMag, two new hydration vests inspired by Nathan athletes Zach Miller and Maggie Guterl. Also launching is the HammerHead bottle, which features an innovative new design—plus, a portion of profits will be donated to Ocean Conservancy for beach clean-up efforts.
“And, Cutters is unveiling a fresh new logo design and new products across the board, including the Rev Pro 3.0 receiver glove and The Gamer 3.0 all-purpose glove.”
Lauren Fifield, Director of Marketing, Zamst: “With a competitive and evolving marketplace ahead of us in 2018, Zamst understands that in order to transcend our current positioning, we need to engineer creative ways to meet diverse consumer demands. Our sights are set on new innovative product and design to inspire motion and we look forward to meeting these demands.”
Randy Hetrick, Founder & CEO, TRX Training: “I believe the year ahead will continue to see a growing awareness of the benefits of functional training—which is commonly understood in the commercial gym space—beginning to cross over and reach the mainstream consumers at home, performing exercises which mimic movements used every day in sport and life.
“I also see a major influx of new companies entering the live streaming content space across the full range of exercise activities in the home. Just about every major fitness brand has a live streaming initiative on its planning board for 2018.
“One issue that concerns me with our industry is its unfortunate tendency toward fratricide. There is a relatively low degree of genuine innovation and a resigned acceptance of the “copycat” competitive model. This is dangerous because companies focused on innovation operate under constant pressure from knock-offs who disregard intellectual property and can undercut the innovators with low quality, lower priced copies for sale online . Brands are forced to divert valuable resources from R&D to unproductive legal actions instead. Ultimately, this stifles innovation.
“But I’m bullish on the fitness industry in both the near and far horizons because awareness of the main benefits of exercise—functionality and longevity—continues to grow each year. At the end of the day, our health is really all we’ve got. Health and family—nothing else in this life really matters.”
Mike Arbeiter, president of Fisher + Baker: “From where Fisher + Baker is standing, things are looking up in the industry. Despite a lot of the media hype, the numbers are rosy for our retail network. Why? Because they understand how important it is to deliver a retail experience. Our typical customer doesn’t want to buy everything online. For the folks that haven’t figured this out, it might be a tough year ahead.”
Dick Sullivan, president and CEO PGA Tour Superstore: “The golf industry continues to experience signs of optimism, areas of stability and growth.
“Avid golfers, who are our core audience, continue to be engaged and favor improved performance over value when it comes to the game. For example, in 2017 our custom club fittings service grew by nearly 50 percent and our certified teaching professionals provided more than 45,000 lessons and clinics to golfers across the country.
“What’s also exciting is the number of youth golfers has grown by more than 20 percent over the past few years and the number of beginner golfers has increased by 10 percent, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF). People are getting into the game in new ways, whether it’s utilizing indoor simulator facilities, socializing at golf entertainment venues, participating in clinics and Kids Zones and hitting balls at driving ranges.
“The NGF estimates 20 million people visited indoor golf simulator facilities, driving ranges and golf entertainment venues in 2016, including more than eight million people who did not play on a golf course during the year. And, the ‘young guns’ and veterans on the PGA TOUR continue to inspire and engage men, women and kids of all ages. Collectively these efforts are moving the needle.
“We were optimistic and pleased to see a strong holiday performance across the retail sector, but realistically, the industry will continue to see brick and mortar consolidation. And while sporting goods in general has had more than its share of challenges, these obstacles also create opportunities.
“One of the areas of opportunity lies in how retailers can attract customers and keep them coming back. PGA TOUR Superstore is an outlier given the ‘retail-tainment’ we provide. It’s something tangible for our customers and they cannot experience it online. So, we focus on creating a ‘wow’ factor for visitors. In addition to offering lessons, free club fittings and clinics, we invite individuals to practice in our hitting bays, high-tech golf simulators and expansive putting greens. While our wide product and brand assortment is important, the services and experiences we provide are just as important. It’s about creating an atmosphere that inspires people to play their best.
“Finally, it’s imperative to not take customers for granted. All retailers say it, but executing on that brand promise is different. It’s about building relationships, not transactions. People notice a difference when there’s a knowledgeable associate on the floor who is committed to helping them, and in our case, improve their game.”
Steven D’Angelo, co-owner, ’47: “The outlook remains challenging but with the right product there are still opportunities to grow the business. Mall traffic continues to decline. But ’47 continues to gain market share in all categories of business and in all channels of distribution. With our new and expanded rights with all the sports leagues and colleges, it puts us in a great position to become an even greater asset to our retailers partners.”
Ron McPherson, President and CEO, Antigua: “We are optimistic regarding 2018 despite the ongoing retail upheaval affecting department stores and sporting goods dealers. Our largest business is Licensed Sports fan apparel and that niche remains strong for Antigua especially in the e-commerce direct fulfillment category. Our Golf business spring bookings are very positive indicating a continuance of growth for Antigua in the Green Grass sector. Our Corporate/Promotional Products business should see an upswing as we are launching a new website that will make order taking and processing smoother and more convenient for our distributors. Overall, we see 2018 as a year of opportunity.”
Layne Rigney, President, Osprey Packs: “Shopping is exciting again but not necessarily in the ways in which we have historically defined it. 2018 will be very personal. From social feeds to voice-activated shopping, personalization is no longer a novelty, it’s now table stakes. Alexa and her many “siblings” will entertain, inform and excite us by offering more than products but, instead, undiscovered experiences crafted specifically for us. Artisan is in, and one-off is way better than one-for-all. In 2018, we’ll only buy products we’ve fallen in love with. At Osprey, we know the future of search will not begin on the keyboard, instead, it begins when we say aloud to whomever, or whatever is listening, “What’s the best pack for hiking the Appalachian Trail?” And we know, to win hearts and minds the response better be, very, very personal.”
Mike Joyce, president and CEO, PrimaLoft: “We expect 2018 to be a year of growth as the global economy continues to strengthens and consumers are feeling more confident. We feel there is pent-up demand that will spur on growth. We also have the momentum of what was a record 2017 holiday shopping season. Outdoor brands are manufacturing more versatile gear and apparel that combines innovative technology, simplicity, and attainable price points that make it easier for everyday consumers to experience the outdoors.
“In the insulation category, consumers are driving the need for apparel that delivers style and performance, enabling them to spend more time outside, as a part of their daily lives. They are becoming much more sophisticated about apparel and are looking for products that provide office-to-trail versatility. Our continued focus on material innovation results in a wide choice of technology options for brand partners to design versatile lifestyle and performance outerwear.
“Consumers are prioritizing value-driven brands that promote a corporate culture beyond just environmental responsibility. Consumer want to know where products are made, how products are made, the work environment, as well as the ecological impact of products. PrimaLoft has a long history of commitment to ethical and environmental business practices and we back this up with supply chain compliance. For example, ninety percent of our insulation products will include at least 50% recycled content by 2020, while maintaining the same industry-leading performance levels, as a result of supply chain advancements.
“The largest challenge facing the industry today is the rapidly changing landscape of retail. This problem is particularly challenging in the US, where buying habits and e-commerce have created an over-supply of retail space. Over the last two years, a significant amount of retail space has been shuttered. However, we still have more to go to get it in balance with demand. The move to e-commerce makes this even more acute. Unfortunately, some brands will not be able to make the transition. Once this bubble is relieved, the industry will be in a much healthier state.
“Consumers are demanding faster product turnaround from retailers, requiring component brands to match that pace. We are ensuring that our brand partners have immediate access to a broad range of material technologies meeting this evolving consumer demand. We have been integrating quick-turn manufacturing methods and enhanced factory capabilities for many years to streamline production processes on behalf of brand partners and have worked to build redundancies into our supply chain to shorten lead times.”
Nate Pund, managing director in the Consumer, Food, & Retail (CFR) Group.Houlihan Lokey: “I believe 2018 will be a good year for the outdoor and active lifestyle industry, benefitting from continued overall economic growth in the US and Europe, greater confidence by consumers in the economy and their respective job security, as well as a continued desire to spend their hard earned discretionary dollars on goods and services in our industry.
“That said, I see a number of challenges ahead – namely the rapidly changing retail landscape and the impact the historically different desires and preferences of the Millennial consumer. Our industry has been generally focused on activities outdoors and off-the-grid where equipment plays a key role in the activity. Millennials desire to be constantly on the grid and, for many, the cost of equipment is beyond their means or doesn’t match with their preferences. The industry is doing a good job of shifting to cater to this new consumer group and I am confident it will continue to thrive.
“On the M&A front, I believe 2018 will be a strong year for deals as companies continue to vie for market share, chase growth and new markets, and achieve greater cost savings and synergies in their operations.
“I believe private equity will also continue to be very active and invest in both new, emerging growth opportunities as well as turnaround situations.”
Jerry Williams, President, Schuylkill Valley Sports: “Our team and retail mix continues to work for SVS. We are cautiously optimistic as tax reform becomes more understood by the average American. Our concern continues to be our key vendors selling directly to consumers and ignoring the retail channel. We see a continued desire by many consumers to still purchase sporting goods through this channel in order to see, feel and understand their purchase.”
Mike Dowse, President, Wilson Sporting Goods: “Two thousand seventeen was a year of change for our industry. Consumers are rapidly shifting how and where they engage with brands and purchase products. This has led to an evolution in the retail environment that has pushed brands, including Wilson, to rethink how they communicate and connect with consumers — both at brick-and-mortar and online.
“We are embracing these challenges and, in many ways, it’s incredibly exciting to re-envision how we can create an exceptional brand experience for every single athlete. Through the deployment of new technologies and immersive experiences at a variety of traditional and new venues we are personalizing, dimensionalizing, and bringing our brand to life in completely fresh ways to delight our players.
“I think this evolution in how consumers shop will continue in 2018, and if we want to stay relevant, we have to continually think through how we are utilizing every opportunity we have to connect with our athletes.
“What concerns me? The decline in sports participation in the US, and physical activity overall, is a concern for our entire industry. We have to make getting out and playing more fun and rewarding for people, especially for our youth. At Wilson, we are working with a number of partners to make sports more accessible to people, as well as participating in industry-led initiatives that provide schools and families with incentives to become more active.
“On the innovation front, we are working hard to re-imagine how sports can be played so that we are always offering more compelling, “stickier” experiences that will compel people to play and play more often.
“When I see the opportunities technology offers us, I get tremendously excited. From 3D-printed gear to new materials, to supply chain developments to automation advances, we have the opportunity to revolutionize how sports gear is designed, manufactured and distributed, and dramatically increase the speed by which all of this done.
“I am also optimistic about the advances Wilson continues to make in the areas of personalization and customization. In 2018, we will roll out our custom performance tennis racket design platform globally and launch a new Team Shop offering that will change how coaches and their staffs can create personalized gear for every individual on their team. Without technology like we have today, these new products and services wouldn’t be possible.”
Bill Kirkendall, CEO, JackRabbit/Running Specialty Group: “I am cautiously optimistic regarding 2018. I think the Running Specialty Channel stabilized in 2017 and reversed its negative trend. Health, wellness and an active lifestyle continues to be top of mind for today’s consumer which bodes well for the running specialty channel. Product innovation is much improved and the pipeline is encouraging. I also believe the channel will be much cleaner from an aged inventory position than in 2017. My concern is we are still over retailed and we need very disciplined distribution policies by our vendors. More is not more in this marketplace.”
Richie Woodworth, President, Wolverine Worldwide Boston: “At Saucony, we’re optimistic as we look forward to 2018 and to many exciting growth initiatives, all fueled by innovation. For us, innovation is a mindset that comes to life in our product but goes beyond into manufacturing, marketing and our team culture. It’s a holistic perspective with one single goal−to elevate the running experience. If we raise the bar for runners, we’ll be raising it for the brand and for the industry overall.
“We’re seeing that runners continue to respond to features such as lightweight, cushioning systems and fit. Our EVERUN™ technology has changed the game, delivering lightweight continuous cushioning across the brand’s entire footwear lineup, including our trail category. Elevating the fit experience also remains a priority for us as we launch ISOKNIT™, an engineered breathable textilewhich, when combined with our ISOFIT™ system, gives runners an even more dynamic fit.
“Looking ahead, we see continued opportunity in the modern running lifestyle, the women’s segment and the trail category. Today’s running consumer values both function and style−equally. They also want versatility, shoes that are able to cross boundaries, mixing up running on one day with a gym workout the next, all while wearing the same shoe. Our Life on the Run Collection delivers the performance, style and versatility especially valued by the fast-growing women’s segment. The exponential growth in women’s running has made the whole industry better with advancements in performance, fit, comfort and style. Trail running, with a 70% increase in participation over the past decade, includes a sizeable crossover rate from road runners. This consumer demands the performance characteristics they’re accustomed to on the pavement−taken up a notch. We’re committed to leading the category with next-level, trail-specific innovation that builds on our award-winning road DNA.
“Overall, our outlook for the running industry is that those companies with a constant focus on innovation will realize growth in 2018 and beyond. Running can be very transformational. We’re optimistic that as the running industry itself transforms, we’ll continue to lead the way through transition and change.”
Ira Schwartz, CEO & Founder, Free Country: “Our outlook for the year ahead is excited and ready for anything. We’re energized by new trends like workwear and outdoor wear merging. In that vein, a lot of rugged, traditionally masculine fabrications like canvas are getting a feminine treatment for women’s lifestyle apparel which we love. We also see the hybrid clothing category continuing to gain momentum, though our key softshell styles continue to be bestsellers for us, season in and season out.
“Most of all, we’re thrilled that consumers are answering our call to #GetOutThere and that the activewear category as a whole is focused on inspiring an active, healthy lifestyle. For us, we really want to push the message of inclusivity and attainability, which isn’t always what is portrayed in this industry. For almost thirty years, we’ve strived to make pieces that don’t compromise quality or style but that also don’t break the bank. It’s not until recently we’ve seen too many others doing the same.”
Sam Cook, President, Blizzard Tecnica USA: “In terms of business outlook, the ski boot market will remain stable or have slight growth. The ski boot consumer understands the importance and connection of “happy feet” to a great day on the mountain and is consequently investing in gear and choosing an ownership model for this product category. The ski category’s outlook is more difficult to predict as the consumer continues to seek a short term usage model (rental, demo) at a much higher rate than in ski boots. The are many reasons ranging from better quality demo/rental skis, flexibility and convenience, to perceived value. A short term usage model definitely creates a new host of challenges to a brand’s mission of building a loyal and committed consumer.
“What concerns me? The consumer has an expectation and growing appetite for a seamless and consistent brand experience across multiple and rapidly expanding touch-points. Developing and executing an omni-channel strategy to meet this consumer expectation requires new thinking and a shift in resources, which is highly challenging. Brands that fail to evolve and invest in this consumer expectation will struggle to remain relevant.
“But consumers will continue to seek relief from the stress of their world and skiing is as appealing an activity as any to do so. The brands and retailers that are committed to building and promoting rich experiences and the community of skiing have great opportunity to thrive.”
Paul Gagner, Outdoor Division Director, Nite Ize: “Retail continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and for the most part the outdoor retailers base is reasonably stable. We believe a strong economy, increasing participation, and inclusion of activities like climbing in the 2020 Olympics will lead to improved retail traffic and overall sales.
“Concerns? If, as reported, national park entry fees increase astronomically this year, this will cause a real impact on the frequency of casual park users – that means fewer visitors, lower sales and fewer contributors to what those parks represent for our industry. But I am optimistic that our industry seems to be finding it’s voice and is actively looking for ways to protect what means most to us, and ensure the success of the outdoor industry into the future.”
Dave Wood, General Manager, Joules USA: “Having seen really good growth in the past season, we look forward with confidence to this next year. Whilst trading conditions remain challenging, our wholesale order book for Spring/Summer ’18 has shown increase, both with the number of accounts and sales. We’ve also expanded our product categories for the U.S. market, which has proven to be successful. This reflects the growing appeal of the Joules brand amongst both new and existing customers across our target markets. As we move into the outdoor lifestyle arena, we are excited to see what’s in store for this upcoming selling season, as well as hear feedback from retailers and buyers.”
David Ludd, VP Global Marketing, Coolcore: “The cooling fabrics market is going to continue to be strong in 2018. However, ‘year-round’ thermoregulation is going to be a key trend moving forward. Brands are going to need to accommodate consumer needs all times of the year for both cooling and warming. They are continually on the lookout for cooling technology for warmer environments as well as thermal fabric technology that provides moisture movement, drying and evaporation in colder climates to maintain warmth. Brands are expanding to a 360 degree 365-day product offering.
“Additionally, sustainability and environmentally sound practices are going to continue to be a key driver in this industry. As a leader in thermoregulation and cooling fabric technology with chemical-free fabric solutions (no topical additives), we are well positioned going forward.
“What concerns me is the volatility of the retail landscape. We saw a lot of consolidation and closures last year and I’m hopeful that retail will stabilize in 2018. But we’ve had a lot of interest from new partners recently in current and new markets segments. We are being sought out not only for our innovative products, but also our additional services including design, consumer insights, and marketing support. We view ourselves as a transformative partner providing strategic development and planning support, not just as “another vendor”. At the end of the day, it’s about innovation, operational excellence and speed to market – and we are firing on all those points.”
David Petri, VP Marketing, Farm to Feet: “The outdoor sock market has seen growth over the last couple years, which we expect to continue. Helping this trend, is the recent cold weather in Q4 2017, which allowed for the outdoor sock market to close strong and jump start the year.
“Some concerns for 2018 include the overall sock market has seen yearly declines for the last three years, although it has been mitigated by strong growth in the outdoor performance sock market. While traditional retail is a primary area for focus and revenue, the growth in e-commerce – which saw significant gains in the last year – will also require proactive channel management by brands.
“But we’re optimistic about strong continued growth in outdoor performance sock market. Consumers – especially outdoor enthusiasts – are paying attention to all the gear they use – including apparel. Compared to the traditional or fashion textile markets, outdoor performance apparel is more like technical gear that helps consumers better enjoy the activities they want to do outdoors.”
Mike Jensen, Global GM & Head of Brand, DC Shoe Company. “We’re quite positive on the industry for 2018. Obviously, we’re seeing some level of variation across the globe, but generally we’re positive.
“We continue to see fairly explosive shifts in consumer tastes, which can create problems in our generally ‘long-lead’ industry development timelines. Of course, continued pressure on the retail community is something that we pay close attention to as well.
“Ironically, the other side of the consumer shift (noted above) creates a marketplace opportunity from which we pull major optimism. We have a set of consumers, on a global scale, who are really interested in trying new things & engaging with new brands. That gives our teams immense optimism. When we tell beautiful and engaging stories in an authentically ‘DC’ way, we are earning share of mind with consumers. We saw this happen in 2017 & we’ll look to put a bit more scale to that in 2018. Ultimately, as a brand we will translate earned share of mind into earned market share as well. Additionally, we continue to see the convergence factor of skate culture, music, art, and style coming together in exciting ways. DC is a huge part of that movement & we see that continuing well into 2018 and beyond.
“We’re also inspired by our diverse team of employees and the culture we’ve created at DC. We have very meaningful businesses around the globe, great teams within regions to support those businesses at a local level, and a diversity of consumers who want to be part of our brand promise. That’s very, very inspiring to us & we take it upon ourselves personally to tell great stories on a global level.”
Golden Harper, Founder, Altra: “Things look great for Altra! We are on plan to maintain the aggressive growth curve we have been on for the last 5 years. While weaker brick and mortar running stores being weeded out is a concern, it is also making the existing ones be better at what they do, which makes for better partnerships. Our new Fit4Her campaign with truly female specific fit and features are really resonating for us, driving strong growth for that side of our business. We see plenty of optimism through our retail partners, web sales, female growth, and with our knit and Altra Ego products, which are driving very strong growth as well.”
Brian Beckstead, Co-Founder, Altra: “Altra is extremely optimistic about 2018. Despite the slowdown in footwear sales across the industry, Altra continues to thrive and grow at a rapid pace. Our unique mentality of footwear has allowed us to buck trends, not just in growth, but in how shoes are designed. Because of this unique innovation, Altra is primed to have another banner year. There is some concern with the Run Specialty industry due to overall sluggish sales but we have still been able to grow in that channel while also aggressively expanding in Outdoor, Casual/Walking, and the International portions of our business.”
Nate Checketts, CEO & Co-Founder, Rhone: “I think outlook for our space—performance lifestyle apparel—is incredibly bright. Consumers are being more thoughtful about what they put in and on their body while also looking for product that is versatile across settings. I believe traditional brick and mortar retail will continue to be challenging as purchases continue to move towards convenience and comfort as well as co-locating in locations where you already go to the gym. The biggest challenge for our space is consumers have an abundance of choice and so as a brand we are focused on continued innovation and differentiation and then really showcasing why our product is superior in performance and return on investment.”
Mike Cirker, CEO, Alpha Industries: “As a leader in the outerwear industry, we are always looking to be more innovative, while staying true to our authentic military heritage, and the year ahead is no different. We are excited to be expanding our women’s collection, new collaborations and exclusives and to be launching a re-platformed e-commerce site. We plan on looking at our target demographics to see what our customers really want and need. Alpha Industries is a brand born of purpose, and we do everything with that in mind. We are constantly evolving to adapt to the ever-changing retail climate and industry trends.
“What concerns me? Climate change and the current retail state is something that every brand in the fashion industry is definitely concerned with, but our team is committed to coming up with unique ways to overcome those challenges. We are lucky to have a strong business and supportive customers and buyers that believe in the brand and what we are doing.
“But we are excited to see how different stores and brands are becoming more experiential for the consumer. There are some unique concepts happening in both online and boutique and department stores that are exciting to see. We are living in an ever-changing retail landscape that offers many opportunities – especially in regards to interacting with customers.”
David Marsala, VP of Sales and Marketing, Nau: “We’re incredibly optimistic about this coming year and what lies ahead for Nau. Nau’s design aesthetic coupled with its sustainability and social good efforts have never been more relevant than it is today. As a leader in this space, our brand is not only resonating with our core consumers, but we are also reaching new demographics that are valuing and scrutinizing brands’ product quality, values and philosophies. More and more people are seeing the relevancy of Nau in their everyday lives.
“Concerns include the amount of noise in this space – which can be both a pro and con. It is amazing to see more and more brands incorporating environmental, sustainability and social-good practices into their businesses. At that same time, consumers can be misled my marketing messaging and it can be difficult for consumers to ascertain the validity of some of these claims. At Nau, we strive to stay true to our values in everything we do and be transparent to our consumers in the decisions we make.
“But the growing consumer demand for brands that deliver value beyond products gives us reason to be optimistic. Now more than ever we feel an urgency to leverage our platform and voice to affect change, and fight social and environmental injustices. We are optimistic and excited at the opportunity to engage with our consumers to tackle these issues together.”
Ron Johnson, Founder, Rumble Roller: “Overall, we foresee continued but moderate growth in our category (mobility and recovery products). The more interesting news, though, is a shift in what’s driving that growth. Over the past few years, foam rolling exploded in popularity, which bred a lot of new competitors pushing cheap or gimmicky versions of rollers and other massage tools. But consumers are wising up to the big differences in product quality and effectiveness, and shifting their attention to more trusted brands like RumbleRoller. RumbleRoller and a few other major players in this category will see outsized growth this year, while many of the small importers will fold. Such consolidation is normal and healthy for our industry.
“The proliferation of misinformation is probably our biggest concern. This isn’t specific to our industry, but affects all industries and all consumers. The internet has made it easy for virtually anyone to launch a product, pose as an expert, and flood social media with dubious advice. This leads to confusion of the consumer, and makes it more difficult for legitimate researchers and developers to rise above the noise.
“The right massage tools give an athlete an unprecedented amount of control over their recovery from soft tissue injuries. It’s gratifying to see our customers perform better, sleep better, and accomplish more in their lives. We’d be proud to be in this business even if we were losing money.”
Alison Hill, Managing Director, LifeStraw: “Water contamination issues growing in mass markets remains a concern. With a greater frequency of natural disasters and increasing concerns around water contamination in urban environments, everyday consumers are looking to outdoor brands to provide safe hydration solutions in schools, local communities, and workplaces. LifeStraw’s continued innovation, including the expansion of lead reduction technologies in its fall 2018 product line, provides a broader range of protection for mainstream consumers, providing them with peace of mind when hydrating from local water supplies.
“Backcountry safety is also still a concern. Safe hydration is becoming a big a question as backcountry explorers gain a better understanding of contaminants that are present in our wilderness areas and are required to drink directly from untreated water sources. LifeStraw is continuing to develop long lasting technologies that can be used in numerous environments, ensuring that consumers have access to clean water on-demand, nearly anywhere.”
“Consumers are more sensitive to the environmental and social impact of their purchases and are prioritizing values-driven brands. This is pushing brands to not only differentiate themselves in the marketplace, but to find new and impactful ways to make a difference. LifeStraw was born a cause-driven brand in 2014 and believes that doing good is good business. Supported by product purchases in the U.S., LifeStraw will provide safe drinking water to its one millionth child this February in Kenya where over 35 local staff, 20 paid local volunteers, and 60 international volunteers will spend three weeks installing LifeStraw Community water purifiers and conducting training seminars and follow up in over 525 schools.”
Amy Compton, Chief Marketing Officer, Handful Activewear: “As we’ve seen from Nike’s all but snuffing out of its retail partnerships, the industry outlook for traditional sporting goods retailers is dim. As brick and mortar stores evolve to stay relevant in this era of instant gratification and drone deliveries, Handful Activewear is excited about the creative new approaches that retailers are taking that involve more experiential purchasing opportunities such as classes, group exercise, or the social scene of a pop-up shop. Not to mention the delightful uptick in retailers that serve alcohol. (We see you, Wildfang, Urban Outfitters, and Target.) These are not yesterday’s stores, where CEOs got away with telling their consumers they were “too fat” for their yoga pants. These are stores that want to cultivate a tribe of passionate customers, who have a voice that will rise above the humming of the drones overhead, and sing the praises of that retailer’s missions and social values — all while spending their money in a store they believe in. Smaller, niche brands with devoted followers and built-in ambassadors are in a prime position to take center stage in this new shopping environment. And it’s a win-win situation, because retailers need these small, fresh brands to bring in customers, as much as the brands need the retailers to get in front of consumers’ eyeballs. Of course, retail margins dictate that Handful ramp up direct-to-consumer sales and that they sell on Amazon. Finding the right balance in each channel will be the key for them to flourish in the changing landscape of the sporting goods industry. We’ve joked about having ‘on-demand’ sports bras dropped off to customers by a delivery service that has integrated with our e-commerce platform. Who knows? It would bring a smile to my face, if that channel were the missing piece to our puzzle.”
Photo courtesy Osprey Packs