The Editors from SGB Executive present the second installment of SGB’s Annual Survey that gauges what the active lifestyle market leaders are projecting for the coming year.

Read Monday’s Part One coverage here and Wednesday’s Part Three coverage here.

»Tom Dempsey, Founder and CEO, SylvanSport
At SylvanSport, we believe that the intense interest in camping and outdoor excursions will carry over from 2020, but to a lessening extent. Outdoor vacations will continue to be popular, but we expect to see consumer purchases normalize as we approach mid-2021. As COVID vaccinations quell the surge in the virus spreading, there will be pent up demand for more traditional vacation experiences. Our VAST travel trailer line crosses over from outdoor to luxury experience quite nicely.

»Julien Durant, Co-Founder, Picture Organic
Our industry is suffering from the consequences of the crisis linked to ski resorts’ closure in Europe and COVID-19-related restrictions limiting North American traffic. As a result, retailers who bought products aren’t selling the expected stock. So we have a problem with less traffic equals less sales, less sales equal less cash flow, less cash flow equals payment issues for suppliers.

The industry now faces a reality that 10-to-15 percent of retailers are dealing with bankruptcy risk. If we lose them, it means the share of the pie is shrinking. So, we potentially have less room to make our figures and the market will start to shrink from its previous steady growth.

Being headquartered in France, we’re fortunate to benefit from loans guaranteed by the state and can finance cash flow management shortfalls. What makes us optimistic is that by next year, this health crisis should be over. So, we should return to traditional patterns. People are so eager to live again — to get out of their homes, to live outdoor adventures, to go skiing, to go to the mountains — and that’s a good point.
Another positive, we’ve learned that we can manage the carbon footprint of countries and manufacturers. Even though the GDP has shrunk, we’ve also shrunk the planetary carbon footprint considerably. We have to keep this point in mind — to stop saying, “we can’t,” because we can, through restructuring and change. While it was forced upon us because of the pandemic, it’s now up to us to find solutions to carry out the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees by 2050.

»Dave Dutch, CEO, OrderMyGear
Heading into 2020, we predicted that active lifestyle distributors (team dealers, promotional product distributors and apparel decorators) would embrace technology to keep pace with ‘big eCommerce’. That most definitely happened though little did we know that a global pandemic would force the issue. Without question, it forced these businesses to focus on eCommerce as a primary sales channel. Those who had already adopted this approach were thankful they did, and those who hadn’t quickly jumped onboard. We have been impressed with these distributors’ resiliency and how well they’ve been able to weather the storm by adopting eCommerce platforms and web-based sales tools.

Consumer demand was subdued this past year, particularly due to K-12 sports and collegiate athletics restrictions, but we see demand coming back throughout the year. Club and travel leagues had a successful year as many parents made sure their kids had an opportunity to participate in sports. Many of our clients and brand partners predict pent-up demand from consumers will drive their business as the world begins to open back up. Though there is the promise that the clouds will part in 2021, we expect the first half of the year to continue to challenge distributors. Retail will lag, and eCommerce growth will continue to accelerate.

We expect brands will continue to re-evaluate their business models and go-to-market approach. Most had been in crisis management for much of 2020, consolidating operations and limiting new investments other than technology and go-to-market. Some will opt to focus on direct-to-consumer channel investment, but most will continue to embrace and invest in the distributors who hold the key relationship with their end consumers.

We believe 2021 will be the first year that distributors and brands will embrace an ‘eCommerce first’ approach for their business. Silver linings from 2020 are tough to find, but our belief is this monumental shift to eCommerce is one of them.

»Bill Gamber, President/Co-founder, Big Agnes
We’re optimistic that the current high demand for camping gear will continue through 2021 and beyond. Our gear sales and data from various sources show that more people than ever experienced camping and outdoor recreation on our public lands in 2020. We expect that they’ll continue to get after it. We support efforts like #recreateresponsibly and Leave No Trace’s principles designed to help educate backcountry users on sound practices to minimize their impacts.

»John Gage, Co-founder, Appalachian Gear Company
The previous year has taught us that plans and strategy are good, but flexibility and creativity are better. It should go without saying that paying close attention to your market during challenging circumstances is critical.

We feel that general market uncertainty will continue through early 2021 as the election season’s stress lingers, and the public is waiting to see what happens with the new administration. That uncertainty will be fueled by anticipation when most Americans will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine and the vaccine’s success rate. As springtime nears, we also feel that there will be a palpable wave of consumers shaking-off 2020 and concentrating on getting their personal lives and businesses back on track. We think this will create a significant opportunity for smaller businesses to grow. Smaller businesses had to become leaner and more flexible instantly during 2020 to survive, whereas it was much harder for larger companies to adapt as quickly. As a result, those strategies adopted by smaller businesses will enable them to answer market opportunities faster.

In summary, we feel that 2021 will be tailor-made for smaller USA-based businesses to make a strong comeback and create concrete well-paying jobs in more positive team environments and tailor-made for consumers who are looking for companies who care and who are trying to listen to them rather than trying to grow for the sake of growth.

»Rich Hill, President, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance (GOA)
The overall takeaway is that 2020 significantly widened the gap between winners and losers. Indeed, some businesses are way up, but there are just as many that are way down. As an industry, we’d be well-served to think about self-care as we’re wounded. We all have friends who have lost jobs and neighbors who are struggling. Even shops that are navigating ahead of last year are tired, edgy and worn out. They’re profoundly disconnected as well, as we’re on track for two years of remote buying. Adoption of innovation is slowing down, as retailers are forced to play it safe. Shared experience and education are also down.

One of the biggest keys for moving forward as an industry will be realistic, thoughtful forecasting, as we need to rein in the over-exuberance for those that had great financial success this year and lift the prospects for stores that are understandably overly pessimistic after a tough year.

»Jeff Mechura, President/CEO, Elan USA
The outlook on the industry is continually evolving, balanced by both caution and optimism. Late spring 2020 started as questionable, which then turned to cautious optimism after seeing a robust outdoor summer business, which has since turned to optimistic as the winter season has begun in earnest.

I think we all share the same concern of the unknown as the season progresses with the uncertainly that the situation can change in an instant, and we’ll need to pivot again and quickly. If there can be a silver lining, and if things hold as they are today, one is the sheer volume of people wanting to spend time in the outdoors, which has brought new customers into wintersports who would have had more opportunities to do other things in previous seasons. Additionally, skiers will want to elongate the season to its maximum timeline, and if resorts can follow that trend, it will translate into steady retail well into the spring, when traditionally, the season starts wrapping up in early March.

»Joe Pellegrini, Managing Director, Co-head Consumer and Retail Group, Robert W. Baird & Co.
Throughout history, after a global crisis, a new era of thinking unfolds. The pandemic has upended experiences and how people go about life, including how and where they work, play, learn, connect, and shop, blurring previously distinct boundaries. These changes impact many of the things that we did before 2020 and how we are now doing in different ways, in different places and with (and without) different people.

Almost overnight, vast numbers of people started living very differently, which changed their opportunities to discover new things, including ways to experience their life and attain personal objectives. Similarly, a brand-new set of challenges has emerged for businesses, forcing them to adapt from an operational and communication perspective. Companies must now question everything about their operations, what they know about their customers, and how much their customers know about them. Importantly, they will need to innovate and seek new ways to interact with people from a distance and offer them experiences that appeal to their unique circumstances. As we look to the future, we anticipate a wealth of business models will emerge that will successfully deliver a new generation of experiences in this new social and spatial context.

»Simon Perkins, President, Orvis
2020 produced many humbling and tragic moments, but it also shed light on the impact the natural world has on our health, well-being and desire to live inspired lives in the outdoors. The outdoor industry saw a large influx of new participants, including increases in fishing and hunting. While many companies benefited, smaller businesses like our outfitter, independent guide and lodge partners also faced unprecedented challenges. These businesses are critical to our industry, and we will continue to work closely with them in 2021 as they work to re-establish their footing after a year unlike any other.

In a year marked by polarization, we saw our collective fishing, hunting and outdoor communities unite on issues fundamental to our outdoor pursuits’ future health. We signed the Angling For All Pledge and are committed to a future where fly fishing is more inclusive and equitable. This work has just begun, and we have more to do in 2021 and beyond to ensure a healthier, more diverse fly-fishing community, creating pathways for new generations of conservationists, and ultimately a better world.

With more people embracing the outdoors, our continued responsibility is to engage and educate on the importance of healthy ecosystems. Whether it’s restoring a massive watershed like Florida’s Everglades or protecting the local stream down the road, advocating for what we love is core to who we are as a company and the future of our industry and the natural world.

»Nate Simmons, President, Backbone Media
The events of 2020 caused fundamental changes in behavior that will reverberate long beyond vaccinations and the return to normalcy. Consumers made shifts toward the activities, lifestyles and values our industry has always represented — the healing powers of the great outdoors and time in nature. Mountain towns and beach communities have run out of housing inventory as urban refugees seek more open space and social distancing. Many of these people are never going back to life in the city and now have empty garages and weekends to fill with equipment and new activities. At Backbone, we believe this trend will take years to unwind, creating a lasting tailwind for our industry. Remote workers will remain scattered and closer to their passions. Direct-to-consumer sales will continue to scale from a new higher plane, but we also see real upside for service-oriented specialty retail as new consumers need more handholding than ever. The transition won’t be all gravy, however. New participants will drive higher mortality rates in activities with managed risk like backcountry skiing or whitewater paddling. There will be more traffic on the trails, a trend we saw all summer on our local Aspen-area trails. On the flip side, we hope these consumers will also learn to love public lands and the value of open space and become more fervent advocates for the environment. Overall, we see tremendous growth opportunities for our industry for years to come.

»Mike Zlaket, President and CEO, Rawlings Sporting Goods
We are cautiously optimistic about 2021. Hopefully, the worst is behind us in terms of the pandemic, but if the macro environment cooperates, we believe there is a lot of pent up baseball and softball demand, and we look forward to a solid year.

We believe our recent acquisition of Easton Diamond Sports puts us in an excellent position to provide players of all ages in baseball and softball with an exceptional assortment of products. Rarely have two companies been combined with Rawlings and Easton’s track record and heritage, and we look forward to providing customers with the best in innovation and service.