March 21 2022
A new growth in the outdoor industry: wholesale challenges and the rise of specialty retail

The rise in popularity of both outdoor recreation and specialty retail has created unique challenges for outdoor brands. Read the analysis of how brands can take advantage of the boom.

While many industries faced intense peaks and valleys during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ever-rising “outdoor boom” has introduced the outdoor marketplace to a tidal wave of new growth throughout its various channels. With consumers discovering a renewed interest in outdoor activities, a growing path for brand and manufacturer success has been brought to light. In 2021 the National Parks Service reported increased attendance at almost all parks, with attendance at Acadia growing 74% and Canyonlands at 30% between 2019 and 2021.

Along with this new, increased interest in outdoor activities, we have witnessed an increase in retail sales for many outdoor retailers. The Grassroots Outdoor Alliance reported that member retailers saw a 29% increase in Q1 sales from 2020 to 2021, and 34% increase over 2019. Describing this boom as a “new normal,” the increased sales are not expected to decline anytime soon. In 2021, Outdoor Retailer reported sale increases in categories that were almost never seen, showing reports of active apparel sales up 27% from 2019 to 2021.

Why now?

Due to the pandemic forcing people into a socially distanced condition, there has been a renewed interest in an outdoor-focused, active lifestyle, that has spread all throughout the industry. With these activities allowing consumers to seek refuge in socially distant hobbies, the demand for products that correspond with each outdoor activity has surged. According to a Harris Poll 70% of Americans reported wanting to spend more time outside. This equates to a 20% increase in what had been previously tracked in the last 10 years. Because of this new increased interest, we are now seeing retailers in need of brand products more now than ever before.

Forbes reported that in January of 2021 NPD and Civic Science asked over 1,000 consumers about their intention of getting active throughout the year. Recording a rise in categories such as hiking, home workout, cycling, and golfing, the data remains consistent with the witnessed sales increases.

Elastic brands have seen similar (and in some cases, even greater) trends. Aggregated wholesale sales data across outdoor subindustries and company size shows a 26% increase in gross merchandise sales and a 27% increase in total number of retail buyers from 2019 to 2021.

More challenges ahead

While the pandemic brought the outdoor industry a new wave of growth, it also brought many challenges along with it. Between worker shortages, illness, trade show disruptions, and supply chain instability, brands have had to overcome many roadblocks since the pandemic began. In 2021 SIA Consumer insights recorded 55% of consumers reported items being out of stock while shopping for snow sports gear. Many brands and retailers have experienced a similar drawback in the supply chain resulting in delayed shipments and increased costs in their own day-to-day operations. While few solutions to these ongoing issues have been brought to light, the adaptability seen by the outdoor industry has been unmatched in finding ways to overcome these unprecedented times.

Brands, retailers and consumers are all finding workarounds for product shortages by switching away from household names brands to smaller, more niche independent manufacturers. Small to medium-sized brands accounted for 1/3 of all CPG sales growth in 2020.

Specialty Brand’s Continued Growth

Vuori, a leader in the activewear market, has set itself apart with its innovative growth strategies, sustainability, and consumer engagement. Launching their brand in 2015 with a line of clothing that combines the West Coast aesthetic with performance capabilities, Vuori has since grown to become a market leader with a loyal customer base spread throughout the United States.

Amidst the pandemic, Vuori tripled their sales while remaining on track to increase sales by 140% this year. As a market frontrunner, they have positioned themselves to continually grow through making key investments in infrastructure and sustainability efforts. With the help of partners such as Elastic, a network of industry-leading wholesale partners, and its own thriving brick and mortar stores, Vuori has found a new level of success in the activewear marketplace despite the challenges it has faced.

Because of their highly-sought-after product line, ability to pivot product offerings for specialty retailer partners and direct-to-consumer, key investments in product development, and human resource planning, Vuori was one of the many brands that saw growth despite the pandemic’s downtown.

Why Specialty Retail really matters

With a push to support local businesses, specialty retailers also saw massive growth in these areas. Main Street and Specialty stores saw an increase in sales while big box and department stores were actually closing doors. Smaller retailers continue to grow at nearly 2% each year, to an estimated $44.5 billion in sales in 2022. Whereas big box and department stores sales are declining at an average of 5.89% annually, for the last 3 years.

Consumers continue to shop more consciously; wanting to support the people in their communities and buying locally to reduce environmental impacts.


“It’s so amazing to see these trends. Growth in the outdoor and sporting goods channel means that everyone is getting outside more, and ultimately supporting the conservation of our wild places. And the massive growth of specialty retail is so even more exciting because it means that consumers are becoming more conscious of the local people, and brands and manufacturers, that they’re supporting. We’re happy to be at the heart of this change – changing what and where they buy. This is what we mean by the driving the renaissance of retail. ”

Opportunity on the horizon

As brands continue to navigate the ever-growing specialty outdoor industry, there remain many opportunities to grow and expand their profit margins. With increased consumers looking for entryways into the outdoor world, more retailers will need product lines that appeal to entry-level consumers. National Geographic reported that during the peak of their camping season during the pandemic 20% of campers were first-timers. Driving a supply that meets the needs of beginner consumers opens a door to opportunity and growth.

Maximizing opportunity can also be found in technological innovation. With trade show schedules being far more unpredictable than they were before the pandemic began, the need for digital transformation has accelerated within the last 2 years. Along with being a more sustainable option, B2B ecommerce solutions provide an opportunity for retailers to find brand products easier than ever before.

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