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2005 Annual SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey

Here it is -- the complete 2005 SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey. Unlike past years, GearTrends® published only select results from the survey and from the avalanche of emails over the last week after the magazine hit, the results are even more eagerly anticipated than we imagined. As always, there's a lot of information packed into both this summary and the full survey results on SNEWS®, offering the industry plenty to digest, discuss, ponder and take pride in.

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Retailers offer up their takes on the good, the best and the worst of 2005

Here it is — the complete 2005 SNEWS® Outdoor Retailer Survey. Unlike past years, GearTrends® published only select results from the survey and from the avalanche of emails over the last week after the magazine hit, the results are even more eagerly anticipated than we imagined. As always, there’s a lot of information packed into both this summary and the full survey results on SNEWS®, offering the industry plenty to digest, discuss, ponder and take pride in.

Keep in mind that although SNEWS® surveys hundreds of outdoor specialty retailers all over the country, this survey is by no means scientific in its approach. We do believe the results are quite representative of the outdoor specialty retail market as a whole and those taking part are consistent from year-to-year, so comparing answers to past surveys presents a useful picture of trends, market conditions and retailer moods.

The survey was available for retailers to fill out online from mid-October through Dec. 1. Those returning the surveys represent over $2.3 billion in outdoor specialty sales. At no time do we include sporting goods chains, discounters, department stores or big boxes in our surveys. The vast majority of those responding to our survey represent businesses with three or less storefronts. Every state with the exception of Hawaii is represented by stores in our survey. Results are representative of the U.S. market in 2005. Although surveyed, Canadian stores were not included in the final tally and results.

Also, take note: This year, responding to a request by our retail survey friends for an easier survey to fill out, we changed our survey methodology slightly, asking retailers to provide us with only the store’s “best-selling” brand, rather than the top three best sellers as we have in the past. While that made the survey easier to fill out, it also meant that brands which consistently appeared as No. 2 and No. 3 best-selling brands in the past, scored no points this year and, as a result, fell down in the rankings — sometimes significantly.

For you math wizards, it is important to remember that all percentages printed below were rounded to the nearest .5 percent, and since we don’t name every single company that garnered a percent of the vote, the percentages may not total 100 percent. Only companies garnering 2 percent of the vote or more are listed in each category.

Finally, despite regularly receiving some truly amazing financial offers, which we appreciate, we never disclose who responded to the surveys, since that is the promise we make our retailers in return for their honesty. One final point of importance: SNEWS® only poses the questions and does not predispose retailer answers by providing a list of choices.

For a look at the cheers and jeers from retailers this year, read on:

Who do you rate as the “best” supplier in the business?

Patagonia – 23%

Cascade Designs – 12%

The North Face – 11%

Mountain Hardwear – 8%

Icebreaker – 4%

Arc’Teryx – 4%

Aqua-Bound – 4%

Marmot – 3%

Black Diamond – 3%

Montrail – 2%

Also receiving multiple votes were: Werner, Gregory, Western Mountaineering, Adventure 16, Osprey, Lowa, Big Agnes, Northwest River Supplies, MontBell and Royal Robbins.

Wow! If we had a “gush-meter” for positive vibes and retailer commentary, Patagonia would have red-lined the sucker. In all cases, retailers singled out the manufacturer’s commitment to the environment. In most cases, retailers applauded the company for its product quality, its commitment to open and honest communication with its dealers, its on-time delivery record, and its commitment to distribution control. Only two other times since 1999 has this category seen a winner garner more than 20 percent of the vote. Patagonia did it in 2001 capturing 24 percent and Mountain Hardwear managed the feat in 2000 with a whopping 27 percent. Kudos to Cascade Designs, vaulting from a less than satisfying eighth position on the poll last year to No. 2 this year, improving 7 percentage points. Cascade Designs’ management told SNEWS® last year that the company would be back at or near the top, and the team was as good as its word. After appearing on the survey for the first time last year, Aqua-Bound continues to amaze us by clinging to a position above the likes of much bigger industry companies — a tribute to the fact that this company continues to listen and respond to its retailers. Icebreaker deserves recognition for breaking not only into the top 10 in the survey this year, but also for grabbing onto a top five position as well — recognition of the company’s commitment to its specialty distribution as well product quality. The North Face slipped a bit, but still retained a very solid showing in the No. 3 spot. Retailers gave it strong recognition for vastly improved on-time delivery and excellent customer service.

If you’re wondering how your company can get on this coveted list next year, it really isn’t that hard. Retailers tell us that simply delivering product on time, as ordered, is the first item of business. Ensure solid quality control; be sure your customer service staff is friendly, honest and knowledgeable in all aspects of communication with the retailer; and then, finally, do what you say you are going to do and stop coming up with lame excuses for failure to follow through should something not go as planned.

Who do you rate as the most difficult supplier to work with in the business?

Crocs – 17%

Old Town – 11%

Confluence – 9%

The North Face – 7%

Yakima – 6%

Too Many To List – 5%

Keen – 5%

Black Diamond – 2%

Mountain Hardwear – 2%

Cascade Designs – 2%

Also receiving multiple votes were: Bell, Marmot, Arc’Teryx, Life is Good, Eureka, Salomon and Western Mountaineering.

If there is one bright spot, it is that the “Too Many To List” category actually slipped this year, dipping from 16 percent in 2004 to 5 percent this year. In large part, though, that is because Crocs was getting far more attention this year than it did last, vaulting 11 percent to the top spot in a survey recognition no company wants any part of — the best at being the most difficult. We don’t have the space to include all the retailer diatribes regarding Crocs here, but suffice it to say that specialty retailers are blasting the company for lying about deliveries, lying about availability, having an absolutely awful customer service department, maintaining no sense of loyalty to existing dealers, and having a distribution plan that appears to say the company will open anyone with a pulse.

Notable also this year is the fact that paddlesport companies own two of the top three spots, with Old Town remaining in the No. 2 spot as it did last year, though climbing 2 percent, and Confluence leaping ahead to grab No. 3, jumping 7 percent from its 2004 position. In both cases, late deliveries and quality control issues topped the list. However, Old Town repeatedly garnered special notice for being the most difficult boat company to deal with and one that apparently had no cohesive vision for its boat line other than to make as many boats as possible and sell them into as many points of distribution as possible.

Overall, what we said in last year’s survey apparently needs repeating: Manufacturers who earned a “Most Difficult to Deal With” acknowledgement are continuing to fail specialty retailers. Breaking promises, not taking responsibility for your actions or inactions, being very difficult to deal with, not delivering, delivering poor quality product, not communicating, and not showing respect — all of those top the increasingly long list of reasons retailers named for placing the companies they did on this list.

If there is one exception to the above paragraph, it is The North Face. Try as it might — and believe us, it is trying — The North Face just can’t seem to get itself off this list, nudging up 5 percent from last year. What was interesting to us though is that in nearly every case where it received a vote this year, commentary also included positives — a first. Retailers were consistently saying vast improvement had been noticed, but more needed to be done before each would no longer put The North Face on its ballot. Most notable were the comments stating it was still far too complex a company to deal with efficiently.

What are the top-selling hardgoods categories this year?

Backpacks (includes hydration packs) – 32%

Rec Kayaks – 13%

Footwear – 13%

Sleeping Bags – 10%

Climbing – 10%

Tents – 8%

Touring Kayaks – 8%

Travel (luggage and bags) – 7%

Paddles – 6%

Backcountry Skiing – 4%

What are the top-selling soft wear categories this year?

Women’s Sportswear – 39%

Underwear / Base Layer – 19%

Socks – 15%

Men’s Sportswear – 12%

Men’s Outerwear – 11%

Technical Apparel – 11%

Fleece – 9%

Shells / Outerwear – 8%

Sportswear (both men’s and women’s) – 6%

Women’s Technical Apparel – 6%

What were the fastest-growing product categories this year?

Footwear – 14%

Paddlesports (especially rec kayaks) – 9%

Women’s Sportswear – 6%

Underwear / Base Layers – 5%

Merino – 5%

Travel – 5%

Men’s Sportswear – 3%

What is your total sales volume year to date?

Less than $499,999 – 4%

$500,000 to $1 million – 19%

$1 million to $2 million – 13%

$2 million to $3 million – 15%

$3 million to $4 million – 2%

$4 million to $5 million – 6%

$5 million to $6 million – 3%

$6 million to $7 million – 0%

$7 million to $8 million – 3%

$8 million to $9 million – 0%

$9 million to $10 million – 3%

$10 million to $20 million – 11%

$20 million to $50 million – 2%

Over $50 million – 6%

How are your sales this year compare to last YTD?

Up between 1% and 10% – 48%

Up between 11% and 20% – 15 %

Up between 21% and 30% – 5%

Way Up! (over 50% up) – 1%

Down between 1% and 10% – 14%

Down between 11% and 20% – 2%

Even – 9%

After gaining strength in 2004, the market slipped a bit overall this year, in large part because of weather-related and economic impacts. This year, only 69 percent of respondents were reporting numbers up, compared to 75 percent in 2004. Although the bright spot is the same percentage (20 percent) reported sales up over 11 percent in 2004. Unfortunately, sales declines for stores increased, from 13 percent in 2004 to 16 percent in 2005. Fewer stores were reporting flat sales, with 9 percent in 2005 compared to 11.5 percent in 2004. Retailers told SNEWS® that profits were up in a vast majority of cases, indicating inventory management and the sale of higher margin goods were becoming the rule, rather than the exception.

What is the average age of your customer?

18 to 24 – 5%

25 to 34 – 17%

35 to 44 – 51%

45 to 54 – 17%

We have no idea – 5%

Just a few subtle shifts in the picture from last year. The vast majority of sales continue to be in the 35- to 44-age group. Sales in the 18- to 34-age category dipped slightly. While the 18- to 24-age group nudged up a percent, retailers responding to the survey indicated sales to the 25- to 34-age group slipped just over 2 percent. Notable is the fact that retailers reported sales to the 45- to 54-age group represented 17 percent of business — an age group that didn’t even register on our survey in 2004. We are very happy this year that only 5 percent of retailers said they have no idea what the average age of their customer is. For those still without a clue, we repeat our message from last year: “This seems like a major disconnect with your customer to us. We’d suggest, gently, that this year those of you who really do have no idea what your customer demographic is take a moment to FIND OUT! You might actually see your sales go up as a result of better information which could lead to more educated purchases — just a thought, mind you.”

Survey Results from the Outoor Department

What are the top-selling pack brands this year?

Osprey – 28%

Gregory – 14%

The North Face – 12.5%

CamelBak – 5%

Kelty – 4.5%

Deuter – 4.5%

Lowe Alpine – 4%

Mountainsmith – 4%

Arc’Teryx – 3%

Proof positive that Osprey has made not only an impression on specialty retailers, but a sales dent as well, as the company further cements its position in the No. 1 spot of the SNEWS® survey. Frankly, we were stunned that it displaced Gregory last year, and questioned the survey results ourselves. We question no longer. All else remains pretty much status quo.

What are the top-selling tent brands this year?

MSR – 18.5%

Mountain Hardwear – 15.5%

Sierra Designs – 15.5%

The North Face – 11%

Marmot – 6%

Kelty – 3%

Black Diamond – 3%

Hilleberg – 2%

MSR rides to the top on the strength of excellent customer service and solid tent designs. Several retailers told us that they could have sold double the number of Hubba Hubbas had the tents been available to them. The North Face also climbed skyward, on the strength of vastly improved tent designs, according to retail input. Kelty appears to be continuing its slide down the survey, calling into question its relevance to specialty retailers in any other capacity than price-point offering. All others remain pretty much in the same order.

What are the top-selling sleeping bag brands this year?

The North Face – 26.5%

Mountain Hardwear – 12.5%

Western Mountaineering – 11%

Marmot – 9%

Big Agnes – 6%

Sierra Designs – 4.5%

Kelty – 4.5%

The North Face solidifies its position in the No. 1 spot as both Mountain Hardwear and Marmot gave up percentage points compared to last year. Kelty is in danger of falling off the list. Sadly, we say goodbye to Moonstone, as it has become clear the company’s parent really has no idea what to do with the brand, virtually killing off the sleeping bags that were retailer and consumer favorites for years.

What are the top-selling men’s technical outerwear brands this year?

The North Face – 25%

Mountain Hardwear – 25%

Patagonia – 9%

Marmot – 8%

Arc’Teryx – 6%

Kokatat – 3%

Columbia – 3%

Cloudveil – 3%

Same as it ever was.

What are the top-selling women’s technical outerwear brands this year?

The North Face – 29%

Mountain Hardwear – 16%

Patagonia – 11%

Marmot – 9%

Isis – 8%

Columbia – 4.5%

Arc’Teryx – 3%

Kokatat – 3%

Mountain Hardwear moves up the list, pushing Patagonia and Marmot downward. HUGE applause for Isis, which vaults onto our survey for the first time with a very, very respectable 8 percent of the retail votes — evidence the company’s designs and quality are resonating with female consumers.

What are the top-selling men’s sportswear brands this year?

Patagonia – 20%

The North Face – 15.5%

Royal Robbins – 9%

Columbia – 9%

Prana – 8%

Mountain Hardwear – 6%

Ex Officio – 4.5%

Woolrich – 3%

Kavu – 3%

Same as it ever was.

What are the top-selling women’s sportswear brands this year?

Prana – 19%

Patagonia – 17%

Horny Toad – 9%

Columbia – 9%

Royal Robbins – 8%

Ex Officio – 6%

The North Face – 6%

Mountain Hardwear – 3%

Prana continues to rock and roll, and Horny Toad remains in the top three, proving that the company’s first appearance in the survey last year was no fluke!

What are the top-selling men’s footwear brands this year?

Merrell – 19%

Montrail – 13%

Chaco – 9%

Lowa – 9%

Vasque – 8%

Salomon – 8%

Keen – 8%

Asolo – 3%

Crocs – 3%

Hi-Tec – 3%

Montrail slips out of its top spot, a place it has held proudly on to for two years. While Merrell has grabbed the top spot, the real story is the fact that the survey resulted in over 38 separate brands being named as retailer best sellers. Talk about an over-saturated market. The strong brands will only get stronger. Thinking of entering the U.S. market with a footwear line? You might want to think again…and again.

What are the top-selling women’s footwear brands this year?

Merrell – 20%

Keen – 15.5%

Chaco – 12.5%

Salomon – 8%

Vasque – 4.5%

Dansko – 4.5%

Montrail – 3%

Crocs – 3%

The North Face – 3%

Merrell moves into the top spot with the women too, as Montrail tumbles from the top spot and barely manages to eek out sufficient votes to make the list at all. Some retailers tell us it has nothing to do with quality and fit, but with design and relevance to an increasingly discriminating female shopper. Commentary from those in the running community indicate that female runners liked Montrail’s old styles (no longer in the line), and are less moved by the new offerings to buy. Say hello to Dansko, which provides us with an indication that increasingly, specialty outdoor retailers are selling fashionable and casual footwear as strongly as they do more functional boots and shoes.

What are the top-selling sock brands this year?

SmartWool – 45.3%

Wigwam – 14%

Bridgedale – 9%

Thorlo – 4.5%

Dahlgren – 4.5%

Darn Tough – 3%

Fox River – 3%

Any wonder now why Timberland bought SmartWool? The company is simply the dominant player in the sock market, and there is no sign that its No. 1 position will do anything but gain strength.

What are the top-selling underwear brands this year?

Patagonia – 55%

Icebreaker – 12.5%

Marmot – 6%

Terramar – 6%

SmartWool – 4.5%

Hot Chilly’s – 3%

While Patagonia remains the 10,000-pound gorilla in the underwear category, the company no longer enjoys the dominating position it once did. Icebreaker’s merino wool line has garnered a very passionate following and solid market position that only shows signs of gaining strength. Does it surprise anyone that Patagonia is now introducing its own line of merino wool base layers?

The Climbing Department

Sixty-one percent of the stores responding to the survey told us they carried climbing equipment, an increase from last year’s 54 percent. While we noted that Montrail’s entry into climbing shoes had a significant impact on the climbing shoe market last year, the company has essentially become an also-ran this year. What is interesting to note is that Five Ten slipped down to No. 3 on the list this year, losing 13 percentage points over last year’s ranking. Both La Sportiva and Mad Rock increased market share. As for climbing apparel, that is a category that is becoming increasingly hard for retailers to define, as indicated by a number of write-ins wondering just what is meant by the definition. Prana appears now to have a firm lock on the category. Gramicci, once a strong player, has become a no-show.

What are the top-selling climbing hardware brands this year?

Black Diamond – 67%

Petzl – 9%

Metolius – 5%

Omega Pacific – 5%

Trango – 4.5%


What are the top-selling climbing shoe brands this year?

La Sportiva – 38%

Mad Rock – 23.5%

Five Ten – 17.5%

Montrail – 6%

What are the top-selling climbing apparel brands this year?

Prana – 66%

Verve – 7.5%

The North Face – 5%

Stonewear Designs – 2%

What are the top-selling climbing rope brands this year?

Sterling – 28%

Beal – 20.5%

Mammut – 15%

Blue Water – 13%

Black Diamond – 10%

New England Ropes – 5%

What are the top-selling climbing harness brands this year?

Black Diamond – 59%

Misty Mountain – 10%

Petzl – 10%

Metolius – 5%


Singing Rock – 5%

The Wintersports Department

Only 40 percent of the stores responding to our survey told us that they carried snow sports equipment, a drop of 5 percent from the previous year. As was the case with last year’s survey, even more retailers wrote in and told us they had dropped out of the snowshoe business altogether as it was no longer perceived as a viable business for specialty retail.

What are the top-selling telemark / AT ski brands this year?

K2 – 27%

Karhu – 15%

Atomic – 7.5%

Fischer – 7.5%

What are the top-selling telemark boot brands this year?

Scarpa – 31%

Garmont – 28.5%

What are the top-selling cross-country ski brands this year?

Fischer – 31%

Karhu – 23%

Atomic – 7.5%

Rossignol – 4%

What are the top-selling cross-country ski boot brands this year?

Salomon – 27%

Alpina – 11.5%

Fischer – 11.5%

Karhu – 19%

What are the top-selling snowshoe brands this year?

Atlas – 42%

MSR – 35%

Tubbs – 6%

The Paddlesports Department

Fifty-three percent of our responding stores told us they carried paddlesports equipment, down 4 percent from last year. No real surprises this year in any category, other than the number of retailers who responded to our “top-selling whitewater” question with lines such as, “Top-selling? How about most asked for at a bro-deal.” Little wonder fewer and fewer specialty retailers are willing to carry whitewater kayaks.

What are the top-selling whitewater kayak brands this year?

Wave Sport – 20.5%

Jackson Kayak – 11.5%

Pyranha Kayaks – 9%

Liquid Logic – 9%

What are the top-selling canoe brands this year?

Mad River – 29%

We-no-nah – 26%

Old Town – 6%

Bell – 3%

What are the top-selling touring kayak brands this year?

Wilderness Systems – 32%

Perception – 26%

Necky – 12%

Dagger – 9%

Current Designs – 6%

Eddyline – 2%

What are the top-selling sit-on-top brands this year?

Perception – 20.5%

Hobie – 15%

Ocean Kayak – 15%

Wilderness Systems – 14%

Mainstream – 6%

What are the top-selling PFD brands this year?

Lotus – 23.5%

MTI – 20.5%

Astral Buoyancy – 15%

Kokatat – 12%

Stohlquist – 9%

Extrasport – 9%

What are the top-selling paddle brands this year?

Werner – 32%

Aquabound – 26%

Harmony – 9%

Bending Branches – 9%

What are the top-selling paddlesport apparel brands this year?

NRS – 29%

Kokatat – 20.5%

Immersion Research – 9%

What are the top-selling paddlesport accessory brands this year?

SealLine (Cascade Designs) – 20.5%

NRS – 20.5%

Harmony – 12%

WildWasser – 6%

Sea to Summit – 6%

SNEWS® also asked retail respondents a few free-thinking questions. Here’s what we heard:

What are you doing to attract youth/new participants into the sports/activities your store represents?

>> We have dropped price on our ‘Yak-Attack’ five-day kids camp. Participation numbers more than tripled. We offer a Jackson Kayak lease program so that the dollar amount to participate in the sport is not so shocking to parents. We offer free pool nights and river trips to families at no charge.

>> We have a youth paddling school and day camp…attendance this year was over 1,100. We have moved our focus to beginners and sponsor beginning events.

>> The youth market has been integrated into our strategic and marketing plans. Some key ways we outreach: Opening a rock gym in the building, open until midnight on Fridays for teen nights. Sponsoring ski/board buses to the mountains with local Parks Dept during the winter. Rock climbing classes with Parks Dept in summer. Hiring five to seven high school students to work in the store to promote sales to their friends. Visiting schools to talk about what we do. Getting involved in business education programs for students to promote our industry’s values and commitment to sustainability and the environment. Donating to the local youth-homeless drop-in center. Coordinating with the community’s National Youth Congress events. Outreach to local Scout units on services we can provide. Being at major Scout functions with info and expertise. This is a partial list only…

>> Lobbying manufacturers to make a boat for youth that doesn’t suck and doesn’t cost a fortune. For new participants, tailoring some of our classes to make them less threatening and more user-friendly. That and marketing to people who are already outdoor enthusiasts, as well as trying to sell more to paddlers who already are our customers.

>> With regards to the “youth market,” we have no funds to expend chasing this group. As a group, they offer no short-term or near-term return on our investment. New participants, but probably at least in their mid-twenties, are cultivated by a very active program of in-store demos on “how to” in every category. Loads of classes and demonstrations in all stores.

>> We continue to do as many grassroots events as we can. We donate to so many functions that are not even outdoor-related. We never give up on the Scout community. We continue to sponsor adventure racing (money pit). We started a newsletter this year again and put all the clubs events in them and they seem to want to become loyal to us for helping them. What a novel idea. We are considering putting a portable climbing wall in the local super Wal-Mart and see if that might help as well. Our slogan is: “If you have a full set of teeth, we want you.”

>> Very little in this specific direction. We give slide shows and have programs. We give talks outside the store. We sponsor Banff Films. We have failed to connect with Scouts. We try to execute basic retail to the best of our ability and potential. We try to have stuff on hand and in stock that outdoor customers want and need.

With consolidation comes apparent increased pressure from companies to buy all the brands that company now represents. We’d like to know if you are feeling increased pressure to have to buy “X” quantity of Company 1’s Brand B in order to be able to buy Company 1’s Brand A, the one brand you really want from that company? How does this subtle strong-arming affect your buying decisions and your store’s ability to carry the brands it might otherwise wish to carry?

>> Confluence has been super mellow and now that they are having delivery issues it is a good thing they did not try to strong arm us. Johnson is the opposite. They did build extra incentives to be all Johnson all the time. But we are staying loyal to vendors that have grown with us and truly been partners. Alder Creek really wants to support small independent manufacturers that have unique positions in the market and are not sold at a discount on the web.

>> Crap, I knew you’d ask this. Yeah, some strong-arming attempts, but we’re sticking to what we need in order to do our buys. We still cherry pick where we can.

>> As long as the product is comparable in quality and price, it doesn’t matter. When there is a difference in quality or price or minimums…..that’s when we start looking for other companies to work with.

>> “Subtle strong-arming” is a contradiction in terms. In most cases, I, as the owner, am the one excited about buying more brands from less vendors. It saves me dollars in accounting (less checks and vendors to mail to) and can save the brands dollars too, which will keep retail prices in check. This trend could go “too far” eventually, but right now, I am comfortable with it, as a necessary step to sustain the profitability of our businesses.

>> I find this an odd issue to emerge all of a sudden — many companies have been practicing a version of this for years. To get the maximum discount from Petzl, we have to buy all categories (which means I don’t buy axes and crampons from Grivel). Eureka, Black Diamond, Cascade . . . they’ve all practiced a version of this for years, which results in less vendors on our floor.

>> If there’s any pressure, it’s minimal for us. We simply refuse (and always have) to buy X or else we won’t get Y. It’s a bad business practice to strong-arm people and in the end, karma works.

>> People we do business with are careful not to strong-arm us because we have a healthy disrespect for authority and although I am extremely loyal I can also be mean, real mean.

>> We have not encountered such pressure as of this date, but we are presuming it might come. You know the old saying, “Once you drop your pant, it’s hard to get them back up.” We will try and wear the pants for as long as we can, even if they are Mountain Khaki’s.

How do you think retail will change in the next decade? What are you doing to prepare for the change you perceive is coming?

>> Customers will continue to gather information via web sites. We are continuing to develop our on line presence with This serves primarily as a catalog for our brick and mortar stores in that we do not discount on the web. We are driving traffic to our doors by showing a very wide selection of paddling gear — not found anywhere else. Price shopping — the prevailing Wal-Mart attitude of ‘I deserve the lowest price everyday’ by consumers will not stop. Offensive: We are choosing vendors that have unique product and clear distribution strategies, so that we can hold full price. Defensive: We offer a price matching policy on like products. This serves to keep the customer in our store and lets our competition know that we won’t be beat on price.

>> The big will get bigger, slower and less interesting. The small will get quick, lean and more interesting or go away.

>> Well, already we are hearing more and more customers tell us they shop the internet first. I should put a BUY button on my website and start selling there. Maybe I will, but realistically, I’m tired and I think I’ll retire. I think a lot of small retailers will have retired whether they desire to do so or not. I’m buying real estate with the hope that I’ll have something of value that can get me through.

>> Our web business is the easiest change we can point to. However, our web store is eight years old. The key changes will be direct computer access to inventories and placing orders. Partnerships with key vendors and shared inventories or flexible inventories will also be key. I also think reps should be salary based and work for the companies. It would be a huge savings to the vendors or at least the big vendors.

>> For independent retailers committed to their customers, I see the next decade as a potential “golden age”… We are on the cusp of great things. Big Box stores are about to drive customers back to us. Boring, sterile retail environments elsewhere make our stores look outstanding by comparison. It is easier and easier to set yourself apart as a premier retailer, because so many are doing a worse and worse job every year. Chain stores aren’t pushing into our specialty markets like they were. Consumers are feeling nostalgic, and not wanting to buy on-line … they want to come in, browse, sit by the fire and relax. They want to buy from companies they believe in and our industry commitment to conservation and sustainability will become the single largest force in marketing ourselves to our communities in the coming years. The potential for greatness is there, and within our grasp if only we have the guts and daring to reach for it. You could say I have a bit of optimism in me…

>> We are over-retailed, and not just in the outdoor industry. I fear the days of the independent retailer are limited since the generation that is running them now is near retirement. Mainly we just fight every day to try to get a share of the retail dollar.

>> I think a good specialty shop will always do well. Customers like to get a warm feeling from making a good buying decision and like instant gratification. They like when someone takes an interest in them, can recognize them, knows their name when they check out. This is the core of outdoor retail. The product a shop carries is important, but secondary to the customer experience. I also think a specialty shop needs to be so unique to serve the needs of their geographic customers that they need not worry so much about national trends. Local trends are more important. We’re in the Midwest, yet climbing is 10 percent of our overall sales (we’ll sell 400 pairs of climbing shoes this year). Backpacks are 10 percent of our overall sales — and growing. There is nothing nationally to say this should happen, but we’re going with the flow instead of trying to mold our store into what the industry says it should be. I think online sales will continue to grow, but vendors need to appreciate that steady growth and customer loyalty cannot easily be obtained through this venue because the consumer does not feel a connection to their computer monitor. I think most big box stores will eventually abandon many of the elite outdoor brands (as they have started to do) in favor of less expensive knock-offs. This will provide a growth opportunity for specialty stores.

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