The Editors from SGB Executive present the third and final installment of SGB’s Annual Survey that gauges what the leaders in the active lifestyle market are projecting for 2022.
To read Part One click here and Part Two click here.
Divya Brown, President, Taxa Outdoors
As we enter 2022, we are encouraged and optimistic to see that the importance of time outside remains a strong priority for people. Two years after the beginning of the pandemic, we are still hearing consumers say they are reprioritizing what they want to spend their time and money on and the outdoors and family are at the top of that list. We believe this is not a trend but a shift in the consumer psyche that will not fade with pandemics. Among this reprioritization in priorities is the desire to connect and support brands that are creating sustainable products, reducing their impact and leading advocacy efforts to support and maintain the Great Outdoors. Taxa has been proud to always be Made in the USA and now, more than ever, we have moved all but a small percentage of our materials and components purchases to the U.S.
Matt Carlson, NSGA President & CEO, National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA)
Maintaining a positive outlook has been a challenge the last two years. The opportunity to visit with people in the industry at the NSGA Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit in September, the Nation’s Best Sports and Sports Inc., buying group shows in November, and the Outdoor Retailer event this January provide a great deal of inspiration going into 2022. There is an excitement and buzz surrounding the sports industry!
These events reaffirmed the need for in-person opportunities where retailers and dealers can have discussions with manufacturers about the issues our industry faces as we begin the new year. Leading issues include product availability related to ongoing supply chain issues, labor challenges, and inflationary pressures.
What is impressive is the resolve and resourcefulness of so many retailers and dealers to dig deep and find solutions for their customers with sports back in full swing. Relationship-building is so important to generate multiple options so athletes and teams have the apparel, equipment and shoes they need.
Affordability of products will continue to be an issue as costs for shipping and transporting goods increase. As Direct to Consumer strategies rise, retailers and dealers will be tested to find suppliers who want to work with them. An emphasis on collaboration and communication, so retailers and dealers can find a common ground with suppliers, will enhance the chances for everyone in the industry to succeed.
Flexibility, creativity, resourcefulness … all these concepts will serve us well as we embark upon what hopes to be a successful 2022. The new Olympic motto now reads in Latin “Citius, Altius, Fortius – Communiter” and “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together” in English. Let’s get at it, together.
Tom Cove, President & CEO, Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA)
For the sports and fitness industry, 2021 was always predicted to be transitional from 2020’s pandemic imposed disruptions, but the supply chain crisis thwarted our industry’s capability to reach a sustainable business planning track. It’s not normal to go from one “unprecedented crisis”, immediate suspension of all business activity and sports participation to another “unprecedented crisis” in the following year, and deep, cascading supply chain upheavals across the globe, yet we literally faced this situation. So, entering 2022, we are behind the curve in evolving from pandemic reaction to transition to longer-term strategic business execution that many of us hoped for, and expected to be, the norm in January 2022. At the same time, 2021 provided dramatic growth opportunities across team sports, athletic footwear, sports retail, and more that could be foundational for positive industry performance for 2022 and beyond. Participation and inclination to participate in physical activity are up across many categories. Product sales have been strong. Further, considering spring sports have not had an unhindered season for two years, there is good reason to predict a strong business here in 2022. Even with variant challenges, Americans have displayed inclination and commitment to get back on fields, courts and gyms as soon as they become available.
As a nation, we have an enhanced, fundamental awareness of the importance of physical activity to physical and mental health. People recognize the value and the need to get outdoors, to work out, to allow kids to play on teams, to use exercise to clear the mind. This is a tremendous pillar on which to build everything we do. But we also must be self-aware. Our industry has enjoyed the benefits of a national indulgence to “buy stuff” while the pandemic limited other discretionary choices. For the past two years, people could not spend time and money on other options like restaurants, movies, cruise ships—experiences. Our industry must not take for granted so many new and newly returning athletic participants. We have to deliver quality sports and fitness experiences that align with consumers’ post-pandemic values. If we simply assume all the new golfers, tennis players and runners are forever committed to participating without understanding how their lives may continue to change around them, we will hemorrhage one of the greatest opportunities the industry has been given.
Ryan Cruthirds, Chief Global Category & Brand Development Officer, Implus
We look back at 2021 with an appreciation for our industry, customers, employees, and suppliers’ ability to partner through a challenging environment. We entered 2022 with hope there was a new normal for the world, but reminded “normal” is an ever-changing concept that will take on new meaning in 2022.
We delivered strong results in 2021 with very good consumer demand in all four of our key businesses. We compete in markets that are large and growing, and we expect these underlying tailwinds to continue in 2022 as consumers continue to prioritize their physical and mental health in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 challenge. Consumers are leaning into the future, hungry for authentic engagement with the brands they choose to have in their lives. Digital engagement, brand storytelling and experiential retail will continue to drive behaviors and pay dividends for the committed and those who can execute. Cutting through the noise and holding the consumer’s attention will separate the long-term winners given the influx of attention and content in this space. Consumers will continue to expect more from the brands and companies they choose to spend their hard-earned monies with, an opportunity for the brands and companies who stand for something and are able to articulate it.
We do expect supply chain challenges, inflation pressures and COVID variants to be factors well into 2022. The challenges will place a premium on planning and strengthened partnership between customers and suppliers. We are laser-focused on securing supply in the face of COVID-19-compromised supply chain networks. Hoping for the best but planning for continued challenges right through the Holidays of 2022. The proactive, nimble and flexible will find opportunities in the face of 2022 challenges.
Tom Dempsey, Founder & CEO, SylvanSport
Like many outdoor lifestyle businesses, SylvanSport is entering 2022 with a significant backlog. I won’t mention the reasons because we all know and it’s 2022. This backlog will keep us busy for Q1 and Q2, and we are continuing to see strong demand as the year gets underway. As buying power continues to shift to Millennial and GenZ consumers, we are seeing their embrace of our products, which are perfectly suited to the emerging wants and needs.
Dave Dutch, CEO, OrderMyGear
In the world of e-commerce, supply chain issues will be top-of-mind for everyone. Finding vendors that can support specific needs in a timely manner will continue to be a challenge in our industry. Successful e-commerce businesses will be more thoughtful of the suppliers they partner with and will narrow product variations offered to better guarantee turn times and seamless fulfillment. This is also the perfect opportunity to revisit the drawing board, evaluate technology partner’s capabilities and focus on the operations and revenue side of the house. Weigh the pros and cons of these partnerships and whether or not their services will help you grow your business.
A new year also brings new opportunities to expand upon the success we’ve already witnessed, specifically the monumental shift to e-commerce. In the past, we stuck to what we knew because it was safe, especially during times of uncertainty. But, 2022 is all about change and stepping out of your comfort zone. Now is the time to diversify your customer base by servicing new markets. Active lifestyle distributors (Team dealers, promotional product distributors and apparel decorators) need to expand offerings and target industries they have historically not served. There is so much potential out there, and good fortune favors the bold. So, go get it!”
Graeme Esarey, Founder & CEO, Ignik
I think the fundamental concern for 2022 is the uncertainty that we are all dealing with. COVID does not seem willing to go quietly into the night and, once again, we are left wondering if industry gatherings are a good idea, if shared workspaces are safe and what the role of government should have in protecting public health. Sounds a little like Groundhog Day to me. All that uncertainty is amplified by the very tangible impacts of climate change. Fires in Boulder in December, unseasonably high temperatures in Alaska (it was a balmy 60 degrees in the Bering Sea over the holidays, unheard of!). All of this leaves us wondering how we will be impacted. Where is the next curveball going to come from? While the big uncertainties are daunting, there are still opportunities to make a difference if you have the curiosity to seek them out. And my message to the team this year is pretty simple—be curious and then make change happen where you can.
For me that means learning more about my carbon footprint, both as a human and as the head of Ignik. I expect we will learn a lot this year, and hopefully, we will have new ideas to share. Staying local, playing local, and shopping local also seems pretty important right now, and so we are focused on reducing waste in the backcountry, front country, trailgating, and in all the places we play. With that in mind, here’s an easy one: teach your kids how to dispose of hand warmers properly. Recycle what you can, compost what you can. Don’t leave them on the hill or in the parking lot.
Lawson Glidden, President, Minus33
Merino wool makes up a small percentage of the textile market as a whole, especially compared to petroleum-derived synthetic textiles, and that’s a good thing for us at Minus33 because it means we have enormous potential to grow with a natural, regenerative resource. And, obviously, that’s a good thing for everyone else, too.
Fine merino wool doesn’t come cheap, but more people are learning to love it. For some, it’s about realizing that merino wool is soft and comfortable, unlike those scratchy old sweaters you find in thrift stores. For others, it’s seeing the link between synthetic materials and oil dependence. But the masses are beginning to embrace this great regenerative resource, and it’s our mission at Minus33 to make wool an everyday material that everyone can afford.
Chris Ann Goddard, President, CGPR
Storytelling in the outdoor category will continue to be challenging in the coming year. Though outdoor industry and participation will be robust as consumers look to the outdoors for peace and solace, the media landscape will be especially challenging — here is why:
- Election year politics will start to consume everything
- Coronavirus will still dictate the headlines
- Media relations will continue to be central to all PR strategies, but brands will look to their own channels for storytelling
- Being able to change directions quickly and with elegance will still be a required skill
- Our jobs will continue to be one of the most demanding on the planet propelling the great resignation, the great escape and, as a result, the great PR reset
- A chaotic business environment will demand more from CEOs fostering quick decisions that might not be so fabulous, resulting in a steady stream of crisis management work
- The climate crisis is here to stay
- The social media world, which saw tremendous angst in 2021 between the Facebook scandals and a change in Twitter leadership, will continue to be priorities for assignment desks, with TikTok grabbing significant mindshare
- The news landscape will continue to be unforgiving
- The guts and authenticity of the story is still more important than who you know
- The evolving worlds of cannabis and NFTS will test our creativity
- Tradeshows and how best to approach them will challenge our resilience
- Patience, grace, indulging in the outdoors, self-care and knowing when to say no will be critical to peace of mind in a PR world that will continue to feel like standing in front of a tennis ball machine
- ESG and purpose driven brands will be stars
- BONUS PREDICTION: Wine is okay
Jim Heidenreich, CEO, Certor Sports (Adams USA, Hollywood Bases, ProGear, Schutt Sports, Tucci, Vicis)
Pent-up demand will lead to an incredibly strong year for team sports, particularly youth football after a down season in 2020 and shipment delays from manufacturers in 2021. Unfortunately, supply chain issues will continue to have an effect on the industry at large, from apparel and footwear to hard goods. Baseball and softball could be hit especially hard with the delivery of products for Spring looking more and more difficult for most vendors. To address these issues going into 2022, we’re working with our supply partners to stay ahead of what we expect to be a longer lead-time supply chain while hiring like crazy at our new global headquarters in Indiana and investing more heavily in e-commerce to build a direct relationship with our customers.
Rich Hill, Executive Director, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance (GOA)
It’s going to be a complicated time. In 2022, our retailers will be building off of two exceptional growth years, driven in part by a large consumer movement back towards independently-owned businesses. At the same time, retailers will need to continue to put an extraordinary effort into navigating the seemingly daily challenges put up by COVID, supply chain issue, and mid-season price adjustments.
The consumer response and the swing of the business pendulum since the beginning of the pandemic have been fascinating. We saw both a doubling down on local businesses and a surge of consumer experimentation with “shopping local from home” starting in March 2020. As we ease into 2022 with huge numbers of us still working from home, we’re going to continue to see people prioritizing their connections within their local communities and increasingly prioritize independently owned businesses—retailers, brewers, media, and more—that connect people to each other through expertise, culture and community. Not to mention the huge economic boost delivered by the growing “shop local” movement.
Brenda Isaac, VP, Marketing, Nite Ize
At Nite Ize, we are incredibly optimistic about the outlook for 2022. We continue to see growth and interest in our products and brand that is driven by sustained engagement in outdoor recreation, pet adoption, road trip adventures, and DIY projects around the home. While many of these interests are driven by pandemic-related safety measures, we believe that the introduction to our brand many experienced these last few years is just the beginning of a long-term relationship built on trust, loyalty and authority as a provider of solution-based products. From rechargeable LED lighting for 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, there’s a Nite Ize product for everyone.
We believe that e-commerce sales will continue to strengthen in 2022 as consumer buying behavior has taken a more permanent shift online during the pandemic; however, the return to a traditional in-store shopping experience also allows us to capitalize on our growing brand awareness and the impulsive nature of many of our products. With two product launches planned for the year and dozens of new products making their way to customers already, we are enthusiastic about the opportunities we have to grow our business in 2022.
Steve Lawrence, EVP & Chief Merchandising Officer, Academy Sports + Outdoors
We’re excited and optimistic for the year ahead. We believe 2022 will provide a number of opportunities for our business, as people want fun experiences with their families focused on health and wellness. The new year will allow customers to expand on their new hobbies, like camping, fishing and grilling. People are looking for experiences coupled with fun, which Academy Sports + Outdoors provides.
Academy already has growth opportunities and strategies in play to keep the momentum going in 2022. We plan to open 8-to-10 new stores, filling in key markets to reach our customers, and will continue to improve our supply chain. 2021 taught us to be flexible and resilient to overcome supply chain disruptions. Going forward, we will prioritize being nimble, including shipping bigger volumes and booking freight further in advance to increase inventory levels. We will also continue to focus on improving our omnichannel experience for our customers, giving them a fully connected experience that includes our app, storefront, curbside pickup, and BOPIS. In 2020, we first launched BOPIS in response to the pandemic. In 2021, we launched the new Academy Sports + Outdoors app. 2022 will allow us to leverage all these tools and meet our customer’s needs.
Chris Metz, CEO, Vista Outdoor, Inc.
We remain bullish about 2022 for the active lifestyle industry thanks to the ongoing demand for outdoor activities, our brands and the innovative products we are bringing to market. We now have 39 powerhouse brands across the outdoor recreation, action sports and shooting sports markets. Our most recent acquisition, Stone Glacier, has bolstered our company’s portfolio and provided us entry into the rapidly growing lightweight technical gear, camping and apparel categories. This latest deal, our seventh in the last 16 months, is further proof that Vista Outdoor is an acquirer of choice in the outdoor recreation industry. And as we look forward, we plan to leverage not only our supply chain strengths and distribution scale but also support an unrivaled focus on ensuring that brands stay true to their core while reaching new heights under the Vista banner. What’s more, we are thrilled to support industry nonprofits through the Vista Outdoor Foundation. Now in its second year, the Foundation will continue to provide financial assistance to organizations that promote outdoor access and inclusion across outdoor and shooting sports, welcoming more people into the activities we all love.
There are many external headwinds that all industries are experiencing, from ongoing COVID-19 surges to lingering supply chain congestion, but we are confident that Vista Outdoor’s centers of excellence, organizational scale and omnichannel strategy will help us to move forward in the face of these industry-wide factors being felt by all.
Peter Sachs, General Manager, Lowa Boots
All of the challenges we faced in 2021 are still present, except one. COVID variants and infections, supply chain, employee hiring and retention, travel, trade shows are all still suffering from now two years of challenges and threats. The one real difference is that we have a vaccine today which was just a year ago beginning to be distributed and while we have a long way to go, we do have 62 percent of the U.S. fully vaccinated. That gives some hope for the future, even as Omicron spreads like wildfire. That said, the outdoors will still be a safe place to spend time. Hiking, running, cycling, and so on will be primary recreation activities and thus demand should remain strong. Retailer inventories are still low which only serves to push demand.
At Lowa, we are fortunate that 25 years ago, we kept manufacturing in Europe and our supply has been disrupted but not locked down. We have been able to significantly deliver our orders. Many days it’s not perfect or pretty, but boots are getting out the door to retailers. Customers should know only that with all of these challenges, it’s really all about people, and our team will be busting their butt to confront these challenges.”
Dick Sullivan, CEO & President, PGA Tour Superstore
It is a great time to be a part of the golf industry, as the game continues its momentum. Total rounds from 2021 will exceed 2020 rounds by about five percent, which amounts to somewhere between 20-to-25 million additional rounds. The golf industry is changing, and PGA Tour Superstore is committed to feeding those shifts toward a more inclusive, social and approachable game. Growing interest from women, junior and beginner golfers will continue and we’re aligning our strategy accordingly while still focusing on our core avid golfer audience. More specifically:
- Women: Our Girls Got Drive movement is picking up steam, and we have multiple opportunities in-store throughout the year along with teaming up with organizations including She Who Golfs and Women On Course. In-store, women will find the largest collection of equipment and apparel, including golf athleisure as a reflection of their lifestyle both on and off-course.
- Juniors: Youth golfers make up 15 percent of golfers with the fastest-growing segment being junior women. We will continue our mission of community support through our First Tee partnership, including the PGATSS/First Tee Leadership Summit and awarding of scholarships for students’ continuing education.
- Beginners: Beyond finding the best on-course equipment from top manufacturers, our experiential environment allows in-store club fitting and expert lessons to ensure new golfers have a knowledge base before stepping onto the course.
This growth is bringing unprecedented interest to our business, with the opening of our 50th store in San Antonio, TX last month and at least six more store openings in new markets slated for 2022 bolstering our position as the largest golf specialty retailer. I would be remiss if I didn’t share how proud I am of our associates in the incredible results they have helped us achieve by overcoming challenges and barriers while focusing on building relationships with our customers. Simply remarkable what they accomplish year in and year out.
Richard Sullivan, President & CEO, Asics America
Despite all the challenges over the past two years, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Rooted in our founding ethos, “Sound Mind, Sound Body” we take tremendous pride in offering consumers products to help them remain active and healthy. Whether that is running, walking, playing tennis, or hiking, we know the positive impact sport can have on the mind and body. In November of 2021, we returned to Southern California to celebrate the in-person running of the 36th Los Angeles Marathon presented by Asics. After a year of virtual races, it was a truly uplifting experience to feel the positive energy from the runners, walkers, wheelchair athletes and volunteers. The demand for in-person racing is strong and we look forward to safely returning to Los Angeles this year, as well as celebrating runners at our other races across the country.
This summer, the running and track and field community will descend upon Eugene, OR as the World Athletic Championships make their debut in the United States. As an official partner of the Championships, we will activate on-site, through product collections and across our brand marketing channels. It is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the sport in the U.S., and we look forward to cheering on our athletes as they compete.
Like everybody else, we were not immune to production or shipping challenges over the past two years. However, we are incredibly proud of the resilience of our employees and their commitment to solving these rigorous tasks. We feel the strategic changes implemented have prepared us and our retail partners to achieve our goals.
Greg Wozer, VP, Leki USA
Leki is very positive about what’s to come for 2022 as we see enthusiastic new customers continue to enter both the ski and outdoor worlds. Even if the explosive interest in outdoor activities begins to taper, we don’t see this new customer group heading back indoors any time soon. In order to feed the resulting demand, we have benefited from owning and controlling our manufacturing in Europe. While we are concerned with the state of global transportation logistics and the inability to control the process, we are confident in our position as a reliable supplier to our dealers through 2022 and beyond.
Photo courtesy Stone Glacier/Vista Outdoor