Grassroots Outdoor Alliance (GOA) reported that with double-digit growth across the group in December, GOA retailers finished the 2020 calendar year down 0.34 percent compared to 2019.

Regional shutdowns due to the pandemic hit retailers hard in March, April and May of 2020, but many stores hit the accelerator and never looked back from then on. From June 2020 through January 2021, GOA retailers nationwide were up 10.8 percent, buoyed by an 18 percent sales spike in the first month of 2021.

“This was the year of volatility in the outdoor industry. There isn’t another year that even comes close to matching the up and down swings of the past 12 months,” said Gabe Maier, vice president, GOA.

The GOA sector report is compiled monthly from 94 member retailers’ point-of-sales data, representing 195 doors nationwide. The data and accompanying analysis are unique to the outdoor industry and shared with GOA member retailers’ monthly summary reports.

Building on this framework, GOA is preparing to significantly increase the depth and detail of its data with the launch of Switchback, a proprietary retail data tool, currently in the second testing phase, and expected to be fully online with individualized retailer snapshots, brand dashboards and style performance reports by fall 2021.

Grassroots year-to-year retail sales change numbers include: 

  • January 2020 (-2.5 percent) 
  • February 2020 (+6 percent)
  •  March 2020 (-33 percent)
  •  April 2020 (-58 percent)
  •  May 2020 (-9 percent)
  •  June 2020 (+20 percent)
  •  July 2020 (+10 percent)
  •  August 2020 (+3 percent)
  •  September 2020 (+21 percent) 
  • October 2020 (+8 percent)
  •  November 2020 (-3.75 percent)
  •  December 2020 (+10.5 percent)
  • January 2021 (+18 percent)

However, within the generally positive group numbers, there is also a more in-depth story of individual wins and losses. 

In 2020, 38 percent of stores were up more than 5 percent, 36 percent were down more than 5 percent and 26 percent fell in-between.

According to Maier, the gap in sales performance was largely determined by region and store type. The majority of retailers with significant sales increases for 2020 were boosted by significant hardgoods demand and/or proximity to an outdoor destination. The majority of stores with the largest declines were primarily soft-goods focused and/or located in areas of the U.S. that had more restrictive lockdowns due to the pandemic.

“Throughout the volatility, there are several factors to consider when sizing up the health of independent specialty over the past year. While sales are still king and can make up for a lot, many of our stores quickly adjusted their expenses through reduced hours and tightly controlled inventory. We’ve heard countless times from many stores with sales declines that while overall revenue was down, profitability was up. Our general sense is that 60 percent to 70 percent of businesses in GOA are heading into 2021 in a better cash and inventory position compared to years past,” added Maier.

Photo courtesy Diamond Brand Outdoors Store, Asheville, NC