Over the past couple of weeks, the Editors from SGB Executive reached out to dozens of leaders across the active lifestyle market to share their outlook for 2021.

This is Part One of a series that gauges what the industry’s key players think will or won’t happen in 2020.

Read Tuesday’s Part Two coverage here and Wednesday’s Part Three coverage here.

»Steve Christie, Director of Sales, K2 Outdoor
Our outlook for 2021 is super positive. We are fortunate that our portfolio of outdoor brands (BCA, Atlas, Tubbs, Madshus) allows our customers to participate in winter activities that fill the new, current norm of ‘staying outside and staying socially distant’.

The demand we experienced in 2020 was unprecedented, but we quickly recognized the trend and pivoted back to our factories to reload for Q1. The questions we ask ourselves now, for 2021/22, pertain to how long the industry will sustain this massive growth and if we’ll see a shift in the country to a more outdoor mindset in the future.

One thing we’ve learned from our dealers is that they’re preparing for a much longer Q1 sales season in 2021, well into March, as opposed to clearing out inventory in mid-February to prepare for spring and summer sports. That’s an exciting change. From an economic standpoint, there seemed to be plenty of money funding outdoor gear purchases in 2020, with people saving money by not traveling, eating out less and generally not going out. We expect this to continue until there’s some clarity around the pandemic and vaccinations—if there’s a major improvement on that level and people get a little more back to normal, we may see outdoor sales taper off. But we still question the effects and influence that the new consumers will have and wonder if this is just the beginning of a new growth trend for our industry.

»Bruce EdgerlyVice President/Co-founder, Backcountry Access
As most could probably guess, we’ve seen growth more explosive than at any time in our 26-year history. I’m sure this is not all growth in BCA market share but COVID-19-inspired demand across our entire category. The big question is, “Is it sustainable?” It’s probably not, but there could be a “ratcheting” effect where we go back to the same healthy growth rate as before but applied to an enlarged market.

Here’s what concerns me:

  • An unfortunate avalanche cycle that results in a spike in fatalities;
  • unrealistic growth expectations for next season, causing manufacturers to swing for the fence on inventory; and
  • a poor snow year next season, creating a multi-year glut in product and resulting price wars.

On the rosy side, we’re incredibly excited about all the new users in our industry and all the excitement around backcountry skiing and snowboarding. We’re hoping all the anticipation results in thousands of converts that not only buy our products but are willing to step up and help protect our public lands, increase access opportunities and promote conservation.

»Steve Layton, President, Polartec 
This will be an exciting year for Polartec associates, partners, and consumers. As people worldwide rediscover the outdoors, we’ve seen reinvigoration across the outdoor market, and I’m bullish on the market recovering and growing in 2021. There is a renewed love for being outside, and we will continue to answer the call with best-in-class products that keep our wearers warm, dry, cool, and safe.

This year is also notable for Polartec, as it marks the 40th anniversary of our invention of synthetic fleece and the 30th anniversary of the Polartec brand. We will celebrate this anniversary with our partners and consumers, reflecting on significant milestones and developments over the years. We’ll pay homage to the past and push the market forward with exciting launches planned in the back-half of the year. It will be an excellent opportunity to strengthen ties to the outdoor consumer and our core customers.

»Peter Maule, Senior Vice President, Sports and Active Brands, Marquee Brands/Body Glove 
When Covid 19 hit in early spring, the industry saw significant order cancellations and retail shutdowns during the peak of the highly seasonal outdoor business. It simply could not have come at a worse time, or so we thought. We believe the entire outdoor/active category experienced significant pent-up consumer demand, which started to hit in June and hasn’t stopped since. Consumers everywhere wanted to be active, and outdoors, so we pivoted quickly and looked for innovative ways to radically improve production efficiencies and time to market, given limited on-hand inventory due to cancellations. Our company and partners pulled out all the stops to get products in-hand to satisfy the growing customer demand. As a result, our business is closing in on yet another record year, and based on retailer and direct-to-consumer (DTC) commitments and programs, we remain bullish that these tailwinds will continue through 2021.

Our company is working closely with our partners to monitor and support both brick-and-mortar retailers and make significant investments in digital-led technologies to support and drive omnichannel sales and DTC. Many specialty retailers and department stores continue to face substantial headwinds, so we must ensure we capitalize on channel diversification and find new and innovative ways to speak directly to our customers.

The pandemic has forced all of us to think differently about how we grow our business in this new world — inventory management, time to market, omnichannel distribution, and leveraging consumer data to optimize how and where consumers purchase.

»Peter Sachs, General Manager, Lowa Boots LLC
At Lowa, we are optimistic about 2021. For us, 2020, like everyone else, presented a huge shock to our business, followed by a strong rebound as customers started walking and hiking, among other activities. Sales rebounded nicely through the year since about June 1 and, as a result, we won’t end up in a horror scenario like we initially feared.

As we move forward, we think all of those activities that drove the outdoor business, such as walking, hiking, biking, paddling, family camping, and trips to state and local parks, will continue to be important until the vaccination rate hits the herd immunity level. Hopefully, that happens by late spring or early to mid-summer leading to a strong summer season when people normally do these activities for their vacations. For these achievable activities, many of our boots and shoes should be ideal.

Aspirational trips and therefore the gear will continue to be challenged until people can safely travel. This past year, we’ve also learned that customers do like, and are willing to pay for, quality boots and shoes that are sustainably sourced and will last multiple seasons. They like to know where their shoes are made, and even with spending more, they are getting a long-lasting value. They are caring for their boots and shoes more than ever, as reflected by sales in our care products. Of course, there will continue to be speed bumps and challenges on the road to recovery. Knowing that we not just survived but thrived during the harshest of challenges gives us the confidence that we can respond to future obstacles, be flexible, and succeed.

»Nick Sargent, President, Snowsports Industries America (SIA)
We’re cautiously optimistic about the year ahead. We recently received the first three months of retail sales numbers from NPD, and we’re seeing significant growth in backcountry gear (+51 percent), Nordic (+121 percent) and snowshoes (+254 percent) over last year. While the traditional Alpine and snowboard categories are down, we’re hoping to see an uptick once the snow arrives.
We see our industry navigate a new and foreign landscape. Technology has been key to that, and we’re seeing increases in online sales, curbside pickup, brands driving sales to local retailers, and new ways to sell in products without an in-person tradeshow. These innovations have changed the way we do business for the better.

On the downside, we all need to make inclusion part of our business to grow participation and enrich our businesses with diverse perspectives and opportunities for innovation. As an industry, if we’re not looking at how we can embrace and welcome a new generation of winter enthusiasts into our community, we are failing to grow participation and are missing out on enriching our businesses with diverse perspectives and opportunities for innovation.

But I’m excited about the groundswell of people getting outside to recreate. It started with bikes and then grew in other outdoor industry categories such as camping, fishing, hiking, RVing, skateboarding, surfing, and more. We now see this interest with snowshoeing, backcountry skiing/riding, winter hiking, fat biking, and Nordic. The opportunity is tremendous to welcome all these new participants with open arms, help educate them on proper safety protocols and keep them as lifelong participants in winter sports. We’re doing this through our Snowbound Festivals and online platform, and we look forward to connecting consumers with their favorite brands to learn about new products and where to purchase. Specialty retail will be more important than ever coming out of the pandemic, and we look forward to supporting the entire winter outdoor eco-system.

»Drew Saunders, Country Manager, Oberalp
2020 was an extraordinary year for Oberalp North America (Dynafit, Salewa, Pomoca, Wild Country, Evolv), with a real slowdown in the spring when the pandemic hit followed by a robust rebound in summer and fall/winter. Our business is in a strong position as we approach 2021, but we’re looking forward to a return to normalcy, at least in the second half of the year. We’re eager to travel domestically and to Canada to see our customers and travel internationally to visit our Italian headquarters and brand partners.

COVID brought a lot of suffering and sacrifice to our communities, which we are eager to put behind us. But it also brought some silver linings to our industry and business. The pandemic led people to go outside to recreate and highlighted to many new outdoor participants the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of outdoor recreation. The spike in participation in hiking, camping, and backcountry skiing had a substantial positive impact on our business and brands. Our goal as an industry and company is to make those participation changes permanent and keep those new customers going outside for a lifetime.
We do have a few concerns heading into 2021. One is for some retailers’ ability to weather the storm. Another regards the current U.S. trade environment and that punitive tariffs could spread from China to Vietnam as the latest target, negatively impacting our company, industry and customers.

But we’re also optimistic about the outlook of our brands and their position in the market. We’re encouraged by the sustainability actions happening within our company and the broader industry. And we are optimistic for new U.S. presidential leadership and what that could mean for progress on climate change, trade policy and public lands.