Hot Topics 2020


What Retailers Are Excited About: The in-store experience, brand collaboration, sustainability and more…

“I am really excited for some of the cool experiential collaborations that we are doing with a few of our key brands. It’s kind of the next level of getting customers out and really feeling what some of the stories that we tell in the store feel like in the actual outdoors. During the first part of the year, we have a cabin that customers can rent for a really minimal amount ($50/night). They get to use a demo kit of the new Futurelight gear from The North Face. The cabin is situated in this beautiful location, completely redone to reflect the vibe of TNF and [our store], and located so that the customer can go nordic, backcountry or alpine skiing basically right out of the front door. It’s going to be a great way for people to have an amazing experience that really hooks them into what our brands are about. This coming summer, we are going to have a mobile iteration of our shop — built inside to look like the store — that will be at a different trailhead every weekend. Whoever shows up will be able to use Oboz boots and TNF gear for the day for free, and we will have coffee with locally roasted beans to get them fueled up for the trail. These are the things that we have found that really differentiate what specialty can do in partnership with great brands.”
Wes Allen, Sunlight Sports, Cody, WY

“The outdoor industry landscape continues to change and adapt but the big push for environmentally sustainable goods really has me inspired for 2020. I’ve noticed that now more than ever, brands and manufacturers are leaning heavily on responsibly sourced, recycled, and sustainable product. This move is imperative and essential. I’m excited to see the our industry leading the charge and hope that it will be a great example for the consumer goods market overall.”
Emily White, Road Rivers and Trails, Milford, OH

“It’s our 25th year in business which is huge. As always I’m excited about being able to educate and outfit as many people as possible to be able to happily and safely have adventures outside. We are also working to partner even tighter with our valuable non-profit partners to raise visibility on what they are doing and also help fund their efforts even more.”
Mike Donohue, Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington, VT

“We are excited to have a full season in our new boating store which opened in mid-July, well after the main portion of the season had already passed. The boating retail scene has a throwback appeal that I find personally engaging. It is literally the very last place in our business where consumers still want to touch and feel the products and generally need help in making good choices. Much of boating is low margin and is also saddled with high freight costs. It generally consists of many accessories to complement the actual boat purchase. Consumers rarely see a better deal online and because the items are expensive most consumers want to touch and see what the differences are before they make decisions, which is fun and engaging retail to be involved with.”
Todd Frank, The Trail Head, Missoula, MT

Retail Challenges in 2020: Brands selling DTC, online competition, rising rents, and how to make sustainability practices viable…

“I think the biggest challenge is to do business in an industry that completely drank the direct to consumer Kool-Aid. Now [the industry] has discovered that it’s really hard for a brand to sell their own gear at full wholesale. So, the pressure is on [brands] to hit that ‘discount email’ ripcord to hit budgets, but at the cost of their long-term brand equity. There just continues to be an escalation of the number of brands who become our competitors on one hand, but then can’t seem to understand why retailers won’t pick up the phone when they call. And that lack of ability to sell their own gear at full price is driving some bad, bad behavior.”
Wes Allen, Sunlight Sports, Cody, WY

“Clearly to me the single biggest challenge our retail environment faces is the changing landscape of the retailer/manufacturer relationship. Manufacturers who are continuing to build out DTC and off price DTC models that instead of supporting what we do, negatively affect traditional retailers’ place in the ecosystem.

Two years ago everyone was worried about Amazon and its effect on traditional retail models. In reality, while they are consolidating the power of the retail environment, Amazon cannot continue to squeeze third party sellers and those manufacturers who sell direct to them.  And the likelihood of buying a fake is increasing daily. I think the shine of Amazon will wear off for everything except commodity items. True specialty items without some local support will be challenged on the platform. Amazon is not going away but it will keep changing and those who do not see it will get burned.

Change the paradigm and embrace the change. Find vendors who are literally willing to pay us to be the showroom for them.

Retail in general is like the rest of our economy, the money and power are continuing to consolidate. High rents in hip markets will squeeze out some retail where it actually should be best suited to survive. And in the suburbs it will be ever more challenging to get consumers off the phone and into the stores.

The brands are actively working to acquire consumers who are introduced to the brand in-store and then seek them out online or are marketed to by the brands who are buying big data like the smart speaker that listens into the dinner party discussion about what cool new products everyone is talking about. We are already being manipulated by data and will need to be vigilant about protecting ourselves from the convenience technology offers.”
Todd Frank, The Trail Head, Missoula, MT

Retail Opportunities Ahead: Engaging more closely with consumers, building better brand relationships, connecting with their community and more…

“The Harvard Business Review ran an article this summer called ‘The Elusive Green Consumer’ and it talked about how people want sustainable products but don’t tend to buy them. I think our biggest challenge and opportunity for next year is continuing to find innovative ways to educate and encourage our customers on what they should be looking for in an environmentally responsible product and restructuring consumer buying habits.”
Emily White, Road Rivers and Trails, Milford, OH

“I feel like time is moving quicker and people have more demands on their time. But time outside is so important and I feel that, especially in Vermont, people are making it a part of their priorities and lifestyles to make sure their time out of doors is not diminished. With so many different things to do locally, we want to help reengage those who may not have spent as much time recreating recently as well as turn on new participants to all the great ways to enjoy wildness. We do this through our events and product demos as well as with the huge variety of gear we carry in store. Additionally as prices continue to climb, our consignment department is a gold mine for those looking to try a new activity on a budget.”
Mike Donohue, Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington, VT

“Change the paradigm and embrace the change. Find vendors who are literally willing to pay us to be the showroom for them. They all understand that without us as the touch point and curated collection of products, what they build will be lost in the sea of products available on Amazon and everywhere else… We can build out an assortment of products the vendors want to push and we believe in. The deal is they own it, we agree on a margin we get and we get it done. If it sells... great, we get more. If [their product] sucks or the DTC discounting moves the customer away from us, then the vendor gets it back and finds a discounted home for it. That is the future if we are to survive.”
Todd Frank, The Trail Head, Missoula, MT

“The biggest opportunity continues to be connecting with your local community. It’s variable from location to location, but really having a strategy to make sure that your shop evokes positive emotions that drive people to want to come in is the way forward.”
Wes Allen, Sunlight Sports, Cody, WY

Retailers Also Want to Focus on: Sustainability and Inclusivity...

“A topic we want to focus on in the year ahead is how we and the outdoor industry at large can really work to be more sustainable... And another goal of ours is to really expand our #everyoneswilderness to be even more inclusive and making sure all types of people feel comfortable, supported and empowered to get out and experience all Vermont has to offer.”
Mike Donohue, Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington, VT’

“I absolutely love how the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance allows small business owners like myself to get together and share ideas. We all have similar goals; run a great business. But we also care about the planet and don’t want the byproduct of our successes to be the downfall of our environment. By sharing ideas and working towards ways to be better stewards of our environment we’ve been able to work towards our goals. For example, the organization as a whole has already made strides by switching over to digital workbooks instead of paper workbooks. We had a 60 percent adoption rate this past year! We were able to save some trees and hopefully some money for vendors. The important part is that we’re not just coming to the table with issues, we’re working with brands to develop creative solutions to bring on positive change. I want the conversation to continue. I want the industry as a whole to focus on how we do our part in offering a sustainable product from the manufacturer to the consumer.”
Emily White, Road Rivers and Trails, Milford, OH

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