The small gathering of people who cobbled together for Julia Clark Day’s semi-annual sales data presentation and analysis at the Outdoor Retailer show probably said much more about the OR Show itself than Day’s presentation or the growth and energy in the outdoor market and the broader active lifestyle business in general.

Julia Day and Matt Powell, her former data partner-in-crime, had grown accustomed to SRO crowds gathering in a large hall representing a strong cross-section of the overall outdoor industry. From retail and brand CEOs to mid-level management and sales, marketing and product executives, the audience would line up an hour in advance to learn from the woman who has been the outdoor industry sage since her time at Leisure Trends Group.

Day, now working for Circana, the research firm created with the merger of NPD and IRI, kept it professional despite her meager surroundings and played to the small crowd that was there, leaving everyone with a few nuggets of fact, figures and wisdom to take back to the office or on the road.

Day presented data that showed sales in the outdoor industry were down 1 percent in dollar terms year-over-year (YoY) to $27.8 billion in the 12-month period ended September 2023. Unit sales were said to be down 4 percent for the period. Average selling prices were reportedly up 3 percent for the 12-month period, due primarily to inflationary pressures rather than the trade-up to better goods and innovation as in the past.

  • Outdoor Apparel grew 1 percent to $16.1 billion
  • Outdoor Footwear declined 2.5 percent to $5.1 billion
  • Outdoor Equipment fell 10 percent to $5.2 billion
  • Accessories were up 5 percent to $1.4 billion

According to the Circana data, Apparel represented 58 percent of total outdoor industry volume for the 12-month period ended September 30, while Equipment comprised 19 percent of volume, and Footwear generated another 18 percent of sales during the period. Accessories reportedly made up the balance of the business at 5 percent.

  • Outdoor Apparel saw growth (+2 percent) in the Athletic Specialty Sporting Goods (ASSG) and Outdoor Specialty (+1 percent) channels, but also saw a 4 percent decline in the Specialty E-Commerce business.
  • The Outdoor Footwear business took the biggest percentage hit in the Specialty E-Commerce channel, with a decline of 13 percent YoY. ASSG channel sales were down 2 percent. Outdoor Specialty was the lone positive for the period, growing 7 percent YoY.
  • The double-digit decline in the Outdoor Equipment business came at the expense of the Outdoor Specialty and Specialty E-Commerce channels, which were down 13 percent and 18 percent, respectively. The Athletic Specialty Sporting Goods channel reportedly posted a 6 percent decline in Outdoor Equipment sales during the period, according to the Circana data.
  • Outdoor Accessories sales were fueled by 11 percent growth in the Outdoor Specialty channel, followed by a 3 percent in the ASSG channel and 2 percent growth in the Specialty E-Commerce channel.

The overall Sports Industry business, which also includes athletic footwear, athletic gear, fitness gear, and activewear sales in addition to the outdoor business, reportedly declined 5 percent versus the prior-year corresponding period.

Circana provided rolling 12-month data through July 2023 for the following:

  • Activewear declined 3 percent to $37.2 billion
  • Athletic footwear was flat at $25.9 billion
  • Outdoor Sports Equipment declined 7 percent to $11.2 billion
  • Team sports equipment grew 7 percent to $11.6 billion
  • Cycling fell 14 percent $6.7 billion
  • Health and fitness fell 21 percent $2.4 billion
  • Fishing equipment was flat at $3.9 billion.

The rapid expansion of the Insulated Bottles/Tumblers category was highlighted, and a boon for brands like Stanley and GCI Outdoor but a challenge to others, Private Label was shown to be the largest brand in this business but also showed a 7 percent decline year-over-year through July 2023. Circana reported that Stanley posted 527 percent growth in the category, thanks to its Quencher bottle. On the other hand, Hydro Flask was shown to post a 20 percent decline in the category for the period despite 6 percent growth in ASPs.

Many would argue that this drinkware category, which posted 71.5 percent growth YoY, is seen less as an outdoor-specific or active lifestyle-specific category and is more generally sold as a homegoods or lifestyle business and is, therefore, less indicative of outdoor industry trends, a point Day may have made while mentioning Stanley’s growth was fueled by fashion, celebrities and social media.

On the other hand, categories that posted some of the biggest increases during the pandemic are now experiencing the biggest declines as bicycles, kayaks and other high-ticket experiential purchases that drove outdoor and bike specialty growth in 2020 and 2021 give way to spending on travel experiences and less “stuff.”

Day pointed out that new items accounted for just 2 percent of sales this past summer, down 300 basis points from the 5 percent pre-pandemic level.

Based on the year-to-date results at retail for the publicly traded companies, inventory is still an issue clogging the supply chain and may be impacting innovation and newness. With the amount of older excess inventories rumored to be sitting in warehouses and shipping containers in parking lots, many expect that it will be the back half of 2024 before the market sees the freshness it came to expect in the cornerstone of innovation in the active lifestyle market.

In recapping the 2022/23 snow sports season, measured August through March, and looking ahead to the current season, Circana noted that Snow Sports sales in the 2022/23 season were flat to the prior-year season at $10.4 billion, but up 28 percent when compared to the 2019/20 pre-pandemic season. For the 2022/23 season, the U.S. snow sports industry saw unit sales decline 2 percent but maintained the flat performance in U.S. dollar sales with 2 percent ASP growth.

Apparel was said to be up 1 percent to $6 billion in the Snow Sports retail business last season, while Equipment was down 1 percent to $3 billion, Footwear declined 12 percent to $353 million, and Accessories dipped 1 percent to $295 million for the season.

The Snow Specialty channel reportedly grew 3 percent YoY to $4.86 billion last season but jumped 42 percent from the pre-pandemic season in 2019/20. Snow Chains represented $4.16 billion of the total business last season, according to Circana, and Snow Internet was $1.36 billion in sales last season, falling 9 percent from the prior-year corresponding season.

Photo courtesy Julia Clark Day