Even if she could, Jasmine Sanchez wasn’t sure if she should introduce her new hydroshirt brand, Vessel Athletics, on Kickstarter. On top of production delays, she wondered if entering the market during the middle of a sharp economic downturn was a smart business decision. But a message from Kickstarter convinced her to go for it. It reminded her that some of the most successful businesses started during and right after after the 2008 financial crisis—businesses like Venmo, Instagram, Groupon, and Square. “It’s a very pivotal time for small businesses and startups to innovate and adapt to this rapidly changing environment,” Sanchez says. “I think it’s an even more exciting time to launch.”
To launch or not to launch—either a product or an entire brand—is the question circulating in outdoor industry meetings during this time of unpredictability in the global supply chain. Each business is handling a unique set of challenges based on its category, its audience, its promises to retailers, and where in the world its suppliers are stationed. Many are facing unanticipated delays in production due to facility closures, whereas others are voluntarily holding off on unveiling new products until a more stable time.
Meanwhile, certain categories are surging with brands trying to keep up with high demand. WizWheelz/TerraTrike, maker of recumbent trikes and accessories, is on track for a record May, and possibly even a record year, if sales keep pace. “There’s usually a certain predictability within the bike industry,” says Mark Crews, WizWheelz managing director. “But this is unexpectedly crazy. It’s the busiest I’ve ever been.” Marshall Randall, director of sales and marketing at the company, says they’ve sold out of everything in the line, regardless of price.
Thousand’s founder and CEO Gloria Hwang expects to sell out of her second helmet design, the Chapter, as soon as it launches online and in stores on June 23. It’s serendipitous timing for her, since she was planning the launch anyway. “Our goal is to keep people safe on the road,” Hwang says. She is also expediting shipping products from overseas to keep supporting retailers with inventory. “Regardless of if we see sales or not, this was something we had promised our retailers and had been telling our customers for a long time.”
For many brands, the greatest roadblock is the delay in manufacturing. Asian factories closed first, followed by Europe’s; and now they’re opening back up while many American manufacturers are still closed or behind. Hwang can’t finish a helmet without a buckle from China. Marshall can’t finish a trike without key components from China. “Supply chain globally is just in limbo,” Hwang says.
Vessel’s Sanchez sent her only prototypes to a manufacturer in Asia, but the facility shut down days later. Now without samples, she hasn’t been able to take photos for marketing materials or sign contracts with the manufacturer to get production pumping. “Hopefully we launch sometime in summer 2020,” Sanchez says.
SOG Specialty Knives & Tools is one brand that is moving forward with its brand refresh despite COVID-19. “Our position as a brand is really about our strength as a species that’s derived from our resilience, which we build up from our relentless nature to keep pushing ahead,” says SOG VP brand Jonathan Wegner. The brand supplies outdoorists as well as first responders and healthcare workers, and Wegner says it’s on-brand to continue supporting its missions.
Similarly, Oboz Footwear’s new town and trail styles, the Sypes line, was well timed, with more people seeking close-to-home adventures. Marketing director Rich Hohne says Oboz’s line is modest for 2021—existing products will get new colors for fall and spring—partially because the brand scaled back in light of the pandemic.
Mountainsmith is also releasing a few small updates to current products, but it’s postponing a confidential launch, which it says is a game-changer, until 2022 even though the company is itching to share it. “We want to make sure it gets the attention we think it deserves,” says Jeff Popp, product line and development manager at Mountainsmith. “With the atmosphere right now and especially with retailers struggling to hold on, we just don’t think it’s an appropriate time to sell it into retail.”