By  on May 28, 2008

Action sports apparel is emerging as a potential bright spot in a troubled industry landscape.

The $7.48 billion sector that targets enthusiasts who careen on asphalt and snow as well as ride waves — or dress as if they do — is reaping the benefits of a strategy that combines trend-driven fashion, casual dressing and retail prices that hover below $100 for jeans and swimsuits and less than $30 for T-shirts.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. this month jumped into surf as the exclusive seller of pastel-tinted corduroy shorts and rainbow-printed T-shirts from iconic brand Ocean Pacific, backed by a print, radio and online marketing blitz that includes Kristin Cavallari of "Laguna Beach" and rocker Pete Wentz.

Macy's Inc., which carries action sports apparel brands such as Roxy, Quiksilver, Hurley and O'Neill, sponsors surf competitions in Hawaii and California as a way to market to Millennials, the influential consumers born between 1979 and 1999.

Amid declining sales at other apparel vendors and retailers, revenue at several action sports companies is trending higher.

Volcom Inc., an apparel maker based in Costa Mesa, Calif., raised its 2008 sales target to $343 million to $347 million, from previous estimates of $339 million to $344 million. Everett, Wash.-based Zumiez Inc. said first-quarter revenue grew 14 percent to $78.7 million from $68.8 million, while net income fell 13 percent to $1.4 million from $1.6 million on higher expenses. Buckle Inc., a Kearney, Neb.-based teen retailer that specializes in jeans mixed with a wide range of board sports clothing, said first-quarter net income grew 53 percent to $18.7 million from $12.2 million as revenue increased 32 percent to $160.3 million from $121.1 million.

"Through all of these economic difficulties, the board sports have sustained a good sell-through at retail," said Debra Stevenson, who follows fashion and retail at her consultancy firm Skyline Studios in Los Angeles.

Aside from aesthetics, action sports apparel helps fill a void on the sales floor, as Macy's, Buckle and Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. phase out urbanwear. "They're going after action sports in a big way," said Kurt Schleicher, director of sales at Fox Head Inc., a manufacturer based in Morgan Hill, Calif. "The timing is great."


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