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After weeks of decidedly indoorsy behavior due to the coronavirus pandemic, now more than ever “the great outdoors” feels like an authentically apropos reference.

Here, outdoor brands weigh in on how the market has changed, emerging trends and wellness-related advice — particularly for those seeking some fresh air.

What Consumers Are Buying

According to Peter Sachs, general manager at Lowa, an outdoor footwear company headquartered in Germany with a brick-and-mortar presence in Connecticut, consumers are still sticking to “survival essentials,” such as good, toiletries and other home necessities.

Sachs told WWD, “Some of this may be because they are sheltering at home and some may be due to concerns about employment and income. That said, it’s clear that there is a lot of ‘taking a walk,’ ‘visiting a local park’ and other simple easy ways for individuals and families to get some fresh air close to home.”

He added that when preparing for future trends, “I think we will have to move from trying to be aspirational to being realistic. The coronavirus seems to have come fast, but it will go away slowly. Our product sales may shift from hiking and climbing, which are our strengths into more walking and lighter activity sport shoes.”

And brands that specialize in essentials, such as LifeStraw, a water filter and purifier company, noted a sharp increase in sales during the pandemic. Tara Lundy, head of brand at LifeStraw, told WWD, “We can certainly speak with some authority to the fact that people are buying water filters. LifeStraw has seen a significant increase in demand since the start of the pandemic across the entire product line but also specifically on our larger capacity purifier products.

“Our largest sales have occurred in the month of March,” Lundy added. “We know many of our retailers even with shuddered doors are selling through our products online. We have heard from other retailers and industry colleagues that other emergency supplies such as solar lighting and backpacker type food products are selling well. I would surmise that overall the shift is away from apparel and towards accessories right now, specifically items that have cross-over with emergency kits and off-grid living applications,” she added.

Wanderszene bei Pregasina, Gardasee, Trentino, Italien.

Photo courtesy of Lowa.  Bernd Ritschel

A Meaningful Uptick in Wellness — and Sustainability

But purchase behaviors do vary brand-to-brand, and for some, consumers are locking in on ways to stay active during the pandemic. Online outdoor retailer Moosejaw, for example, has seen a decrease in critical needs and increases in outdoor activity products. Eoin Comerford, chief executive officer of Moosejaw, explained that the brand is seeing consumers move from “survival” products “to equipment that helps them keep active at home, like climbing boards and bike trainers. Apparel sales are slowly rebounding, but quicker for men’s apparel than women’s apparel.”

And Sachs added that consumers are likely — hopefully — using this time at home effectively, noting that “I think lots of people are probably spending time reading, watching videos on YouTube including how to do or fix things. At Lowa, our employees all participate in LinkedIn Learning programs. While you can’t watch these all day, you can carve out some time each day to learn something.”

It’s also a time to push the sustainability mission forward, as consumers are learning the value of responsibility and reuse during this time. Lundy told WWD, “Within the industry we have all been talking about and been aware of the environmental impact of single-use plastics and paper consumables for some time. I imagine those in the industry are on the more responsible side of finding ways to reduce their footprint, avoiding bottled water, using reusable cooking and drinking containers, and making do with less toilet paper etc.

“However, I think there is now a realization among a wider consumer group that beyond environmental sustainability, that single-use items like bottled water are also not sustainable from a supply perspective. I think this will trigger a broader set of consumers to look for alternatives to single-use — not because of the impact on our planet — because of the impact of stock-outs, multiple store runs and the rate at which these products are consumed when longer-term alternatives exist.”

Another important lesson? Learning how to work with less, according to Lundy. “Avoiding extra trips to the grocery store and paring down our use of consumables is creating the opportunity to better make use of ingredients and more stringently avoid waste. I have heard and have anecdotally experienced a trend of people getting outside in more accessible ways closer to home. It would be interesting to see how much the outdoor industry and regular consumers have drastically reduced our carbon/emissions footprints. Instead of driving or flying long distances for epic outdoor adventures, we are finding new ways to experience the outdoors, to exercise and to play closer to home.”

“I am [also] finding that while our physical personal interactions have diminished, I am having a lot more meaningful conversations with families, friends and colleagues around wellness and how people are coping,” Lundy explained.

LifeStraw

LifeStraw’s Go Clear Water Filter Bottle. Photo courtesy of LifeStraw. 

Consumer Retention for the Long Haul

Ongoing engagement — and consumer retention — is a collective concern for outdoor brands with a newly found customer base.

“I think that [customer retention] is going to be a really important question,” Lundy said. “Brands will certainly need to find a way to communicate in a relevant and effective way to keep these new customers engaged. I think re-marketing will play a role initially, but it’s going to be really interesting to see what kind of marketing and communications campaigns arise in the late summer and into the fall. Holiday will also be a big question mark.”

“Brand professionals, marketers and sales teams will all be navigating a new world, and I think the brands that can adapt, pivot and rethink their strategies on the fly will benefit.”

And the current business disruption will be “a dramatic game changer” for the outdoor industry all across the board, inclusive of brands, retailers, the business community at large — and the consumers themselves, according to Chris Ann Goddard, founder of CGPR, a public relations firm with a foothold in the outdoor community. “There will most certainly be a new normal,” Goddard told WWD.

“The silver lining, if there is one, is that a whole new group of consumers are discovering the solace that outdoor activities can bring. It is our responsibility as an industry to find a way to nurture and keep this new consumer, so they stay long into the future. Empathy will be the governing word looking forward,” she added.

And DIY Plays a Strong Role

And Lundy said DIY is another emerging trend. “Outside of the industry, my husband is an emergency room doctor and we have gotten so many messages from friends, family and colleagues about companies and individuals trying to DIY masks and come up with innovative ways to keep our health-care industry professionals protected.”

She added, “I think a lot of people are also working on old house projects, gardening, doing crafts with their kids, trying new recipes and basically figuring out how they can be productive with the resources they have at home so DIY becomes a natural avenue — I wonder if we will see that trend continue.”

And while a bit outside the outdoor category — unless outfitting riders for rodeo events, counts — heritage denim brand Wrangler said that DIY has been part of its focus during the coronavirus pandemic. Holly Wheeler, vice president, global brand marketing at Wrangler, said the brand “is currently posting a social series on Instagram dedicated to ways you can DIY denim in your downtime. From mending with patches and buttons to turning jeans into shorts to distressing denim, there are so many ways to update your apparel with everyday objects you can find around the house. Upcycling also has an added sustainability benefit — because the more clothing you are able to repair, the less ends up in landfills.”

Meanwhile, at the (Virtual) Office…

From a managerial perspective, there have been some pleasant surprises. Sachs said the most significant trend he’s noted is from within his own company: employee enthusiasm.

The biggest trend impression is from the Lowa team at work. They want to come to work even though we mostly have to stay home,” he explained.

“They are spending some amazing time together online through teams and e-mail and texts communication on conversations with customers and working together on both [the company] getting paid for product previously shipped, finding dealers who may still need boots and shoes, getting those orders and getting them shipped. This may be a huge teamwork and communication breakthrough, because while working from home, you realize how much you need and depend on your colleagues — and they on you.”

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