Aspen Untucked: The outdoorsy-ness of millennials
February 7, 2018
Millennials are at it again (queue horror music).
We're here to obliterate the status quo, induce everyone into a crazed panic and kill any industry or tradition we don't like. Our latest target? The outdoor retail industry.
The focus on how millennials spend — or don't spend — money on outdoor gear became center focus the last weekend of January when the Outdoor Retailer show made its debut in Denver. It used to take place in Salt Lake City, but was moved last year after outdoor retailers came together to protest the stance that Utah's governor and several other state Republicans have on public lands, specifically the creation of Bears Ears National Monument. We all remember that big drama, right?
Anyway, the result was a huge celebration for many outdoor-related brands, and for Coloradans who got to see such a big event come to Denver. In the same weekend, the annual Snow Show, hosted by Snowsports Industries America, also took place at the Denver Convention Center. This means, in total, there were around 1,000 manufacturers showing off new products to 11,000 retail buyers, all in one building.
Needless to say, outdoor gear talk was at an all-time high from Jan. 24 to 28, which led many to ask and talk about the health of the industry. An Associated Press story posted Jan. 26 stated that industry sales from December 2016 through November 2017 were at $18.9 billion. That number appears to be nice and big, but it's actually a 6 percent decrease from the year before, according to stats collected by NPD Group, a large market research company that keeps track of trends in many industries, including the sports industry.
The AP article talked with Matt Powell, NPD's senior adviser for the sports industry. He said the millennial generation isn't looking for intensely specialized gear that can withstand extreme conditions.
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I took this to mean millennials aren't quite as hardcore as our outdoor predecessors. So, for example, we don't need to summit Mount Everest, we're much more comfortable chilling and partying at Base Camp (I know that's on my personal bucket list). However, Powell seemed to have less hope for us than that, using how we purchase 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 in the AP story.
Ouch, that was harsh, Powell. However, I can't prove he's entirely wrong. He went on to say the products that we millennials are most interested in are "good-enough products." We want something that will get us there, but it doesn't need to be the most advanced, high-quality version. We also like versatility in our products, like a bike that we can use to cruise around town and also hit the trails with, or a pair of yoga pants that we wear for our practice and then go to happy hour in.
Powell said that these changes don't mean we're less "outdoorsy" than other generations. In fact, we have a passion for environmental sustainability and preservation. We just enjoy our outdoorsy-ness in different ways. We're more "light-hearted" about our activities, and we want to enjoy them with friends. Those are what the numbers say and, personally, I couldn't agree more. I find an outdoor adventure is only as good as the company that goes with it. Despite popular belief, I'm quite positive that there are friends on a powder day. And, whether I'm sipping on a glass of wine or hiking a fourteener, I'm much more concerned about the laughter and conversation than the action that brought us there. That may not be every millennial's experience (particularly for those of us who live up in Aspen where outdoor recreation is king), but I think many would agree with me.
There's often a great deal of drama centered around what millennials like, what we are buying and how we like to be marketed to. That's for good reason. The Outdoor Industry Association even has a packet to help guide retailers in "engaging and retaining" our generation. This is because, according to the packet, as of 2017, millennials have more spending power than any other generation. And, we will outnumber other demographics by 22 million by 2030. These are no small numbers, but they shouldn't induce panic. We aren't killing this industry, we simply just want slightly different products from it, meaning it will have to change a bit. Powell said that, at this point, some individual brands within the outdoor industry have adapted, but the overall industry isn't there yet.
Trends change, each generation is different from the next, and industries have to adapt to that. Luckily, I think we millennials are pretty easy to please. Just give us a nice adult beverage, a good cause, a fun time and some people to share it with, and we are generally pretty happy.
Now, where's my Prius? I want to drink some craft beer. Let's just hope my new boots can handle the journey from the parking lot to the bar … #hardcore
Barbara Platts doesn't own a Prius and rarely goes to craft breweries, but she certainly likes a nice pair of boots. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.