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A few days before Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014, Texas-based outdoor retailer Backwoods announced a deal to purchase fellow specialty retailer Dynamic Earth in Springfield, Mo. The acquisition, expected to close in September, will add a fifth state and 11th store to the Backwoods’ roster. A year ago, CEO Jennifer Mull made a similar deal to grow its ranks, acquiring the iconic Neptune Mountaineering, another single shop, in Boulder, Colo.
While the moves seem small, they represent a larger story in outdoor retail. Facing growing competition from national players such as REI and Backcountry.com, independent shops increasingly are looking to team up and gain strength in numbers. The theory: A collection stores can better leverage their resources to compete — not only on a regional level with physical locations, but on a virtual level with e-commerce, mobile and marketing to rival the big boys. Admittedly, neither Neptune nor Dynamic had much e-commerce presence. With Backwoods providing the back-end support, that is quickly changing.
Even some of the nation’s bigger outdoor specialty retailers are bulking up. In June, the owner of Eastern Mountain Sports purchased Sport Chalet to become part of its Vestis Retail Group. The two now account for 118 stores in 15 eastern and western states, second only to REI. Other smaller regional players from Moosejaw Mountaineering to Rock Creek Outfitters and Austin Canoe & Kayak, while not making acquisitions, are slowly adding doors.
To get a better picture of growing scene, SNEWS put together a list of the nation’s largest outdoor specialty retailers (click here to download the PDF), ranking those with four or more locations. The list isn’t a perfect representation of the market — missing otherwise notable regional players with fewer locations, such as Paragon Sports in New York City (one store) or Summit Hut in Tucson, Ariz. (two stores), not to mention online-only retailers like Backcountry.com — but it helps illustrate the story.
We counted 31 specialty outdoor businesses with four or more locations for a combined total of 432 stores. To give perspective, those 432 stores account for about one-third of all outdoor retailer specialty stores in the nation, part of a complete list SNEWS is cultivating for a later release. Our definition for specialty outdoor retail: The store has to sell at least backpacks, tents and sleeping bags. So, apparel-and-footwear-only stores or strictly ski or paddle shops aren’t counted on the initial list. We also drew the line with businesses like Dick’s Sporting Goods or Cabela’s, which play more in the sporting goods and hunting/fishing markets, respectively.
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