Outdoor gear sales slip as millennials drive shift in habits

Dan Elliott
The Associated Press
A Polartec Power Fill jacket is on display at the company's booth at the opening of the Outdoor Retailers and Snow Show in the Colorado Convention Center Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Denver.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

DENVER — Sales of outdoor equipment are slipping as millennials drive changes in U.S. consumer habits by favoring clothes and sporting goods that are less specialized and more versatile, analysts say.

Industry retail sales totaled $18.9 billion from December 2016 through November 2017, down 6 percent from the previous 12 months, according to NPD Group, a market research company that tracks trends in two dozen industries.

The company announced the numbers this week as manufacturers and buyers gathered in Denver for the Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show, the industry’s biggest winter marketplace.

Millennials — sometimes defined as people born between 1982 and 2004 — are less likely than the previous generation to demand outdoor gear that stands up to extreme conditions, said Matt Powell, NPD’s senior adviser for the sports industry. He used boots as an example.

“The hardest, the most extreme condition some of these boots are going to have is walking from the Prius to the craft brewery,” he said.

Powell also cited mountain bikes, which riders can use on streets or trails without special clothing and usually cost less than specialized road bikes.

“I describe it as good-enough products. A product that will get me through most of what I want to do, and a product that is versatile,” he said.

Millennials are outdoorsy and support environmental preservation and sustainability, Powell said, but they have a different take on health and fitness than their predecessors. They have a more lighthearted approach that involves their friends, he said.

Some individual retailers and manufacturers have adapted, but the overall industry has not, Powell said.

“I think the outdoor industry has not responded enough to this shift in the mindset of consumers,” he said.

Greg Thomsen, U.S. managing director for Adidas Outdoors, said his company is focusing on consumers in their 20s and younger.

“This industry has been aging for a long time, and it’s nice to bring in some new people,” he said.

Thomsen said millennials like Adidas’ Flyloft jacket, which isn’t suitable for severely cold weather but still works for outdoor recreation. It’s less expensive, easier to care for and more versatile than more a hard-core outdoor jacket, he said, and it’s suitable for a day in the mountains or a night on the town.

The Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show gives retail buyers a look at goods they can sell starting next fall. About 1,000 manufacturers are showing new products to 11,000 retail buyers at the show, which opened Thursday and runs through Sunday.

The 500,000-square-foot expo is packed with nearly everything outdoors people might need, and a few things they might not: Ski parkas and bikinis, snow boots and sandals, axes and accounting software, snowboards and sleds, bicycles and camper vans, packaged food and Colorado whiskey.

Displays range from a humble table to elaborate, two-story exhibits with changing rooms or conference tables. Some exhibitors wore clingy ski pants; another wore a Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform complete with scarlet tunic.

This is the first Outdoor Retailer Show since it left its longtime home in Salt Lake City. Some big players in the outdoor industry argued that Utah’s political leaders were too hostile toward preserving public lands, so the show moved to Colorado, whose environmental politics are more in tune with the industry’s.

This week’s show is also the first since its producer, Emerald Expositions, acquired the SnowSports Industries America Snow Show, which had been held each January in Denver. Organizers say it’s the first time in nearly 30 years that the outdoor and snow industries have a combined show.

Snow industry sales, which include skis, snowboards, boots, bindings and other equipment, are faring better than the larger outdoor industry. For the first four months of the current winter season, sales totaled $2 billion, up 7.8 percent