SGB reached out to key leaders in the Active Lifestyle space to share their outlook for 2023. In this final installment, a series of responses gauge what they see for the year ahead.
The first installment can be read here, the second here and the third here.
President & CEO, Amphipod Running Gear
The pandemic and resulting market and operational impacts indicate that the future will not look like the past normal. Shifting mindset and resources in the company from ‘mitigating the interim’ to design to the future has allowed us to tack even more quickly and take advantage of current and future growth opportunities.
We are very optimistic about the 2023 industry and company trajectory given the increase running, walking, fitness and outdoor adventure participation, and Amphipod’s legacy of proprietary engineered product innovation with the extentionability of extensive IP. The S’23 line with 18 new styles includes the Run to Pub Collection™, Ultralight Trail Series™, and Chiller™ Hydration embracing the gear needs of new, and die-hard road and trail runners.
On the retail front, we’ve seen accelerated interest in closer collaboration and partnership by specialty retailers as they seek to align more closely with authentic specialized brands that offer enhanced customer value through things like elevated product quality, comfort and functionality, along with quick shipping and reliable in-season availability.
President & CEO, NSGA
One of the biggest post-pandemic success stories for NSGA retail and team dealer members is record-setting sales. It proved how important sports continue to be to so many people as we begin 2023. This is a huge industry with many different components, reflecting regional differences, environmental differences and cultural differences. At the same time, sports builds and connects communities and the neighbors who live there. They bind us in ways that many other activities do not. But this is no time for complacency because there are still many challenges ahead. While inflation has started to slow a bit, many economic experts foresee a recession this year. There has been a belief that sports are recession, and inflation, proof, but the industry can’t just fall back on an automatic expectation that parents, for example, will be able to make sacrifices for their kids to play sports.
The demand for products will continue to require creativity and a willingness to adjust. Dealers and retailers must impress upon their schools and customers that reverting to old habits and waiting until the last minute to place orders is not viable because we have seen supply chain problems and product availability issues continue. This also emphasizes the importance of dealers and retailers having a wide variety of product options and making sure they offer solutions to their customers. Service, selection and communication are more important than ever for dealers and retailers to succeed in 2023 and beyond. Those who are best in these areas, practice a customer-centered approach, and exhibit service leadership qualities will continue to forge a successful path.
President & CEO, SFIA
Moving into 2023, we see the industry fundamentally strong but buffeted by lingering winds of inventory management, inflation pressures and a potential recession. More than anything, the first part of the year is likely to be driven by caution, as our brands and retailers continue to deal with uncertain business conditions. Sports participation indicators continue to bode well, led by pickleball and yoga but also strengthened by sustained higher rates in golf, tennis, and walking. Team sports continue to build back from pandemic dips. SFIA data is showing 6-to-12-year participation rates at historically high levels. Important will be to provide quality experiences to new and newly returning participants to lock them in as committed core enthusiasts.
Founder & CEO, Lacrosse Unlimited
We’re coming off a year where there was a first safety standard mandate which required all players in men’s lacrosse to purchase new shoulder protection, so we will see some challenges comping that category, but we are very optimistic about the sport for 2023 and beyond. New leadership at USA Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body, has been making impactful changes to grow the game. Additionally, the push for Lacrosse to become an Olympic sport in 2028 has created a new energetic buzz about the sport, and the new version of the game dubbed “sixes” has been a great addition to how the game is being played. Sprinkle in the growth and success of the PLL and Athlete’s Unlimited professional leagues for men’s and women’s lacrosse and you have a recipe for Lacrosse to continue to garner solid participation growth. This growth is bringing steady interest to our e-commerce, team sales and retail channels as we open our 50th store this spring in Bronxville, NY with at least six more store openings in new markets slated for 2023/24 bolstering our position as the largest specialty lacrosse retailer. All things being said, I do believe our success last season and our optimistic views for 2023 are the results of our incredible team of talented people from the management team down to our store operators that have helped us overcome challenges while focusing on building relationships with our customers.
Managing Partner, Kent Outdoors
One thing history has shown time and time again is that when there’s uncertainty in the world, American consumers will choose to spend more of their time doing what they love outdoors and enjoying time with friends and family in and on America’s waterways, mountains, national parks and bike trails.
President, Ashworth Golf
The golf industry continues to grow post-pandemic; however, the golf apparel landscape is at a level of complacency and sameness. The pandemic compounded this issue due to logistic issues and other challenges. This impacted innovation in the apparel industry. There is a lot of sameness being offered in golf apparel. So, the question is, how do you stand out? How do you make your brand different and more desirable than the competition? In addition to being an original golf and lifestyle brand, Ashworth has addressed this challenge with a fabric innovation-first mindset. There is room for more types of fabrics than the current and saturated 100 percent poly options. There need to be more highly technical, hybrid and performance options for golfers. There is a lot of opportunity to not only be different but to be better and that is what Ashworth is bringing to golf for 2023. Another point of differentiation for Ashworth is its complete focus on the golf industry and golf lifestyle. The brand is not focused on other sports and lifestyle extensions. Ashworth is purely committed to golf and golfers, from weekend players to tour players. This is exemplified by the style, fabrication and offering for 2023 as well as having tour players Fred Couples and Tom Hoge wearing Ashworth.
As pioneers of the Active Recovery Footwear category, we are seeing the space gain solid traction, and Oofos enters 2023 with tremendous momentum. We have heard from retailers that the market is lacking new, innovative products and, for many, OOFOS is one of the brands that is providing that newness and innovation. As challenging as the marketplace has been, we are bullish about our outlook for 2023, which will include the launch of a new silhouette, the Oofos OOmg Sport later this spring.
CEO Christy Sports
We are cautiously optimistic about the 2022/23 winter season and wildly optimistic about the next season and beyond. Snow sports enjoyed a great surge in popularity and participation in the last couple of years. We are going through an economic cycle that points to some slowdown this season. But the midterm trends for the industry are encouraging, including how young snow sports demographics have become with industry research indicating that 62 percent of a record number of participants are under the age of 34. This, plus focused industry-wide efforts to make snow sports accessible to a more diverse cross-section of our communities and continued industry marketing innovation to elevate consumer experience, provide exciting go-forward opportunities.
We expect to see consumers focus more on the products and categories which they need in order to participate in snow sports, such as hard goods, including skis, snowboards, boots and bindings, and accessories, including helmets, goggles, gloves, and base layers. Also, early season demand and the outlook for gear rentals in this economic environment are positive. However, I think the categories, which will be under pressure this season, are those that consumers perceive as a “want” versus a “need”. That includes apparel, which consumers tend to use last year’s ski wear instead of repurchasing if and when they’re concerned about discretionary spending.
Focusing on organic growth and a steady cadence of acquisitions, Christy Sports is excited about 2023. While we have grown financially, what’s more important to us is how this growth benefits our customers with a better and bigger network of locations everywhere you ski and ride in the Rockies and beyond, and online touch points. And how growth provides more career and development opportunities for our passionate and loyal employees. Finally, we are able to do more to help grow the sports we love, give back to our communities and develop sustainability programs.
President, Schoeller North America
Heading into 2023 we are cautiously optimistic that we will continue to have good demand across all categories we participate in. There has been some resetting, with brands running fewer colorways and some pulling back on special projects; however, the core business continues to be healthy and growing.
With all the supply chain pain of 2022, there was a lot of learning but deeper partnerships were formed, and ultimately a better, more efficient planning process put in place through closer and more frequent customer communications. Early in 2022, we invested in even more production capacity due to the ongoing demand we’ve been experiencing, which will be up and running later this year and will be a great help. While previously it seemed several lifetimes away, the recent regulation changes have made eliminating forever chemistry, e.g., PFOA, a more urgent priority for all apparel brands for 2023, so that is a discussion topic we have several times a week. We are lucky in that we have offered commercialized products in this space for over a decade.
The effects and costs of an almost-year-old war in Europe will continue to be a factor in 2023. While some rates have moderated around energy, it is still not being reflected at the industrial and consumer level. Even with this reality, we see more brands of all sizes and categories utilizing production in Europe and even North America over Asia. Brand stores will continue to be relevant and essential, as more consumers look for in-person experiences and destination interest points.
Overall, I see 2023 as remaining an exciting time for the industry, and we’re grateful for the vast array of brands we’re able to call partners.
Owner, Fleet Feet Maine Running
2023 will bring about new challenges due to the economic climate with higher inflation, interest rates, etc…uncertainty with marketplace high inventory levels and the continuing need to invest in employees, to make them feel valued while managing growing expenses.
We experienced 10 percent growth, but with higher inflation, the growth was an organic 4 percent. Several brands indicated they will have to work through higher inventory levels throughout 2023, so MAP pricing will be volatile and customers will have off-price opportunities, which will present margin pressures for many retailers. With the supply chain issues a year ago, many retailers were forced to carry up to 120-plus days of on-hand inventory, with franchise products. We don’t see that being the case in 2023 and did a good job aligning our inventory levels by year-end. However, COVID and new variants could disrupt the supply chain again, and we have to be ready to adjust, if necessary.
We will continue to invest more in employee benefits, education, recruiting, and a better life/work balance to reward and retain high-performing employees. Continuing to enhance the in-store experience by evolving and speeding up our customer checkout process is probably another in-store experience enhancement, and that is something that is being tested and worked on.
I don’t know if we will ever get back to pre-COVID race participation, so we are looking at new ways to reach our customers with google ads, social media and targeted medical community outreach. Customers have so many options to procure products, and we have to elevate, provide a positive and personal connection to our brand, that gives customers a reason to come into our stores and keep coming back.
Coming off of consecutive years of positive growth and increases in participation across key demographics, the winter outdoor community has a lot to look forward to in the coming year, but we also need to be hyper-vigilant regarding key indicators that are impacting our livelihood. More than ever, winter outdoor brands are going to have to support, learn and engage with one another to address the current climate crisis. Europe is experiencing an unprecedented season in which a lack of snow is forcing resort closures, and we’re experiencing it here in the Northeast. It’s a problem that needs continued resources and support for the livelihood of all winter snowsports. We’re also anticipating some lingering effects from the pandemic and the recent economic slowdown, which is forcing brands to take a closer look at market volatility and instability. Yet while consumer spending is in the midst of a downturn, opportunities in product resale are presenting as great options for consumers. It ultimately comes down to recognizing that for the foreseeable future, the consumer is king, and the increased need to understand the needs of the consumer and look at ways to expand the consumer base.
Executive Director, Running Industry Association (RIA)
With another year of growth in the books, the outlook for the run specialty retail channel looks bright for 2023. Sales in the channel have been stimulated by high consumer demand for running products, as well as brands and retailers using data improved business decisions, and digital tools to better connect with running customers. The ‘back-room’ tools that have come into wide use have also been instrumental, and the RIA will continue to support that trend with initiatives that provide data-driven business connections between brands and retailers. Our partnership with Upper Quadrant and their UQ Cadence tool will assist retailers and brands with key insights into the metrics that will drive higher profitability. In addition, we’re extremely excited about the democratized product data project we are looking to launch in 2023. The RIA Product Data Collaborative, as we’re calling it, will provide a centralized repository for brand product data, making it much easier for retailers to manage product data, and creating transactional efficiency that will boost sales.
Sheila Shekar Polla
Chief Brand Experience Officer, Orvis
Macro headwinds that brands faced in late 2022 will continue into 2023. With inflation and predictions of a recession, consumers are going to be more selective with their discretionary income and choose brands that provide meaningful experiences and value to their lives. We’ve continued to see consumers look to the outdoors as a place of adventure, well-being and connection. We’re energized to focus on the things we can control in 2023 and where we know our values align with customers—showing up in our commitment to a sustainable natural world, introducing the next generation to the wonders of nature through fly fishing and other outdoor activities through our free fly fishing classes and community activities, and being the trusted guide for travelers looking to pause and recharge in the outdoors.
President, PGA TOUR Superstore
The face of golf continues to evolve with millennials being the fastest-growing participant segment and women representing 40 percent of beginner golfers. Also notable, last year, off-course play surpassed on-course participation for the first time. Meaning people are enjoying golf in different ways and that is a good thing for the entire industry. PGA TOUR Superstore is geared-up for the modern and casual direction for golf, and we are equipped to reach all levels of golfers – call us golf’s happy place.
One thing that has not changed is our commitment to serving our customers. We have invested millions of dollars in our Service offerings with the implementation of our white-glove fitting experience, PGA TOUR Superstore STUDIO across our portfolio and the opening of our Training Performance Center. At the same time, we expanded our brick-and-mortar footprint into all new markets in 2022, ending the year with 58 stores.
Heading into this year, we expect the golf industry and our business to continue to grow steadily. For us that means continued expansion across the US in markets including Boise, Raleigh, Oklahoma City, among many others and investing in our eCommerce business, while never losing sight that we are in the relationship business, not the transaction business.
President & CEO, Asics America
As we begin the year 2023, we are optimistic about the renewed enthusiasm for sport whether it be an individual sport like running, on the court with tennis and pickleball or a team sport like volleyball. For Asics, at the forefront, this year is a celebration we are calling the ‘Year of the Legend,’ where we will anniversary some of our pinnacle running shoe models—the Gel-Nimbus, Gel-Cumulus and Gel-Kayano. 2023 will also be a pivotal year in terms of activations and initiatives hosted in collaboration with our valued partners across the sports of running, volleyball, wrestling, and more. Specifically, we look forward to bringing the Asics experience to consumers at events like the LA Marathon, Show Me Qualifier and Beat the Streets Nationals Duals. Globally, our team hopes to build upon the successes of last summer’s World Athletics Championships when the athletics community converges on Hungary this coming August for WCH Budapest 2023. Lastly, as a brand founded on the concept that sport can inspire and uplift communities, our core philosophy of “Sound Mind, Sound Body” will continue to be an ethos that we champion for everyday life.