When Swiftwick’s chief marketing officer Joanna Mariani recently tried buying her 5-year-old daughter a new bike to replace the one she’d outgrown, the stores were completely sold out. Over the past few weeks, sales of bikes and cycling gear—along with yoga mats, free weights, running shoes and light hikers, athleisure and loungewear, and kayaks and SUPs—have surged as shoppers rearrange their summer plans around activities that allow them to social distance. Swiftwick’s performance socks have been in demand, too. “The outdoors is where people are turning; it’s their outlet,” Mariani says.
Despite a 7.5% fall in consumer spending in March—the most recent figure from the Bureau of Economic Analysis—market researchers at the NPD Group reported that adult’s and children’s bikes as well as sports and home-fitness equipment have seen double- and triple-digit sales increases since the coronavirus pandemic began. Yoga mats jumped 146%, and adult leisure bikes 121%. Independent bike shops that remained open as essential businesses saw a 20% increase in services and repairs. “The consumer lifestyle shift as a result of the current circumstances has put the sports business in a unique position compared to most other industries,” says Matt Powell, senior industry advisor for NPD Group’s sports practice. “I anticipate we’ll see a renewed emphasis on health and fitness for the long term.”
Tracksmith CEO Matt Taylor sees more people running and cycling, and while it’ll take time for data to confirm his observations, running is one of the few activities still allowed and it has a lower barrier to entry. The premium running apparel brand has seen an uptick in sales of its performance items, but also in sales of its athleisure and loungewear like its Trackhouse sweats and sweatshirts. “Yes, people are still out there running, so they want the gear to be able to do that,” he says. “But there’s also a shift to working from home and wanting more comfortable, cozy items to wear around the house.”
As parks and trails reopen, people are being mindful of how they recreate. They are spending their dollars on gear that gets them outside but also away from other people. In an informal poll on Twitter about outdoor enthusiasts’ recent gear purchases, nearly 40 people said they’re planning for solo pursuits and backyard hangouts. Their purchases include bikes and cycling gear, fire pits and camping chairs, road and trail running shoes, and kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
And brands’ own data backs it up. Lowa Boots’ Peter Sachs says the company is selling more lightweight, low-cut hiking boots than heavy-duty mountaineering and backpacking boots as people walk their neighborhood trails more. California Innovations’ COO and CFO Adam Bryk said his company, which makes soft-sided coolers for several brands, has seen steady business as more people find refuge in their backyards. Swiftwick reported 100% growth in e-commerce sales, with increases across the running, cycling, hiking, and fitness categories. Moosejaw’s sales of hiking boots, bikes, and camping equipment have jumped, according to CEO Eoin Comerford. And Hala Gear had a 45% sales increase in April 2020 over April 2019—the highest ever, even during spring snowmelt, according to communications coordinator Victoria Ohegyi.
“Our customers are excited, but cautious, to get back outside and on the water,” Ohegyi says. “We are seeing an increase in new customers because people are expanding what their ‘new normal’ looks like and are adopting new hobbies and activities.” Fresh paddlers are trying out SUPs or are kayaking for the first time, she says, while experienced paddlers are using the quarantine to scour sales and upgrade or repair their well-loved whitewater gear. Portable hand-washing stations from Down River Equipment have also been quite popular.
Lowa’s Sachs wants the outdoor industry to embrace the slower pace and not just revert back to aspirational-only marketing of outdoor adventure. Mariani sees the shift in consumers’ attention as an opportunity to expand market reach to these new customers. “The hope is that they become long-term customers and we foster that love for the outdoors in them,” Mariani says.
As retailers slowly open their doors again, let’s hope they also reap the rewards.