As retailers head into the holiday season, timely data becomes more and more important. Identifying emerging trends immediately after the early Black Friday rush can determine whether or not a retailer has the correct inventory, competitive pricing, and ultimately the level of profitability for the year.


This is one of the primary reasons Outdoor Industry Association chose to partner with The SportsOneSource Group to create the new retail point of sales data reporting system, OIA Vantage Point powered by SportScanInfo. OIA Vantage Point powered by SportScanInfo provides weekly sales information, product information and market share information across nine retail channels specifically designed for the outdoor market. Data will also be provided across eight different geographic regions designed specifically for the outdoor industry.


The new platform is expected to track in excess of four million product SKUs each week, including style and color information. “To have the opportunity to evolve a new platform and provide input regarding how products are tracked, how regions are laid out, and other critical parameters certainly influenced our decision to work with OIA's Vantage Point. I also believe supporting this initiative between OIA and Sports One Source is important as OIA is our trade organization and is critical to our industry,” said Jennifer Mull, CEO of Backwoods.


The base technology used by The SportsOneSource Group to power the OIA Vantage Point platform is the same base technology originally developed for the SoundScan and VideoScan platforms, which are entertainment industry standards currently owned by Nielsen.


This technology has been re-engineered and upgraded over time to meet the needs of today’s retail market and recently refined to cater specifically to the outdoor and active lifestyle industry. OIA Vantage Point uses a variety of identifying factors to categorize different products, including UPC codes and vendor item numbers and product descriptions. All data is received on Sunday and Monday for the previous week, processed and run through a quality control procedure on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the OIA Vantage Point website will refresh with new data every Thursday by 9:00 a.m. (eastern time).


OIA Vantage Point powered by SportScanInfo will be reporting data from over 15,000 retail storefronts and websites, which includes hundreds of outdoor specialty storefronts and 15 outdoor specialty Internet/catalog retailers. Many of the retailers reporting to SportScanInfo, including EMS and others, are not currently reporting retail point-of-sale data to any other platform.


In addition to the timeliness of the data, OIA Vantage Point will offer a broad view into the outdoor retail market. Instead of only covering three limited channels, there will be nine different retail channels available and eight different regions. Assessing trends in the market, especially when those trends only apply to outdoor specialty, does not tell the whole story. Specialty consumers have started to venture outside of their traditional shopping patterns and have broadened their search for high-quality products that meet the needs of their demanding lifestyle.


Many brands are expanding distribution beyond their specialty roots. “It’s critical that specialty retailers have a view of the market outside of their respective channels,” said James Hartford, president, CEO and chief market analyst for The SportsOneSource Group, which owns the SportScanInfo technology. “Consumers and vendors do not view the market as narrowly as did before the market shift last year. Retailers need to be aligned with this thinking. Many specialty retailers are experimenting with new brands and categories that may not be considered “core outdoor specialty.”


What are other outdoor specialty retailers selling? How can you best optimize sales in your store as traffic slows? Perhaps a footwear brand is slowing down in your store; do you know why? Perhaps a look at that brand’s growing market share in the family footwear or full-line sporting goods channel can provide a clue. Do you have it priced right? “We decided to use SportScanInfo to broaden our insight in retail trends beyond specialty outdoor,” said Tyler Donaldson, a spokesperson for Nantahala Outdoor Center. “As a major destination resort our market reaches a wide user market base.” OIA Vantage Point powered by SportScanInfo will provide users with data that reflects sales of all product categories — outdoor and non-outdoor — sold in the outdoor specialty channel, as well as data that reflects sales of outdoor products across all tracked channels of distribution, from outdoor specialty and chain specialty to Internet, sporting goods, department stores and discount/mass stores.


If a retailer wants to look just at outdoor specialty, they can. If they want to just look at Internet, they can. If they want to keep their eye on trends in the discount/mass channel, they can with this new platform. The ability to track data at the style/color level in this broad range of channels and categories is essential in clearly understanding the specific trends in the outdoor market. It is not enough to know that a category is growing or shrinking.


Specialty retailers need to know the brands, styles, colors and price-points that cause or create that trend. The most important advantage of using OIA Vantage Point will be timeliness. OIA Vantage Point powered by SportScanInfo will provide actionable data just five days after the close of any week, month or quarter. The new platform launches in February of 2010, so next year, OIA members will be able understand the trends from Black Friday weekend before the flood of shoppers starts again on the following weekend. “Retailers today must be armed with actionable information – and actionable information must be provided weekly,” said Hartford. “If you can’t do anything about it, then it is just story — not a success story.” 


Bill Bartee, the owner of Jesse Brown’s Outdoor in Charlotte, NC, chose to start reporting to SportScanInfo as a retail reporting partner because of the rapidly changing business environment. “Mistakes in regards to buying and inventory management are never good, but during these economic-times they are almost unforgivable.” Bartee said they will use OIA Vantage Point powered by SportScanInfo to aid in making better choices, eliminate mistakes, be better inventory managers and become better retailers. “OIA Vantage Point will allow us to be more proactive and less reactive to demands from our customers, allows us to recognize upcoming new trends and we become trend-setters not trend-followers,” said Bartee. Other retailers see a huge benefit to weekly data, if used properly.


Ed McAlister, owner of River Sports Outfitters, which is a member of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, told OIA “The obvious advantage of it is it’s five to six days old versus 45 days old. If you are really using it, you can watch some of the products you are worried about and if other retailers are already marking them down it might help you manage that business. It’s like anything else; you get out of it what you put into it.” Access to OIA Vantage Point will be Web-based, password-protected and 24×7. Data reported to SportScanInfo is kept confidential and is tightly managed in a secure environment. Both public companies and private companies report data to SportScanInfo, requiring a very high level of security for every file transmitted. Hartford suggests the process is rather simple to set up and maintain.


SportScanInfo accepts a broad range of files types and receive files from EDI to text, XML or even Excel files through secure FTP or secure E-mail transmission. “Point-of-sale systems have changed greatly over the last five years and recent survey data finds that more specialty retailers have systems more than capable of delivering data without any major disruptions,” said Hartford.


SportScanInfo runs a highly automated system for developing and managing projections for the broader market based on the data received from retail reporting partners, but product-level information is also provided as a personal touch as well. A team of very experienced database managers, each with a minimum of five years experience (and most have at least eight years) in their position, manually review every new product file received each week to ensure its proper placement in categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. To maintain security, the database managers do not see sales information – only the product information.


SportsOneSource, LLC is a privately-held company founded by James Hartford, a 26-year veteran of the sporting goods and outdoor industry, primarily on the brand side of the business, and Matt Powell, who has over 35 years senior merchant experience as a retailer from department stores to specialty stores. SportsOneSource acquired the SportScanInfo technology platform in 2005.