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Yoga and outdoor retail: A growing relationship

As yoga gains traction in market, up-and-coming brands attempt to find a place at outdoor specialty retail.

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Up-and-coming yoga brands are looking for retail home.

Beyond the big direct-to-consumer yoga brands — think Lululemon or Athleta — that have retail fronts of their own, a central outlet for smaller and independent brands has been virtually nonexistent. They tend to be sprinkled throughout studios, boutiques, fitness and running shops.

But as of late, outdoor retail has stood out to yoga brands as a retail front with perhaps the most potential. As yoga converges with other sports and becomes a ritual for athletes of all types, both retailers and brands can see the symbiosis of working together.

“Yoga is an important and growing part of the outdoor lifestyle market, serving as an amazing complement to other physical activities like running, climbing, cycling,” said Sky Meltzer, CEO of Manduka, which attended the past few Outdoor Retailer trade shows.

Neesha Sodha and Neetin Bhagat of fellow yoga brand Temple Flower agree. They have noticed a “slight trend” in the move toward outdoor retail. They accredit it to yoga becoming more of a lifestyle outside of the studio and one that many different genres of athletes and the average population can practice.

Outdoor retailers tell SNEWS this image of accessible, everyday yoga is one that can sell in their stores.

Benchmark Outfitters, in Cincinnati, has been carrying yoga apparel and goods for years. Manager Chris Glaser said the category is especially popular with customers who want to use the gear for more than one use.

“I think multifunctionality is really big because it justifies spending,” he said. “It’s harder to justify buying a lot if you can only use it for one thing. So it’s better when these aren’t one-use products, but products people can use every day.”

Stephanie Weiser, manager of Chico Sports, in Chico, Calif., echoed that sentiment. “I do think it’s really profitable,” Weiser said. “But it’s about marketing it just right so it seems accessible and viable for the average consumer.”

Even though the retailers we spoke to are positive about yoga brands’ move into their stores, the category has faced some challenges approaching the market.

Both Temple Flower and Manduka cited the difficulty of communicating the positive attributes and technicalities of their products to the average consumer at an outdoor retail store. Another challenge has been working their way into the outdoor retail culture, which Sodha describes as “kind of a tight circle.”

“To get in you really have to know the buyers and someone within,” she said. “Sometimes getting that insider information can be challenging.”

Sodha, who is the creative director Temple Flower, said direct-to-consumer sales online sometimes is more effective than going through outdoor retailers, because the site allows for the story to shine through, so the garment is more than just a garment.

Indeed, Lisa Lyons, owner and manager of Morgan Outdoors in Livingston Manor, N.Y., emphasized the importance of “merchandizing, so the product comes alive and it’s not just a product in the corner of a store.”

Yoga products placed in outdoor retail stores need to appeal to more than just the experts so category seems universally accessible. And directly making the connection to the outdoors doesn’t hurt either.

“I’ve noticed that when there’s a picture of a person on a yoga mat and in motion in the natural world, people can make the connection,” Lyons said. “People can see themselves in that picture and say, ‘Ok, I can try that.’”

Retailers acknowledged that many of their relationships with yoga have arisen based on which studios they work with and which brands are present at regional outdoor shows, they said they also look for gear with reasonable prices and effective marketing.

All three retailers — Morgan Outdoors, Chico Sports LTD, and Benchmark Outfitters — said they hope to continue to grow their yoga stock and to try to get more people into their stores to buy yoga gear.

“I see the market easily moving that way,” Lyons said. “The two just go together.”

Despite the mentioned hurdles, yoga brands seem to be in agreement.

“Yoga is still a growing area,” Temple Flower President Neetin Bhagat said. “I think as awareness grows, yoga’s presence in outdoor retail will grow. It will be really incredible.”

–Becca Stanek