By David Clucas
SGB is reporting live this week from Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2016 to bring you the top news and trends from the show. We’ll also be sharing highlights and exclusive insight from industry executives all week.
No Slowdown in Business
Day 1 at OR was bustling. From our perspective, show organizers either slimmed down the width of the hallways or more people than usual were in attendance.
And why not? “Business is good,” many vendors and retailers told us.
So what gives with all the recent active-lifestyle retail bankruptcy headlines? The consensus is that while those retailers may have failed, it wasn’t for a lack of consumer demand in the space. Rather, it signals a significant shift in where the consumer is fulfilling that demand.
“If you look at outdoor retail as a big, long bridge and on one end is Walmart and on the other is your store (specialty retailers), the middle has fallen out,” Grassroots Outdoor Alliance President Wes Allen told retailers at a preshow event. “And you can take some of that business. Now is the time to strike.”
Retailers at the show told us they have yet to see the negative effects of those going-out-of business sales. But that doesn’t mean the industry is in the clear, they cautioned. Many added that it will take more than a year for things to clear out, and bigger aftershocks may be on the way as inventory slated for those defunct retailers continues to arrive from long-lead-time manufacturing.
Patagonia Ditches Neoprene For Natural Rubber Wetsuits
On the sustainability front, we’ve been hearing much from brands on improving traceable and responsible supply chains for wool, down and DWR materials. And this week, Patagonia added one more to the watch list — neoprene — which is widely used in making wetsuits.
The company, known for its environmental business practices, debuted what it called “the world’s first wetsuits made with Forest Stewardship Council-certified natural rubber” in partnership with plant-based rubber company Yulex.
“Surfers and wetsuit manufacturers — including Patagonia — have relied on neoprene for years, despite the fact that it’s a nonrenewable, petroleum-based material with an energy-intensive manufacturing process,” said Hub Hubbard, Patagonia’s wetsuit development manager. “Neoprene is nasty stuff, but for a long time we had no alternative.”
The 21 new men’s, women’s and kids’ wetsuits come with the certification that “assures customers that the source plantation isn’t contributing to deforestation and that it’s managed in a way that maintains the ecological functions and integrity of the forest,” officials said. And as it has with other previous discoveries, Patagonia officials said they will share the innovation with other companies, “hoping to create a shift toward cleaner and less harmful materials throughout the surf industry.”
Adidas Outdoor Rebrands as Terrex
Sometimes, having a big, well-known name isn’t the greatest.
When Adidas rebooted its outdoor efforts several years ago, it made a splash with legit, high-tech, high-performance gear. But retailers, and perhaps consumers, haven’t always been able to look past the Adidas name as anything but a sporting-goods giant, U.S. Managing Director Greg Thomsen told us. So the company is rebranding its outdoor business under the Terrex name — a moniker used within its outdoor line for the past several years to denote its top-of-the-line product — while keeping its three-stripe logo as a nod back to Adidas. The U.S. arm is also gaining a little more autonomy, Thomsen added, particularly with online and social media marketing.
OIWC Rebrands As Camber Outdoors
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC) announced Day 1 at the show that it is rebranding the organization under a new name — Camber Outdoors.
The move is intended to better reflect the organization’s approach to its work in the outdoor industry while encouraging both women and men to advocate gender equality in the workplace and in the outdoors, officials said.
We’ll be frank, there was some head-scratching on the new name.
“‘Camber’ is an upward curve that creates a deviation in a straight path. Without camber, the direction is linear or status quo,” explained Deanne Buck, executive director of Camber Outdoors. The organization wants to drive change for businesses “in attracting, retaining and advancing talent for greater industry sustainability and relevance,” she said. “We recognize that when employers become the companies of choice for talented individuals, they become the brands of choice for participants and consumers.”
To date, the organization has more than 3,500 members and 170 corporate partners, as well as 59 CEOS who have made a commitment to supporting its current vision of respect, inclusion and gender equality at every level in the workplace. In 2015, REI granted the nonprofit $1.5 million to further its mission.
Wenzel Returns To U.S. Manufacturing
Like so many other classic U.S. outdoor brands, Wenzel shipped its manufacturing overseas about 25 years ago. At the same time, a small start-up bought a sleeping-bag factory in Alabama, doubling down on U.S. manufacturing.
That small company — Exxel Outdoors — isn’t so small anymore and now owns Wenzel, along with Kelty, Sierra Designs, Ultimate Direction and Slumberjack. And it’s no surprise that the new owners are starting to bring some of that production back to the U.S.
Wenzel will be the first of the group, with eight of its sleeping bags to be American-made for spring 2017, General Manager Tory Upham told us at the show. Exxel will lean on that same factory where it has made private-label and kids’ licensed sleeping bags for nearly 30 years to do the job for Wenzel.
“It lends us great story to tell on the retail shelf,” Upham said, “focusing on the people and the American jobs.” Retailers and the brand itself will benefit from more just-in-time ordering and fulfillment. He added, “We’re certainly looking at other categories to bring back.”
Lead photo courtesy Outdoor Retailer