While the first quarter is traditionally a slower sales period for Johnson Outdoors as it ramps up for the key warm-weather second and third quarters that support its water recreation products, a healthy 10 percent sales gain bodes well for the rest of the year.

“Overall, a great start to the fiscal year. Innovation made all the difference,” said Helen Johnson-Leipold, chairman and CEO, Johnson Outdoors, on a conference call with analysts. “Growing excitement around this year’s new product lineup generated very strong preseason orders.”

In by far its largest segment, fishing, sales climbed 14.4 percent in the three months ended December 31 to $67.1 million. New products in the Minn Kota and Humminbird brands generated strong pre-season sales across key fishing channels.

As expected, orders for Minn Kota shifted into the first quarter with sales increasing in every Minn Kota product segment, noted Johnson-Leipold. She added, “While the new Ultrex and Ulterra trolling motors are giving us a nice boost, we’re also seeing growth in legacy wireless technology innovations like the i-Pilot and the i-Pilot Link.”

Humminbird is also “off to a good start,” largely due to the continued popularity of the Helix series fishfinder. The gains are being supported by last year’s introduction of Mega Down Imaging and Mega Side Imaging sonar technology. In January, Humminbird announced the new technologies will be available in a new ultra-big screen Helix series as well as select second generation Helix models. Said Johnson-Leipold, “We will continue to make smart and strategic investments to sustain our position as a technology leader in fishing.”

Diving sales inched up 4.2 percent to $14.9 million, driven by improved performance in key dive markets in North America and Europe.

Johnson-Leipold noted that while the SCUBAPro brand continues to be challenged by ongoing external economic and geopolitical factors, new products drove higher sales, most notably the Hydros Pro buoyancy compensator (BC) that enable divers to control depth during a dive. Removing the bulkiness in traditional BCs that lead to discomfort and limited mobility, Johnson-Leipold called the Hydros Pro “the first real innovation in the core life support BC segment in decades.”

In the Watersport Recreation segment, sales eased 2.5 percent to $6.2 million. Continued growth in Old Town during the quarter was offset by lower sales of accessory brands, partly caused by a shift in pacing of orders.

“The brand new Old Town Predator pedal drives came out of the gate strong to drive an increase in overall Old Town brand sales for the quarter,” said Johnson-Leipold. The Predator PDL is Old Town’s first pedal drive craft in the fast-growing pedal kayak fishing segment that stands out for its comfort and maneuverability. Johnson-Leipold said, “It’s all hands on deck going forward to ensure we maximize marketplace success for watercraft and sustain the profitable growth trajectory of this business.”

In the camping segment, revenues fell 9.2 percent to $5.7 million. Higher-than-normal retail inventory following last year’s shortened camping season resulted in a shift in order patterns, accounting for the decline in camping.

“What the numbers don’t show is the strong last half of the current year quarter, which was not enough to offset the slower than normal first half in this business,” said Johnson-Leipold. “Now, the customer inventory levels are declining, orders are steadily picking up stream.”

Jetboil continues to benefit from a strong response to innovations in the camp cookware category over the past two years.

“Outstanding innovation has been the secret ingredient for the brand’s success,” said Johnson-Leipold. Most recently, Genesis, which features a dual burner, “was a big hit in its first year and we’re moving forward aggressively with programs to build upon its initial success.”

At the same time, the Eureka brand is being repositioned against new emerging camp consumer target.

“We’ve just gone live with phase 1 of our completely new Eureka website, an important first step in reaching and connecting with this new generation of campers and hikers,” said Johnson-Leipold. “In fact, eurekacamping.com marks the beginning of implementation of our company wide digital sophistication strategy across the board from websites to social media to e-commerce and more, we’re transforming our outdoor rec consumers experience with our brands in our company. You will see more big changes over the next 18 months.”

Overall sales reached $93.7 million in the quarter against $85.3 million a year ago. The company typically reports a loss in the slow period, but scored an operating profit of $472,000 in the period against an operating loss of $900,000 in the same period a year ago. Net earnings were $4.1 million, or 41 cents a share, against a loss of $534,000, or 5 cents. The bottom line benefitted from foreign tax credits of $4.2 million recognized in the current-year quarter due to the repatriation of approximately $21.9 million of cash from overseas.

The CEO concluded that while first-quarter results are not indicative of full-year performance, the “strong start is certainly a positive sign.”

She added, “Our core brands across fishing, diving and watercraft recreation brands are heading into the season with strong momentum. They’re making good progress against our strategic planned priorities and remain confident in our plans and ability to deliver accelerated profitable long-term growth for Johnson Outdoors.”

Image courtesy Old Town