The month of September started to show the first real signs of a rebound in the outdoor retail landscape. The combination of a decent back-to-school season and several favorably shifting trends helped boost outdoor apparel, footwear and equipment sales for the month. Not only are consumers looking for exciting close-to-home recreation opportunities, but also brown footwear is beginning to see a solid up-tick across all channels.

According to retail point-of-sale data compiled by SportScanINFO, sales of Outdoor Apparel, Outdoor Footwear and Outdoor Equipment increased in the high-single digits for the month of September. This increase was due to a combination of higher average selling prices (ASPs) and a low-single digit increase in the number of units sold.
Retailers are clearly operating with much lower inventories this year than they had on the shelves last year at the same time. This scarcity is clearly discouraging discounting and pushing the overall ASP higher. All three major categories showed increased sales; however, not all categories are experiencing the same trends.

Sales of Outdoor Specialty Equipment were up in the mid-single digits, largely due to a 5% increase in average selling prices. The higher ASPs were driven by a trend among many larger retailers to stock higher-end merchandise and higher quality equipment brands.

The strongest categories were clearly back-to-school items like backpacks and water bottles. Both Lifestyle Packs and Technical Day Packs showed strong double-digit increases for the month. At the same time, Internal Frame Packs and Hydration Packs showed considerable gains as well. The only categories within Packs & Bags that declined were the Travel-related items.

Water Bottles continue to show strong sales due to on-going concerns over BPA. Metal Bottles are still growing at a strong double-digit rate, but this rate of growth has been cut in half since the revelations about potential BPA in some aluminum bottles.  At the same time, sales of BPA-free plastic bottles seem to have accelerated this month compared to the rest of the year.

Camping Equipment is a big winner this year. Tents and Sleeping Bags continue to show high-single-digit growth this month, with the more-technical Backpacking styles outselling Family and Car Camping Tents and Sleeping Bags. Down Sleeping Bags, in particular, are showing good increases this year.

Water Purification is a small but a rapidly growing category with high-double-digit increases for the month.

While it is still early in the season, Ski and Snowboard sales are ramping up earlier this year and at significantly higher price-points. Skis, Bindings, Poles, Boots, and Snowboards all saw very strong growth for the month, with most of it coming in the last two weeks of September as some snow started to arrive early in some areas of the country.
Outdoor Apparel sales increased in the low-single digits for the month with higher unit sales partially offset by some significant price erosion. Average selling prices declined in the low-double-digit range. Most of this price erosion was driven by significantly lower prices in Outdoor Outerwear, which has been selling well all summer, driven by Rainwear sales. Spring/Summer Outdoor Apparel continues to maintain its pricing and saw a high-single digit increase for the month.

The changing of the seasons clearly has many outdoor consumers looking forward to ski and snowboard season. While Outdoor Outerwear has been strong all summer, Ski and Snowboard Outerwear is starting to show some early season growth while the outdoor products are starting to slow. At the same time, Outdoor Rainwear continued to show growth through September as did Performance Fleece. Running and Cycling tights and performance tops also performed well for the month.

Outdoor/Adventure Sportswear remained relatively flat, with slight increases in Fall-oriented items like Long-sleeve Shirts and Pants, and slight declines in Polos and Shorts. Outdoor/Adventure Skirts, Dresses and Skorts also showed double-digit growth for the month.

Outdoor Specialty Footwear sales increased in the upper teens due to considerably higher unit sales and a 4% increase in average selling prices. Every category of Footwear saw increases during the month, with Outdoor Casual product leading the way.

These increases highlight the growing fashion trend towards brown footwear and outdoor-inspired silhouettes. While outdoor specialty retailers and chain retailers are both benefiting from this trend, several family footwear chains and even athletic/urban specialty chains are seeing sales in the outdoor categories increase as well.

The two categories with the slowest growth this month were Technical Hiking Boots, and Hybrid/Water Shoes, but both categories still showed a low-single digit improvement over last year’s period.  The trend for September is a considerable improvement for both categories, which have been showing sales declines for much of the year.

With sales gains in nearly all categories for the month of September, there appears to be a turnaround eminent in the outdoor space — even if much of it represents easier anniversary numbers against the year-ago period due to a shift in Labor Day and the Wall Street crash in the middle of September last year. Going forward, many retailers will be up against declining comp sales numbers and should be able to post some growth.

However, lean inventories going into the Holiday season could easily offset these easier comparisons. If there is no inventory on the shelves, retailers can’t sell product. In addition, consumers have been trained for the past year to expect heavy discounts and may stop shopping if promotions don’t materialize after Black Friday.