The Editors from SGB Executive present the third and final installment of SGB’s Annual Outlook Survey exploring what leaders in the active lifestyle market are projecting for 2021.

Read Monday’s Part One coverage here and Tuesday’s Part Two coverage here.

»Lise Aangeenbrug, Executive Director, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA)
In the past year, Americans embraced the outdoors more than ever, discovering the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outside. Participation in outdoor activities like hiking, camping and fishing increased after COVID-19 reached our shores.

As we move into 2021, we are optimistic about what the year ahead could mean for the outdoor industry. President-elect Biden has expressed a deep interest in protecting public lands and waters, addressing climate change and prioritizing the outdoors in economic recovery efforts. Americans’ outdoor participation level clarifies to the incoming administration and Congress what a powerful partner the outdoor industry is for our nation’s economic recovery.

But, for the outdoor industry to remain a powerful economic force, outdoor spaces need to thrive. Protecting public lands and waters and combatting climate change requires cooperation from industry and lawmakers. The outdoor industry is aligned on incentivizing global carbon reductions, and Biden has signaled his willingness to work with industry partners to address climate change. Equally important is creating a stable, predictable trade environment, and we look forward to making this a reality.

To reach our conservation, outdoor recreation, climate, and trade goals, we must work in a bipartisan fashion. Last year, we helped in passing the Great American Outdoors Act by using the outdoor industry’s strength and approaching lawmakers from each party, and we will continue this approach in 2021.

Across the country, people are taking to the outdoors and rediscovering the importance of protecting public spaces through climate action and conservation efforts. We anticipate a fruitful partnership with the new administration and Congress and look forward to advancing policy to preserve and increase access to the outdoors for everyone, regardless of geography, income or prior experience.

»Gihan Amarasiriwardena, President, Ministry Of Supply
We think that agnostic of where people will work, comfort and performance beyond athleisure is a permanent expectation of apparel, something we’ve been working at the Ministry of Supply for nearly a decade.

In 2020, there were limited options—making do with sweatpants and dressier tees, and a handful of brands in the niche. Now there is nearly a full development and production cycle since the start of the pandemic. Anticipate in 2021 to see real solutions enter the market designed for this new work environment that juxtaposes looking sharp and functional—elasticated waistbands, sneaker-friendly pants and off-the-body fits. Sweats won’t be dead, but there will be better alternatives.

»Michael Andersen – Brand Engagement Manager, Snow Peak
Following an unprecedented year, I’m eager to feel the winds of change at our back. And despite the uncertainty that still abounds, I think that 2021 will be a year filled with growing optimism, hope and progress. While I have no doubt that new challenges will present themselves in the coming year, I believe the shared experience that the pandemic ushered in will lead to a new sense of hope and change for the better, not only in the outdoor industry but also throughout everyone’s collective journey towards the new normal, whatever that may be. Regardless, we hope to support our community and help them embrace the restorative nature of time spent outside with friends and family together.
»Terry Babilla, President, BSN Sports
2020 forced the Team Sports industry to quickly innovate and use digital technologies to create new, or modify existing, business processes to meet changing market conditions brought on by the pandemic. While we are still in the midst of COVID and its continued uncertainty as to when team sports will resume in full force with fans in the stands, 2021 will continue to be a year of innovation. This innovation will play out in a host of specific ways, and while I can’t speak for the industry as a whole, I do know that all of us at BSN SPORTS are relentlessly focused on forging connectivity with our customers and improving the customer experience in new and exciting ways.

Our focus will include strengthening our B2C capabilities as our customers are craving an “Amazon-like” ship-to-home experience with quick, effective, and transparent delivery. However, driving connection reaches beyond delivering sporting goods. We will also be aiming to drive our industry forward by providing our customers and prospects with new content and enhanced digital tools to keep them engaged – preparing them to quickly move forward when sports return in true form.

Although a clouded path lies ahead, the team sports industry has a lot to look forward to, including a successful distribution of the COVID vaccines which will help give way to incredible pent up demand from coaches and athletes to rejoin their teams on the court or field of play. I believe the outlook for the team sports industry is very positive in 2021 and beyond.

»Lawrence Berger, Chairman, FanzzLids and Partner, Ames Watson (on behalf of Lids)
A couple of years ago, Lids launched a strategy that was counter to what most brick and mortar retailers were doing. While most physical retailers were focused on Omni-channel and offering everything in store online, Lids decided that in addition to a deep online selection, our stores needed to provide a unique experience—offering product that can only be found in stores. Physical stores should have hot merchandise, interesting brands, exclusives which wow the customer. Even more importantly, stores should, on a monthly basis, offer new product so that each time a customer comes into the store they are intrigued. We believe this strategy is one reason we had a stronger than expected 2020 through the Covid crisis.

We are optimistic for 2021. We are hopeful with the roll out of the vaccine, that by the second half of the year all people will feel comfortable going to the mall and that we will again see crowds at sporting events. During the pandemic, hats and jerseys and team gear are not only comfortable but have become a way for people to express themselves on Zoom calls. We believe that as society opens up again, fans will want to go to games more than ever and express their loyalty.

We are looking forward to high-fiving and hugging strangers in the stands and tailgating just like everyone else is…..wearing a great new hat and jersey later this year.

»Jen Brummitt, CEO, Gazelle Sports
We are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead. 2020 brought more challenges and changes to the running industry than we could have imagined, but it also brought many lessons and new opportunities.

As we have all experienced, our customers have more ways to shop than ever before; this has allowed us to take a closer look at how we are messaging to our customers across our entire business and to make sure we are connecting, engaging and supporting our customers wherever they choose to shop or engage with us.

We will continue to make investments in people and systems to support our e-commerce business. But, at the same time, we know that small local business like ours matter, too, in communities, and we are committed to earning every visit by continually adapting and evolving our in-store experience; from how our stores look and feel to how we provide the best shoe fitting and share our expert knowledge.

We also see the necessity to help build a more inclusive running community, welcoming to all, new runners/walkers, BIPOC runners/walkers, those that are finding running again, and those who have been running for their entire lives—this requires intentional work and learning, but we are committed to doing our part.

»Erik Burbank, VP Keen Effect
We are optimistic. 2020 brought challenges on all levels, but it also enabled us to connect deeper with our community, our fans and with life outside. The industry as a whole is seeing increased participation from both existing and new groups. This is positive from both a business and environmental perspective. The more people experience the beauty and power of our outside places, the more likely they are to care for and defend them.

2020 also helped demonstrate the painful gaps in our society, and the need to address issues of diversity, inclusivity and access. We believe the outdoor industry has the opportunity to lead and be an example of what we hope to see in our communities and in the world.

2020 was a challenging year, and while we are very optimistic about 2021, we know that it will not be an easy year. We remain positive about our business and in the potential of people coming together to work through conflict in a peaceful way. We are heartened by the possibilities.

»Matt Carlson, President & CEO, National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA)
Looking forward, vaccine development and more effective treatment options for the COVID-19 pandemic are probably the brightest spots as we head into 2021. Those technologies complement trends toward healthier lifestyles. Growth in outdoor sports and activities, bikes and personal fitness equipment have been impressive. The participation trend will likely level off. The “big ticket” purchases may have already been made leading to ancillary items, footwear and apparel purchases. Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion is a pathway to growing our industry.

The year 2021 will bring a return to more team sports, but we should be somewhat concerned about an attitude of withdrawal. Parents might ask, “We got by without youth sports during the pandemic, do we really need them?” The answer is absolutely “yes” if you value the life lessons and family experiences youth sports delivers.

According to CNBC, household debt burdens are at their lowest level in decades, and household total checkable deposits are more than double what they were in 2017.  There is a lot of latent spending power in the economy right now. Despite the chaos in Washington, D.C., and the occupation of our nation’s capital, the stock market is at an all-time high. That could change tomorrow, but the markets seem to value the ability to quantify the known rather than risk the unknowns, even if that means getting comfortable with policies business owners might not otherwise support. The indices reflect wealth creation, access to capital to fuel economic activity and historically low interest rates. Those are all positive signs, yet … there is tremendous economic stress in many communities directly attributable to COVID-19. If you are unemployed, the unemployment rate is 100%. If your store closes, it is 100% closed.

Like many industries, ours continues to be affected by many great unknowns. Specific to ours, will suppliers continue to find their distribution partners valuable? Will sports participation positive trends continue? We don’t know for sure, but collaboration and communication between retailers/dealers and suppliers will increase the chances.

»Kristin Carpenter, Founder & CEO, Verde Communications
A silver lining to the dark cloud that is 2020 is the surge in outdoor recreation. Compared to last year, our data shows that day hiking rose by 8.4 percent (April to June), bike sales grew by 50 percent in Q3, and backcountry-related gear sales grew by 76 percent in the opening months of this year’s snow season (August through October). I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can say with some certainty that this shift to prioritizing a more healthy lifestyle will continue post-pandemic, which gives me optimism as we work toward recovery in 2021. But what concerns me most is making sure that we (brands, retailers and the outdoor industry) welcome new users. We’re accustomed to marketing to the elite athlete or user with aspirational content: alpine peaks, 5.14 climbs, big mountain skiing, and downhill biking. While there is still a place for this content, I urge the outdoor community to think about what messages and content will resonate with and welcome the new user. There is a tremendous opportunity to grow your community and revenue. That said, now is not the time to upsell or oversell; instead, it’s the time to establish trust and brand loyalty and step into their shoes. What do they need to enjoy their time and experience outside? If you can establish brand loyalty today, they will certainly come back when it’s time to upgrade.

»Rick Case, CEO & Founder, Nite Ize
While 2020 brought challenges, it also encouraged an entirely new audience to take advantage of the peace the outdoors brings. I anticipate the trend of people of all skill levels enjoying the outdoors in safe and socially-distanced ways will continue (from entry-level hiking to off-the-grid backpacking) particularly as they strive to meet their new year’s resolutions. People are opting for more road trip adventures leading to car and RV camping over plane travel and hotel stays, and creative ways to get fit around the house and in the neighborhood rather than going to the gym. At Nite Ize, we offer a variety of solution-based products to support all of these activities from rechargeable LED lighting to ensure personal and pet safety while walking, biking or spending time in the backcountry, to products that allow for quick access, protection and organization of gear and electronics while on the trail, in the RV or on a boat.

Consumers are looking for gear and other items that allow them to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities and stay safe while shopping. Given that, I anticipate online shopping will continue to remain a key part of the industry’s commerce, as well as curbside pickup from a local retailer. However they choose to find us, at Nite Ize, we remain committed to introducing inventor-driven products that creatively solve everyday problems and will debut new products through both a winter and summer launches in 2021.

»Anne Cavassa, President, Saucony
The turning of the calendar to a new year always feels like a pivot point in our journey, and this time more than ever, we need to look forward, not backward. In terms of outlook, we are benefiting from the rush of people looking for an outlet to exercise and escape the confines of self-isolation at home. We continue to experience unbelievable momentum with a new running boom that sees existing runners doubling down and new runners stepping up. Trail running is experiencing its own mini-boom as people are searching for serenity and fresh air, with all signs pointing to continued growth into 2021.

During what has been the most disruptive year we have ever seen, consumers really care about what their brands stand for, prioritizing brands that are authentic, honest and transparent. Brands need to put a stake in the ground and stand for something that consumers believe in, that engage with their hearts and minds, and that exist for a higher purpose. Our Run for Good platform couldn’t be more powerful and relevant than it is right now, delivering good performance through product innovation; good health through support of the whole runner; and good community through our commitment to building a greater good in the global running community.

Our product mission, to make runners better in a distinctly Saucony way, will only be successful if we leave a lighter footprint on our planet. When we innovate, we elevate, and we are committed to pursuing a decidedly more environmentally minded performance offering for the runner while driving meaningful change in the industry. We will be launching our first biodegradable shoe in early spring and nearly 100 percent of our Spring 2021 footwear and apparel line utilizes recycled materials or organic fibers.

Finally, as consumers have pivoted to e-commerce and elevated digital engagement, we have strengthened our omnichannel personalization, delivering a seamless and consistent customer journey full of goodness and joy — just what we all need as we run into the New Year.

»Chris Clearman, Founder & CEO, Matador Travel Equipment
We operate in both the travel and outdoor industries. The first quarter of 2021 will be challenging in both industries as the country continues to battle COVID-19. I expect sales in the outdoor vertical to improve in Q2 as the weather warms and people start getting outside again, but I don’t expect the same outdoor industry boom we saw in 2020 during the lockdowns. The travel industry will likely be stagnant to non-existent during Q1 and Q2 of 2021.

As vaccines roll out and we hit the peak summer season in Q3, I think we’ll see a vast improvement in travel and outdoor markets. Many people have flight vouchers and pent-up travel angst from previously canceled trips and months of lockdowns. This improvement should continue into Q4 when we see an unprecedented travel boom, especially during the holidays, which will hopefully correlate to a spending boom as well.

But the 2020/21 winter season is going to be very difficult for everyone. I’m concerned that many of our beloved independent retail shops may not be able to weather the storm long enough to make it out the other side without a new influx of financial support. On a positive note, the lockdown year has made the public realize how much they appreciate their standard freedom to explore. Brands and retailers who outlast these challenges will benefit immediately after and for years to come.

»Valeria Colturi, President & Founder, Crazy
Crazy is the European brand that first introduced the “fast and light” concept in clothing back in 1989. We will enter the North American market for the first time in Winter 2021, hence our perspective is not biased by what happened in the past. We believe that outdoor enthusiasts around the world share common traits.

Our brand is focused on ski touring, an activity that this year benefited from the closure of ski lifts. Many beginners approached uphill skiing for the first time,s while practitioners dedicated more of their free time to it. We are confident that these three factors will be increasingly important to determine the success of a brand: 1. Specialization; 2. Relationship with dealers; 3. The “reason why” of a brand and its positioning on the market.

Crazy addresses each of these aspects with clarity. We are focused on ski touring when we started in this field in 1989, and when we invented the Skimo suit.

The future is simple. It will shine for those companies or dealers that will have the courage to focus and stand out from the crowd, and communicating clearly why their product provides unique answers to specific needs.

»Tom Cove, President & CEO, Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA)
One thing we all want in 2021 is a return to some normalcy, but I don’t think that means a return to everything the way it was. The pandemic and economic disruption accelerated many market changes that were already trending, such as consumer reliance on e-commerce, digital connectivity and active lifestyle choices. These trends are foundational at this point and will continue to drive our industry. Simultaneously, some segments that boomed during the pandemic will need to manage the growth of new participants. There will have to be a concerted effort to retain participants who will have broader choices in the post-pandemic world in sports like golf and tennis. The key is to deliver a quality experience to the participant.

We also see a slow but strong return to segments that were negatively affected. Team sports will benefit from significant pent up demand, where athlete registrations will be robust as COVID-19 infection rates decrease, and state regulations are loosened. Elite teams and well-established clubs will be leaders here, but the focus will likely be on more local play and competitions (versus full-scale travel) for the first several months of 2021.

We see pent-up demand as universal, but supply may be complicated because park and recreation programs will likely take longer to come back because established teams have good organization, communication and financial capabilities that will give families confidence and ready access to fields and other resources. Players and families new to a league or sports may take more time to plan for sports and fitness commitments.

Opening schools will be a critical factor for communities as a signal that returning to sports is workable. SFIA remains concerned about the local park and recreation departments and school systems not having resources to deliver the full set of sports and outdoor and fitness opportunities because of the tremendous financial pressures municipalities may face from increased pandemic expenses and declining tax revenues.

Similarly, we see Americans returning to fitness clubs as they re-open. There will undoubtedly be a smaller number of fitness facilities across the country as so many clubs had to shutter—many will not return. But the fitness club consumer will return even if he/she invested in home fitness equipment during the pandemic because of the variety of equipment options, group class offerings and overall social desirability of fitness clubs.

»Andrew Day, VP & GM, Sierra Designs
Like everyone else, 2020 was not what we envisioned. We headed into the year with a solid plan to expand our reach to a broader and more diverse customer, and we met those goals, not in a world that we could begin to imagine 12 months ago.

Heading into 2021, we expect that at least the first half (and probably longer) will continue to be dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, how quickly vaccines get to the general population and how that dictates consumer activity in the near term. In the last nine months, we saw a large influx of new consumers getting engaged in the outdoors, and we are optimistic that the trend will continue through the coming summer. With vacations typically planned months in advance, consumers will plan cautiously, and close to home adventures will continue to be a preference versus out of state or international travel. It will be interesting to watch how airlines, hotels and travel outfits react and if they lure customers back with killer last-minute travel deals.

As a collective, we need to make sure our new customers feel welcome, encouraged to remain engaged in the outdoors, and further explore. We need to make sure we are lowering the barrier to entry by making products accessible and affordable to those just beginning to explore and to support them as they take the next steps toward becoming enthusiasts.

The devil’s advocate in me worries about our industry supply chain. The boom has created a race to refill inventories that are creating a backlog and lengthening lead times. Keeping products available through the summer will be difficult, and I hope we don’t lose our new customers because of empty shelves. Additionally, tariffs, which were a dominant theme before the pandemic, have not gone away and will keep prices high on some products for the near future.

»Graeme Esarey, Founder & President, Ignik Outdoors
The short term industry outlook is better than we have any right to expect. People are forced outside year-round, and that is driving sales, even driving hiring for us and for many companies.

On the flipside, COVID is a dampener on the supply chain and a pain from the global impacts is real. But it also forces change and for Ignik, we are trying to think more about keeping things local where we can—from design to prototyping to assembly through the supply chain to delivery. What can we do close to home? Where are the inefficiencies? Where is the carbon cost? We don’t have all the answers yet, but lockdowns are a great time for introspection. I would bet that our industry comes out of this with a lot of momentum and good ideas about new ways to succeed post-COVID.”

»John Gaither, VP Product, Feetures
2020 was undoubtedly a roller coaster year for all of us. Our business almost came to a halt when our retail partners across the globe shut down last March. However, our digital business took off and helped sustain us while retailers remained closed. When stores opened back up, we experienced a strong demand for our products as consumers sought outdoor activities like running and walking that was safe and socially distanced. We are carrying that momentum into 2021, despite the uncertainty that still exists related to the pandemic.

We are hopeful that the vaccination rollout will pave the way for retail to bounce back as circumstances start to improve. At the same time, we expect our digital business to remain strong and expect it to fuel much of our growth this year. We expect to continue seeing strong demand for active lifestyle products and therefore are optimistic about our brand’s opportunities in 2021. The Feetures team will continue to focus on making products that help people perform at their best, and we believe that message will continue to resonate in the current environment.

»Chris Goddard, President, CGPR
The outdoor industry is not only having a fashion moment; the industry is having a full-blown love affair with consumers in general, seeking solace and comfort, not to mention the added health benefits. It is no secret that the world changed last year for the outdoor industry. Yet, the outdoor experience was the first “politically correct” social distancing activity. With the world experiencing a new surge of COVID cases and cold weather sets in, consumers will do whatever they can do to continue embracing the outdoor experiences that they have come to know and love and stay outside as long as they can. That is why we see fire pits, puffy coats and cold weather boots and accessories having their moment, too. Also, winter resorts are doing what they can to ensure safe outdoor experiences by implementing social distancing measures for skiing and riding devotees.

The recent Bureau of Economic Analysis confirmed the industry’s staying power: $788 billion in output, 2.1 percent of U.S. GDP and supporting 5.2 million jobs.

Despite the unpredictable news cycle, interest in outdoor activities and brands is soaring from a media landscape. We see traditional brands attracting attention and entry-level brands that serve the newcomers to the outdoor arena front and center. News coverage provides a service to these new consumers by providing best practices and guidance that is straightforward, accessible and easy to understand.

During the last year, the outdoor market served and welcomed a wider audience because of the global desire for sanity, comfort, and peace. In 2021, there is no other industry that can provide the endorphins from a simple walk in the woods or a bike ride next to your favorite beach and, dare we dream of saying, a glimmer of hope.

»Kris Hartner, Owner, Naperville Running Company
Our biggest hope for 2021 is that our employees can start to see some light at the end of the tunnel relative to making their day-to-day more enjoyable—normal. While the year was financially brutal for everyone in the specialty retail business, it was especially tough on our frontline workers. Retail is hard enough.

Our key focus for change in 2021 and beyond is diversity, equity and inclusion. We’re proud to be among the first stores to join the Running Industry Diversity Coalition. We have already taken action in many areas but still have a long way to go. We are holding ourselves to this commitment as a permanent foundation and core value of our business.

»Ken Hicks, Chairman, President & CEO, Academy Sports + Outdoors
Retailers will continue to adapt to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as it relates to how customers want to shop. At Academy, we have positioned our stores as delivery points that can directly fulfill online orders with existing store inventory and through our new capability of Ship to Store. This allows customers to order from an even broader assortment using BOPIS or curbside pickup. While e-commerce continues to increase as a way to shop, more than 95% of our 2020 Q3 sales involved our stores, proving the storefront will remain an important part of the shopping experience.  In 2021, we will continue to see innovation from brick-and-mortar stores as retailers create safe, convenient, and efficient ways to get products into shoppers’ hands.

Looking specifically at the 2021 outlook for the sporting goods and outdoors industry, we have seen that many customers participated in more outdoor activities, like fishing and camping, during the pandemic. We believe that if just 20-30% of those customers stick with their new hobbies into the new year, we will continue to generate good business.  We also have to remain focused on ensuring our stock levels meet customer expectations.

»Drew Keegan, President, Industrial Revolution
Like many outdoor gear companies, Industrial Revolution experienced record demand in 2020, and we’ve used the challenges that come with that to improve our internal processes and increase our focus on creating a positive customer experience.

We’re very optimistic that the growth in outdoor recreation will continue in 2021 and that people will continue to seek time in the outdoors even while the vaccines help return some normalcy to our lives. All of us in the outdoor industry know how being outside improves and grounds our lives, especially when enjoying it with friends and family. So, we’re excited to see how all the new faces continue their journey into the outdoor lifestyle and how we can better serve this new, more diverse group of people participating.

We also see the results of climate change in the severity of storms and wildfires over the last few years, so we continue to provide products that help keep consumers safe in emergencies, and we’re putting even more focus on increasing the sustainability of our products to protect our environment. Our UCO brand has had a mission to make durable, long-lasting products for the outdoors for nearly 50 years. And while a long-lasting product is a sustainable product, we recognize the need to understand further our impact on the environment and the options we have to do better. 2021 will see a big push from many companies thinking about sustainability in their products and packaging, and we’ll be introducing a new recycled version of our UCO Ware mess kits and redesigned packaging that uses less material and allows for better freight density in shipping.

Lastly, we’re hopeful that 2021 will bring positive changes to the tariff situation and trade in general with a new administration in the White House, and we look forward to a recovery in the economy that lowers unemployment and puts more money in people’s pockets.

»Joe Kudla, Founder & CEO, Vuori
The activewear industry is growing at an incredible rate, and new consumer behaviors would suggest that the market will continue on this trajectory. As we look to the year ahead, e-commerce will continue to be the most critical channel for our business. With lockdowns, travel restrictions and retail closures still prevalent, consumers were forced to be online, so we have to meet them where they are. That means a shift in priorities and messaging to align with how consumers are living their lives.

In 2021, we’ll also see continued investment in richer, more personalized experiences, as humanizing one’s brand also aids in customer retention, which is now going to be a top priority as acquisition costs rise. At Vuori, we’re focusing more on our web and mobile experiences and conveying those messages that are resonating right now. We’re also learning, finding our voice and connecting with customers authentically. Whether we’re dealing with a pandemic or life as it resumes to some form of normalcy, we’re going to march in the direction of innovation. We have a lot on our tech road map that we’ll continue with to bring a better experience to our customers. The digital space and social media will remain a focus for the industry and us as we strive to engage with our customers in unique ways. It’s important that brands are just thinking on their toes. As we know, everybody’s lives got thrown upside down last year. So the ability to pivot and adapt quickly is crucial.

»Dennis Leedom, Founder & Enthusiast, Bern Helmets
After a challenging year, there was one silver lining of 2020, and that was that people are looking for new ways to connect with the great outdoors. As a result, we are optimistic that 2021 will result in even more people partaking in outdoor activities. The events of 2020 have now been the catalyst for both new and existing outdoor enthusiasts to continue to seek new gear and advanced resources that our industry now offers. Now, more than ever, we are thankful to be part of this industry, and at Bern, we continue to strive to improve protection, comfort and style so we can all Stay Out There.

»Brent Leffel, Executive Chairman, TRX; Co-managing Partner, Equity38
The fitness industry experienced a rapid acceleration of the “workout from home” trend in 2020 as consumers were forced to figure out how to exercise remotely. While I do not have data to support this, I believe consumer demand for fitness increased in 2020. The entire fitness eco-system will benefit from this tailwind, which should continue for the foreseeable future. This includes traditional gym operators, digital fitness providers and importantly, trainers and coaches who are the nucleus of fitness.

Trainers and coaches have always been the heart and soul of TRX, and they are the nucleus of the fitness ecosystem. 2020 was incredibly disruptive for this vital group of fitness professionals as they had to adapt and, in many cases, learn to perform their craft virtually.

In 2021, TRX will launch its virtual fitness platform for the 300K+ TRX fitness professionals worldwide looking to build their training business and reach consumers effectively and efficiently. We’re excited about the power of virtual training, where a great fitness experience is available anywhere there is an internet connection. The TRX Suspension Training system’s versatility and portability are available to support trainers and consumers to experience a total-body workout from the convenience of their homes or wherever they might be.

At TRX, our mission is to democratize world-class training, and we believe the growth of fitness and the effectiveness of virtual training will make fitness and wellness more accessible than ever before. Our outlook for 2021 is positive, and we’re excited to support our consumers, trainers and commercial partners around the world in the ever-changing fitness landscape.

»Mel Mogil, President & CEO, California Innovations and Arctic Zone
In 2021, we will continue operating in ways that enabled us to weather the storm during 2020. Today’s consumer deserves products that perform well and offer significant value. We provide these attributes in high performance, feature laden coolers and lunch bags that are attractively priced. This value is what differentiates our products from others in our space.  Imperatives we expect to drive our success in 2021 include our attention to consumer concerns for food safety as many of our products have Microban antimicrobial technology infused into the lining which works continuously to provide protection against bacterial odors and stains.

As we saw in 2020, more consumers are getting outdoors whether for day trips or multiday excursions. This trend is expected to stay strong throughout 2021. As a result, we anticipate solid sales of coolers during the spring, summer and into early fall (and hopefully a return to tailgating!) while lunch bags should enjoy a sales bump as kids go to camp, for back to school and for commuters opting to bring lunches prepared at home to avoid food courts and restaurants . All of these trends leave us optimistic for the coming year.

On a personal company note, we were surprised at how well our staff adapted to working from home and how easy it was to continue to interact with distributors, retailers and other business partners also working virtually. Our staff has remained safe and enjoyed a balanced lifestyle while our travel expenses and the related environmental impact were reduced.

It’s certainly a new world we’re living in, one we see as offering as many opportunities as challenges for industry players who continue to adapt to the new reality and always put consumers first.

»Kelly Nester, CEO, Nester Hosiery
2020 was challenging, but the circumstances resulted in more people getting outside, trying new activities and being introduced to high-quality gear from the outdoor community. As a result, I am very optimistic, even bullish, that the outdoor industry can harness this newfound appetite for the outdoors and bring even more people into our community; however, this does not come with concerns for 2021 in terms of the pandemic and presidential transition with hope for bi-partisan cooperation.

»Curt Nichols, Founder, Glade
Our industry outlook for 2021 is bullish. We’re seeing unprecedented demand for our equipment, including goggles, helmets and sunglasses, thanks to tailwinds from growing e-commerce penetration and increasing consumer interest in outdoor activities. Skiers, snowboarders and other mountain athletes seek out brands that they can relate to, brands with a voice, face and consistent point of view. We believe that the outdoor industry’s future belongs to brands that can tell compelling, unique stories and build loyal audiences around this content—and we’re adjusting our marketing plan to reflect this.

Our concerns lie mainly in areas outside of our control, such as COVID-related ski resort closures. But we don’t believe this to be a major concern as most resorts have figured out ways to create a socially distanced ski experience.

»Steve Lesnard, Global VP Marketing and Product, The North Face
Heading into 2021, we expect to see people adventuring closer to home, driving a revival of local parks and backyard trails. We’re specifically anticipating a continued spike in hiking and trail running, which is now the fourth most-popular outdoor activity in the U.S., according to The Outdoor Foundation’s 2018 Outdoor Participation Report. With upward trends in trail activity, we’re bringing even more functional, stylish and practical gear to help folks get and stay outside longer.

Another interesting trend we’re predicting is the transition from road running to trail running. Road running has long been a default outdoor sport for many people, and as road runners look for more socially distanced activities, we expect to see natural growth in trail running. In anticipation and response to the increased interest in hiking and trail running, we see an incredible opportunity to bring a revolutionary trail running and hiking product to the market.

After two years of heavy investment in R&D, more than 6,000 miles of athlete testing and proven on-trail success, we’re introducing a new footwear technology in Spring 2021 called VECTIV, an athlete tested, lab proven technology system designed to maximize energy on the trail by converting downward force into forward momentum to save energy and propel you ahead.

»Sarah Palmer, Co-founder & Creative Director, Branwyn
I think we can all agree that 2020 was a year that none of us expected. It came with a lot of loss, pain, fear, and sadness, and forced us to pivot and reevaluate how we do business. However, despite 2020 being extremely difficult, it also shined a spotlight on some of our society’s and our industry’s shadows that have been swept under the rug. I am optimistic that 2021 will be the beginning of long-lasting change and generative ways of doing business in both the fitness and outdoor space and greater retail landscape.

I think we will continue to see a focus on women in the athletic and outdoor space and the rise of a “by women, for women” design mentality, so that women’s products are no longer merely “shrinked and pinked” versions of men’s products or subject to a Pink Tax. I am also optimistic that we will continue to see better BIPOC and LGTBQ+ representation that goes beyond “meeting a quota” for a marketing campaign, as well as a concerted effort to examine our unconscious biases within the industry and how we do business. Finally, I am optimistic that more brands will move beyond greenwashing, holding themselves accountable for their impact on both the environment and people.

»Joe Peters, Marketing Director, Vasque
We believe that the year ahead is an exciting one. The pandemic has motivated people to adopt healthier habits, hopefully, ones that include spending more time outside. Because of this, we anticipate there will be a new wave of consumers that might not have discovered the wholistic benefits of time spent in the outdoors, alongside the more traditional, existing outdoor consumer segment continuing their exploration. There is an important balance that needs to be struck between scaling the use cases for the products used to get outside, which I’m excited to see from all brands within our industry.

»Nate Pund, Managing Director, Houlihan Lokey
I believe 2021 will be a banner year for M&A, far surpassing the strong market and the large number of deals that took place in 2020. I advised on eight deals in 2020 and never thought that would have happened given the pandemic and other market concerns. I believe several factors will contribute to an even stronger year of deal-making in the new year.

While I believe there is, unfortunately, still a lot of pain and suffering to come, having the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” thanks to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is promising in resolving the pandemic soon, which gives people hope and a greater sense of control and predictability in both their work and personal lives. By having confidence in your environment, consumers are more comfortable making purchasing decisions. Add to that confidence a strong capital market, a very low-interest-rate environment, and a resurgence in outdoor activities means the outdoor and active lifestyle industry should continue to grow and excel. Investors—be it strategic or financial—will continue to see the merits of investing in the sector. 

»Luke Rowe, Senior Vice President, CEP Compression Sportswear
For a brand that has always been heavily based in the specialty run channel, 2020 forced us to mature as a brand more quickly as specialty run shops implemented required changes to protect staff and customers from the pandemic, which benefited footwear sales, but hammered at the once robust essentials product sales. Like all brands, we accelerated our focus on our e-commerce business and our website with great success, but we also looked for new partners whom we felt could represent and sell our brand in other specialty channels and explored opportunities to expand our portfolio to create more sales opportunities.

I see fall 2021 as the earliest opportunity for our core specialty business to rebound. We will be ready because as difficult as 2020 has been, we are in a stronger position today than we were 12 months ago thanks to being a part of a much larger medical compression brand (medi), which gave us financial stability along with our new successes in the outdoor, ski and team channels. So, we approach 2021 with optimism, and we know we are prepared. I hope all brands took advantage of what 2020 gave us.

»Richard Sullivan, President & COO, Asics North America
For over 70 years, Asics has been a performance brand. This company was founded in post war Japan by Kihachiro Onitsuka who believed that movement was a means to build health and happiness in both mind and body – Sound Mind, Sound Body has always believed in the positive impact of sport and movement on the mind. At our core, this is what guides us from product innovations based on human-centric science to charitable partnerships, this philosophy continues to ring true in every aspect of the brand today.

As we look to the year ahead, we continue to focus on supporting our employees, customers and partners in the best ways possible. This past year challenged all of us to engage with our consumers and partners through new avenues and further showed the importance of a strong digital presence. In the U.S., Asics saw triple-digit growth across our owned e-commerce channels (Q2/Q3) as well as strong growth from our key partner channels. We are thrilled to see people remain active safely during the pandemic and have seen an increase in consumers returning or entering into running, walking, hiking and tennis.

We conducted research globally during the pandemic that found 81 percent of respondents said running is playing a key role in helping them clear their mind. We’ve seen a 252 percent year-on-year increase in accounts registered globally on Asics’ Runkeeper app and a 62 percent spike in the number of people going out for a weekly run. As that pertains to our business, particularly in our run specialty channel, among those who only took up running after the COVID-19 crisis started, nearly two-thirds say they plan on sticking with it in the future.

We hope to see consumers continue the trend of spending more time on the roads, track and trails. We have several exciting new innovative footwear models coming in 2021 and will be there to serve the community.  

Photo courtesy Becofit