Ski industry report breaks down snowsports retail sales
Ski shops across the country experienced wildly different sales during the first half of winter, largely thanks to weather. Overall sales continue to climb.
Snowsports Industries America, a nonprofit trade association for equipment and apparel producers and sellers, recently collected data from about 1,200 retailers and reported a mixed bag of sales during the first half of the season.
From August through January, overall snowsports retail sales reached $3.4 billion, up 2 percent over the same period the year before.
Though equipment and accessories sales were down 2 percent to $1.1 billion, outerwear sales increased 5 percent to $1.3 billion and apparel accessories sales (including headwear, handwear and base layers) rose 4 percent to $443 million.
SIA director of research Kelly Davis said weather is responsible for as much as three-fourths of the annual variance in sales of equipment and apparel. The wildly different weather by region is reflected in the sales of equipment and clothing this winter, she said.
The Pacific Northwest had a warm winter, and California continued to suffer through severe drought. The Rocky Mountains saw warm temperatures and below-average snow with some blasts of typical winter weather. Snow and cold hammered the Northeast.
“It couldn’t get more drastic, frankly,” Davis said.
Regionally, sales were up slightly in the West (which includes the Pacific and Rockies) and Midwest and down slightly in the South and Northeast. Too much snow in the Northeast, the report said, likely prevented an increase in sales as customers struggled to get to specialty shops.
Kevin Kahle, owner of the Rebel Sports shops in Frisco and Copper Mountain, said winter sales were solid thanks to early-season snow.
“Early snow is always best,” he said. “That really started our season off well and kept things going through the warm times here.”
in-person or online?
Most people bought snowsports products at specialty shops, whose overall sales were even with last season’s at $1.7 billion, rather than at chain stores and online retailers.
“Consumer behavior is shifting, and it’s been shifting for quite some time,” Davis said, “but the specialty shops are still the heart of snowsports retail.”
Outerwear sales at specialty shops increased by 4 percent to $508 million and rental equipment revenue was up 6 percent to $113 million.
Equipment sales, however, which include Alpine, snowboard, cross-country, Alpine touring and telemark gear, were down by 2 percent to $493 million in specialty shops. The bright spot in equipment sales was Alpine touring gear, sales of which increased by 36 percent to $6.3 million.
The association reported that backcountry participation is up 25 percent, with 6.3 million skiers and riders now claiming they have explored backcountry terrain.
At chain stores, sales reached $947 million, up 10 percent in dollars and 8 percent in units sold.
The chain-store gains were driven by increases in outerwear sales (up 10 percent to $395 million) apparel accessories (up 9 percent to $181 million), snowboard equipment (up 18 percent to $25 million) and winter footwear (up 11 percent to $59 million).
Online sales reached $740 million, down 6 percent in both dollars and units sold.
Slim early-season inventory at larger online retailers, such as REI.com, contributed to the decline in online sales, Davis said.
She said the online sales numbers might be off, however, because she expected to see the upward trend of the last nearly 10 years continue.
About a third of snowboard sales are now happening online, though people are still buying other gear items, like boots they want to try on and bindings they need help mounting, at physical stores.
“Most people can mount their own bindings on a snowboard,” Davis said. “That is not true for Alpine skis. That is not true for cross-country skis.”
RISE OF WOMEN’S, SEASONALLY DIVERSE PRODUCTS
Sales of women-specific products were up 2 percent in dollars to $866 million, which represented 32 percent of all sales.
AT gear targeted to women, especially, saw a jump of 381 percent in sales to $169,000.
Women-specific product sales saw a decline only in snowboard equipment, which dropped 1 percent in dollars sold. However, women’s snowboard boot sales rose 5 percent to $13 million.
“Women are demanding better equipment,” Kahle said. “In the athletic industry in general I think the ladies are definitely coming on strong.”
Additionally, the SIA report said holiday promotions in October and November hurt December sales and pulled average selling prices down.
“November was much, much bigger this year than it had been in previous seasons,” Davis said, which indicates that holiday deals are moving up and consumers are thinking about them earlier.
Past industry patterns suggest sales in the Northeast, Midwest, mid-Atlantic and the South will finish the season strong, while poor snow conditions in the West will cause retail sales and snowsports participation to dip.
Davis said retailers in the West can transition earlier in the season to selling gear and apparel for biking, hiking and other activities that snowsports enthusiasts love, and they should do fine as long as they have diversified their products.
“If they’re just snowsports, then it’s going to hurt,” she said.
SIA will likely release its report analyzing market trends through the entire 2014-15 ski season in May.
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