Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about how to remain relevant, given the country’s shifting demographics and increased dependence on technology.
With the Outdoor Industry Association launching the IDEO project at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, and continuing the work at both the upcoming Rendezvous, that talk has turned to action.
IDEO, a global design consultancy firm, has been charged with identifying where the outdoor retail industry is missing opportunities and developing an action plan — or what they’re calling a concept car — to take advantage of those opportunities in the future.
“The industry has a long history of being successful and running good businesses in the outdoor space,” said Clark Scheffy, associate partner and designer. “The viewpoint of the board of the Outdoor Industry Association … is that there are opportunities that the industry is not tapping into.”
Christie Hickman, OIA’s vice president of market insights, said it’s necessary to identify the attitudes and habits of current and future consumers for the industry to remain successful.
“People are shopping differently than they ever have before,” Hickman said. “Technology has enabled tremendous power for the buyer and that’s our new reality. More people are living in urban environments than ever before. This is fundamentally changing how they define and want to engage in outdoor experiences.”
To identify those definitions and opportunities, the folks at IDEO launched into finding their inspiration, said Designer Jill Levinsohn.
The firm looked to interesting places and sought out people between the ages of 19-54 who were not typical outdoor consumers. They asked them what they were doing to engage in the outdoors — and why they weren’t engaging.
“A lot of people are still really inspired by the outdoors, but they’re going about engaging in different ways,” Levinsohn said, adding that the firm spoke to people in the Bay Area and Chicago. “People want to be out in nature, but they also want to find ways to get outside in cities and suburbs, in the fresh air and beauty that they find there.”
Through its research, IDEO found several areas in which the industry could tweak its communication to appeal to a broader consumer base.
“We heard from people that when they look at how the outdoor industry portrays itself, they don’t see themselves in it yet,” Scheffy said
Outdoor industry messaging tends to highlight activities that appear to take place in remote areas, and focus on a lot of hard-core, adventure-based experiences.
“If you just gaze at outdoor imagery, a lot of it communicates people in sophisticated gear doing pretty extreme outdoor sports of one kind or another — scaling Everest, hanging off the side of a cliff or rock climbing,” Scheffy said. “That kind of imagery is aspirational and it’s actually kind of terrifying.”
Levinsohn added that one woman interviewed, a self-proclaimed “girly girl” said she liked to go for hikes and be outdoors, but she also liked to wear make-up and dresses all the time but didn’t feel like she was “outdoorsy.”
“Because people don’t see themselves in some of the imagery currently used,” Levinsohn said, “they feel like they’re not included.”
Other findings from the research showed that people like to go outdoors in groups, versus solo excursions, and many folks from diverse ethnic backgrounds don’t feel comfortable in the outdoor space, OIA’s Hickman said.
“Making outdoor activities emotionally and physically accessible to those who haven’t had exposure to them will be essential to engaging a larger and more diverse audience,” Hickman said. “From an industry perspective there is no question that the need for diversity exists and that starts from within. Actively seeking to build diversity in the workplace will become increasingly important as the industry evolves to meet the needs of a much more diverse consumer base.”
The IDEO staff is currently framing a workshop for the OIA Rendezvous to be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in San Diego, though full details are not yet available.
Levinsohn said, “Our work is not about turning away from but finding new ways to engage with current customers and broaden the customer base.”