The outdoor industry served up a nonstop supply of interesting business news this year.
Our readers gravitated toward the significant developments from key players, and popular topics included: how the industry’s most influential retailer, REI, is handling an aging consumer base; well-known brand Mountain Hardwear undergoing a major refresh; and big moves at The North Face’s parent company, VF Corp., which is struggling. Here’s a look at The Daily’s top-viewed stories of the year.
Our top-viewed story shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the industry. REI is the biggest game in town for brands to sell to and most, if not all, other retailers in the space keep a close eye on the company’s every move.
The broader theme in this piece – how REI is reacting to an aging membership base – is another facet the industry either is or should be paying attention to, because that’s where the market is headed.
“We must broaden our definition of the outdoors and stay true to our values and differentiators,” Chris Speyer, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer at REI, told a roomful of industry leaders at the Sea Otter Classic Summit in California. “This means engaging a younger, more diverse, and less affluent customer.”
In addition, our stories about REI trimming jobs at the company also ranked high in viewership:
Outdoor brand Mountain Hardwear announced a brand refresh as it hit the 30-year mark this year, and The Daily’s readers wanted to learn about the updated vision.
In recent years, Mountain Hardwear has put significant energy and resources into rebranding, creating a new marketing campaign that positions it as a premium, youthful outdoor brand.
The rebrand includes a fresh visual and verbal tone, and executing an awareness campaign rooted in the company’s purpose.
“Over the past five years, we’ve turned this brand around and gotten back into a growth mindset and growth mode,” Troy Sicotte, president of Mountain Hardwear, told The Daily.
VF Corp., maker of The North Face, Vans, and other outdoor brands, had an interesting year as it made significant strategic choices to improve financial performance.
One of those major changes was announcing in February that it was selling its packs business, including the Kipling, Eastpak, and JanSport brands.
The company said during its portfolio evaluation process it determined that it wasn’t “the best owner of these brands at this time.” However, a buyer has not yet been declared for the brands.
In 2021, VF sold Eagle Creek, another backpack and travel brand, because it was no longer a fit with VF’s portfolio.
Our story with Eagle Creek owner Travis Campbell, who spoke about the company capitalizing on the return of travel this year and life after VF, also performed well.
Trail-running footwear continues to grow in popularity, both on and off the trail, as more and more people also wear the shoes to walk the dog, go to the airport, and even get help with certain foot problems.
Altra Running has benefited from the trend of doctors recommending its shoes to the point that it created a new job within the company to work with the medical community.
The story is about how Altra has responded to that development, how the brand has evolved since it was acquired by VF Corp., as well as its Lone Peak style being one of the top choices for thru-hikers.
Eastern Mountain Sports and Bob’s are major regional players in the northeastern U.S. with a combined total of more than 20 stores, and our story about what the new owners plan to do with the chain generated considerable readership.
GoDigital Media Group, which focuses on music, video, and brand intellectual property rights management, acquired EMS and Bob’s from U.K.-based Frasers Group for $70 million last year.
Jason Peterson, GoDigital’s Chief Executive Officer, told The Daily the company planned to expand the brand’s e-commerce and physical retail footprint as well as double down on product innovation and private label.
“We feel like there’s a growth opportunity here to really bring the joy that this brand has created for millions of people to a broader audience,” Peterson said. “You’ll see the footprint growing.”
For several years, Cotopaxi has been one of the “it” brands in the outdoor industry.
The colorful apparel is instantly recognizable, and retailers have told The Daily that adding the brand to their product mix was a good move.
When CEO and founder Davis Smith announced earlier this year that he was stepping away to focus on missionary work, the industry took notice.
Smith is something of an iconic figure for the company, so his successor had big boots to fill.
In The Daily’s exclusive interview with his replacement, Damien Huang discussed his vision for the brand, Cotopaxi’s push to refine its wholesale strategy, and the lessons he’s learned at other companies that he’s applying to his current role.
The news that Dick’s Sporting Goods was acquiring outdoor retailer Moosejaw from Walmart was one of the first big breaking news stories of the year.
Analysis followed about how Dick’s could use Moosejaw’s e-commerce abilities to benefit its online presence as well as strengthen its outdoor-focused Public Lands retail business.
Six months later, Dick’s announced it was closing 11 of its 14 Moosejaw stores, including Moosejaw’s headquarters in Michigan.
“After careful review of our outdoor specialty business, we have decided to form one team that will support the operations of Public Lands and Moosejaw,” Sarah Cassella, a spokesperson for Dick’s, wrote in a statement to The Daily.
Vista Outdoor was in the news often this year as the company announced a plan to split into separate entities, with the outdoor products segment, rebranded as Revelyst, set to become a standalone public company when the sale closes.
Revelyst’s portfolio of brands includes Fox, Bell, Giro, CamelBak, Camp Chef, Bushnell, and Simms Fishing.
Vista subsequently announced it was selling its sporting products business to Czechoslovak Group for $1.91 billion.
The transaction is expected to close this year, subject to approval of stockholders, receipt of necessary regulatory approvals, and other customary closing conditions.
Another company struggling with the challenging market, Wolverine Worldwide, maker of Merrell, Saucony, and other outdoor products, announced layoffs and other measures designed to save up to $215 million.
The measures were part of Wolverine’s transformation strategy to help stabilize the business and enhance financial performance.
Wolverine’s revenue for the third quarter ended Sept. 30 was $527.7 million, down 24.7% in constant currency compared to the prior-year quarter.
Merrell posted revenue of $157 million for the quarter, down 25.2% in constant currency compared to the same quarter last year, and Saucony’s revenue was $116.4 million for the quarter, down 14.6% in constant currency compared to the prior-year quarter.
E-commerce retailer Backcountry waited until Outdoor Retailer Winter to announce it was making a big wholesale push.
Backcountry was there to launch its namesake private label line at wholesale and there was a lot of buzz around the move both at the show and among The Daily’s readers.
Colby Black, chief product officer at Backcountry, told The Daily the company is targeting specialty outdoor so consumers can learn about the product firsthand.
The move piqued the interest of skeptics as well, with some saying Backcountry, a large e-commerce player that competes with the specialty channel, is at odds with the goals of independent outdoor retailers.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.
Click here to read our sister publication Shop Eat Surf’s top 25 most-viewed stories of 2023.