As SGB observed in its 2024 Look Ahead for the broader Active Lifestyle market, 2023 was a year that, perhaps, is best left behind for most retailers, brands and reps in the outdoor space, with many planning to focus on a year of renewal as the market clears inventory, inflation moderates further and younger consumers continue to invest in experiences in the new year.
In SGB‘s broader market outlook, many market watchers said they expect the long tail of the pandemic, post-pandemic inflationary pressures, increased labor and manufacturing costs, and inventory issues in 2023 to see some resolution in 2024. Still, most with a sharp eye on the retail sector and the financial markets that support it appear to be looking toward the second half of 2024 before inventories are right-sized and order books begin to normalize again somewhat if a recession does not scuttle those plans.
SGB Executive reached out to a range of key leaders in the outdoor active lifestyle space before the end of 2023 to get their perspectives on individual or corporate views for 2024. The responses below come from outdoor industry leaders with their fingers on the pulse of the market and the consumers. Unique to this group versus the broader active lifestyle market is the focus on sustainability, responsible sourcing, new technologies focused on renewable and reusable components and textiles, and the looming impact of new rules governing the use of PFAS and its effects on the market.
Appalachian Gear Company
John Gage, Co-Founder
There is a good deal of uncertainty with the 2024 economic outlook, but the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) found that outdoor recreation accounted for $1.1 trillion in gross economic output, 2.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and supported 5 million jobs across the United States in 2022. The U.S. outdoor economy continues to be strong, and it has shown a significant amount of resilience during numerous economic downturns, and we feel that resilience will continue.
In our opinion, though, it’s not enough to just be an outdoor brand. The outdoor consumer is consistently at the forefront of important issues, and sustainable products and processes will continue to be a primary consumer focus, along with innovation. Consumers have access to much more information now and are not swayed by the extensive level of greenwashing that also seems to be ramping up as sustainability gains more attention. Very simply, we feel that 2024 will be the year brands focusing on innovation and sustainability will start showing major gains in market share.
Duane Primozich, CEO
It’s been quite a journey for the outdoor industry recently, with ups and downs like a roller coaster ride. Yet, as we move forward, there’s a growing stability and a renewed longing amongst people to reconnect with the great outdoors. The pandemic brought an unprecedented surge in camping and nature activities, followed by challenges like supply chain disruptions. Now, as these issues are largely resolved, we’re entering a period of exciting possibilities.
Looking at 2024, it’s shaping up to be an interesting year. With student loan payments resuming, a pivotal election on the horizon, and potential economic challenges, many might seek affordable, accessible ways to unwind. This scenario presents a unique opportunity for the outdoor industry to attract those seeking cost-effective escapes and nurture an intimate and enduring relationship with nature. Amongst the pandemic-era enthusiasts, many were first-timers or occasional adventurers. We need to reignite their interest and transform it into a lasting love for outdoor pursuits. Our goal is to help fan those flames of passion for the outdoors. We aim to not just attract but deeply engage the new wave of nature enthusiasts back to the backcountry.
Deanne Buck, President
“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? There’s a great future in…” Over 50 years ago, in the iconic scene in “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire uttered the word “Plastics” to Benjamin Braddock. Since then, we have fulfilled that prophecy in imagined and unimaginable ways. Plastic is ubiquitous in our everyday life. It forms the basis of most of our performance clothing and outdoor gear. Unfortunately, it is also in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. It is polluting our oceans, our mountains, and our land.
In the 2024 remake of The Graduate, “Just one word” is Regeneration. Not because there is a great future in it but because it is the only way we will have a future.
The Outdoor Industry has been at the leading edge of conservation and sustainability, setting innovation and thought-leadership standards for other industries. We will build on this commitment by making strides in re-configuring how we make products and do business. We will grapple with foundational questions around new business models and practices prioritizing reuse, natural fibers, eliminating microplastics, and longer production timelines.
2024 will be a year of underground seismic activity. When a farmer transitions to organic after years of conventional agriculture, it takes a community, holding steadfast to a long-term vision, making short and near-term sacrifices, and rewarding new behaviors. To the outside observer, it will look as though we are losing ground because we are putting in the hard work to redefine what true innovation means. We are setting the stage for holistic sustainability of our industry, our planet, and our products.
Pete Maule, EVP & General Manager
I believe the industry will continue to experience macroeconomic headwinds, with retailers focusing on inventory reduction. We have seen increased demand for product development and innovation, and Dakine has spent the past several years working on new category buildouts that will hit the market in 2024. We have secured some exciting new partnerships that will bring technical innovation to market in line with Dakine’s trusted and authentic positioning. Aside from the category whitespace developments underway, we are particularly excited about the brand’s opportunities in new geographic territories around the world. Despite the difficult economic challenges ahead, we believe the work we have put in over the past few years will position us well for growth in 2024.
Matt Andrews, VP, Sales
The outdoor industry is beginning to “right-size” itself after the pandemic surge we all witnessed the past few years. 2023 saw challenges in weather, economic uncertainty and inflation pressures on everyone’s bottom line. Next year, we’ll continue to see conservative buying with flat to moderate growth. Retailers are hesitant to over commit after being burned by excess inventory during the pandemic and are less confident the outdoor customer will be coming through their doors. For manufacturers, we’ll be keeping a close eye on inventory and focusing on being nimble to meet the consumer demand when it comes.
Eva Karlsson, CEO
Will 2024 be the year when the outdoor sector pivots towards sustainable practices and leaves fashion behind? Having just returned from ISPO Munich, where we saw clear indications of brands phasing out PFAS, initiatives to go circular, and the European Outdoor Group discussing serious routes towards carbon neutrality, we are hopeful. It would make total sense for outdoor to take a leading position in the transition towards business practices that respect, protect and restore nature. Our work towards business within Planetary Boundaries will serve well as a blueprint for how that can be done while at the same time elevating the brand and product proposition.
Peter Sachs, General Manager
2024 will be a challenging year in outdoor. The market has contracted from the Covid bubble, although participation remains high. The looming PFAS legislation in five states, which everyone I speak to agrees, is both the right thing and too short of a window for the supply chain to develop new components and products and bring them to market while allowing merchandise to sell through at normal sales rates and margins. Thus, there will be significant markdowns and closeouts at both the wholesale and retail level, which may be good news for consumers. We have an election year, likely to be contentious, two wars, a migrant crisis on the southern border and in large cities, none of which is good news. Retailers and brands with a plan will come out of all this in decent shape. Retailers and brands without a plan will not. Finally, we no longer have a viable all-industry gathering where we can come together to support each other, learn from each other, be inspired by each other and find ways to move forward together.
Eoin Comerford, CEO, Moosejaw and VP, Dick’s Sporting Goods
I hope that 2024 is the year that the outdoor industry starts to make meaningful progress on diversity, equity and inclusion. Over the last few years, the industry has recognized the need to improve and has made progress through concerted efforts in everything from community outreach to representative marketing. Leaders from brands, retailers and outdoor organizations came together to launch the Outdoor Diversity Alliance in October 2023 and support an ongoing, coordinated, industrywide approach. A number of key brands and retailers have already joined the ODA and will be participating in the first ODA Summit in March 2024. Hopefully, together, we can make a difference.
Chris McKleroy, Founder & CEO
Since the spring of 2020, participation in outdoor activities has experienced a remarkable surge, particularly a more diverse, younger enthusiast persona. Despite the challenges posed by supply chain disruptions, inflation concerns and the looming threats of recession, Nocs has stood resilient in offering affordable, high-quality optics and accessories. The fluctuating economic landscape may have caused some hesitancy, but companies armed with strong brands, high-value product offerings and adept cash flow management are poised for sustained growth into 2024.
As the outdoor sports industry navigates the ups and downs, the momentum generated by the influx of participants remains a driving force. This surge in interest in outdoor pursuits is not merely a passing trend but what we see as a lasting shift in consumer behavior. This positive trend reflects a growing recognition within the outdoor sports industry of the importance of making recreational activities more accessible to a wider demographic. The industry must not lose its footing in its commitment to building a more diverse and engaged community of outdoor enthusiasts. Nocs is committed to breaking down barriers and fostering a love for nature and exploration among people from all walks of life.
Drew Saunders, General Manager
At The Oberalp Group and our brands (Dynafit, Salewa, Pomoca, Wild Country, and Evolv), we take a long-term view towards the market and growing our brands and business. We anticipate that the short-term challenges that the industry and our product categories faced in 2023—a post-COVID pullback in demand, excess inventory in the market, a highly promotional environment, and retailers with distressed financial positions—will continue into 2024. But we see pockets of opportunity, such as the growth of climbing gyms and the ongoing expansion of uphill skiing at ski resorts and expect that the environment will improve as we work through the year. We also believe that the categories that we support—climbing and backcountry skiing at the core, as well as hiking and running more broadly—will continue to grow over time. And having brands with a strong winter business good snow always helps!
Outdoor Industry Association (OIA)
Kent Ebersole, President
We look ahead to another great year advocating for the outdoors and ensuring the $1.1 trillion outdoor recreation economy is protected and its businesses and community members are well represented across the country. It may be a new year, but we are starting right where we left off—advocating for a federal outdoor recreation package and renewing key trade priorities in Congress. We look forward to working with Congress to advance historic outdoor bills like America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA) in the U.S. Senate and the Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act in the U.S. House. These proposals are designed to sustain the great outdoors and increase access to public lands and waterways for all Americans—regardless of zip code. We will also urge Congress to support the renewal of two key trade programs that expired in 2020: the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and Miscellaneous Tariff Bills (MTBs). Inaction on these programs has significantly limited our members’ ability to do what they do best—create U.S. jobs and develop new, innovative outdoor products. These initiatives have the potential to strengthen our economy and reinforce our mission to become the first climate-positive industry by 2030.
Sean Smith, Show Director
The outdoor industry has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, as witnessed by the recent report calculating the economic output of outdoor recreation at $1.1 trillion. That growth has also accelerated through roller coaster economic times. For big brands, it’s made it difficult to plan and predict. For smaller brands, it’s created pathways to emerge into the marketplace. So, 2024 is shaping up to provide opportunities for the outdoor industry to look at the big picture and get back to core business. Companies will make their brand identity and sales targets clearer. In-person retail sales will be critical to success. And the innovation that has always propelled the outdoor industry will remain invaluable.
Brand storytelling is also becoming more necessary to business. The outdoor consumer is seeking innovation, sustainability and inclusivity and will shop with brands they trust. Brands embracing this authentic identity will survive and compete, and new brands will continue to break into the industry with these values.
At Outdoor Retailer, we’re making sure brands and retailers of all sizes have space to share their stories, make the right retail connections and cultivate the business that will propel their own growth in the industry.
Rab and Lowe Alpine
Ross Herr, VP Sales
Our outlook for 2024 at Rab continues to be optimistic. As we sunset in 2023 the economy has shown signs of resilience despite this year’s macroeconomic challenges. We believe consumers will continue to be selective with their discretionary spending and choose brands with a focus on quality and connection. The excess inventory at vendors and retailers will continue to be a challenge in early 2024 but Rab is steadfast in its commitment to wholesale, maintaining its MAP policy and managing our inventory with a long-term view. Over the course of 2023, we’ve reorganized our U.S. leadership and are energized around building for future seasons. We’ve placed a special emphasis on deepening our CSR commitment, normalizing our supply chain and a product direction that we’ve identified as the “Rab Sweet Spot” where we continue to drive value for our customers in a technically proficient package. We continue to see our retailers resonate with an authentic commitment to partnership and a mutual effort to build our business in a more normal environment in 2024, without the pandemic-related spikes.
Josh Weichhand, VP, Global Brand Marketing
In 2024, the travel and hospitality industries will boom as more millennials and Gen Z consumers wrestle with the cost of housing, foregoing home ownership in favor of experiences. Consumers will spend more on travel than the previous pre-pandemic high, but traveling will be more costly, uncomfortable, and exhausting than ever, creating opportunities for adjacent brands and products that can improve the experience. An election year and climate change will forecast doom and gloom for consumer sentiment but will create openings for brands and products that serve a broader utility for preparation and emergencies. The dust will settle after recent mergers and acquisitions in specialty retail, and for a moment those retailers will recede to reorganize before coming back stronger and healthier in 2025. Sporting goods chains that went hard after outdoor consumers during the pandemic will begin to unwind those assortments and refocus on products consumers already demand. Independent outdoor specialty will reassert itself as the industry’s experts in education and regional pursuits while reclaiming its role as an early adopter of new brands and products, and curators of the best (not the most) gear.
Snowsports Industries America (SIA)
Nick Sargent, President
In 2024, the winter outdoor industry stands at a pivotal juncture but is poised to flourish through enhanced community engagement, collaboration and collective innovation. Recognizing the imperative for sustainability and inclusivity, weaving a tapestry of shared values and goals transcending individual businesses is essential. By fostering collaboration, we can address challenges collectively, from sustainable practices to embracing new technologies. Moreover, a shared commitment to growing and diversifying participation in winter sports and activities can invigorate the industry, making it more accessible and appealing to a broader audience. A united front is crucial for conducting business with integrity and purpose, and we anticipate our brands and partners embracing this tactic.
Marco Redini, CEO
In 2024, we expect an increasingly strong trend of eco-consciousness. The consumer is not only becoming more and more attentive to the sustainability of products but is also moving into a further and more evolved phase: sustainability as an end is no longer enough; interest is focusing on the performance that can be achieved through environmentally friendly materials and production processes. New fibers must perform as well as, if not better than, traditional synthetic fibers derived from fossil fuels.
Bryce Wernsman, Brand President
As the active lifestyle consumer goods market navigates the challenges that have affected outdoor retailers, projections for 2024 indicate a mixed landscape. The sector has faced obstacles, with outdoor retailers finding it challenging to maintain momentum. This difficulty is expected to trickle into the coming year, creating a complex environment. However, despite these hurdles, there remains a palpable growth and sustained consumer interest in the outdoor space.
For the 2024 Look Ahead covering the broader active lifestyle market, and get inside individual company assessments of issues and opportunities ahead, access the latest from SGB Media here: