(reposted from my LinkedIn account at the urging of readers…)
I just read back-to-back articles on Quiksilver going Ch. 11 (along with a host of other action-sports industry brands and retailers) and the ‘Urban to Outdoor‘ trend picked up from the Realtree blog (clearly the more ‘bloodsport’ outdoor referenced there). It does seem the Outdoorsy lifestyle is really catching on with almost all sizeable retailers, from Nordstroms to Hardware Stores, National Sporting Goods chains to TJ Maxx and Wal-Mart.
As the show director of Outdoor Retailer from 2007 through 2014, I’ve studied, from an unusual perch, the expansion of mainstream awareness of the outdoorsy lifestyle. Much like Surf did in the earlier decades and especially during the 90’s, Outdoor now is rising as a healthy activity-based lifestyle statement that’s easier and easier to find, no matter what your proximity to natural areas/wilderness might be. And I’ve always considered it good; good that the design minds that fuel innovation in Outdoor have taken cues from fashion, good that our appeal is reaching new populations (albeit too slowly), and good that we’ve found a way to make nature visitation more relevant in a technology-obsessed world.
But there is a potential downside that the ‘OIBIZ’ needs to be aware of. The same slippery slope that Quik, and many others in the Surf/Skate action sports business, are facing. The fundamental question is ‘How Much Does Participation Matter?’.
Participation in Outdoor sports (camping, climbing, hiking, paddling, fishing, running, etc…) has remained dead flat for the past 9 years (Outdoor Industry Association metrics). With the exception of urban portals like indoor climbing gyms, young people are especially wary of spending their time and money on actually participating and getting outdoors. Sporting the look is good enough, and for many companies that is an acceptable compromise (growth is growth, after all).
Like Surf, an industry that grows on the whims of a fashion or film trend has an opportunity to leverage that popularity by moving to increase awareness, access and fire the imagination of a broader audience. On the other hand, by not taking initiative to turn interest into participation, we risk the outcomes already seen in fly fishing, windsurfing, and other once-rocketing activity trends… the eventualwipeout from unsustained interest once the trend has moved on.
This is what Luis Benitez, a friend and newly minted Colorado Outdoor Industry Economic Development Director, has taken on as a challenge, leading a state this is famous for it’s outdoor recreation offerings and business centrifuge. Read his take here https://outdoorindustry.org/article/a-rising-tide-for-outdoor-recreation/
How can he sustain mid-long term growth in his sector? More to the point, how can he work with other national (OIA), state industry leaders (UT’s Brad Peterson, WA’s soon to be appointed head, etc…) to expand the reach of not just sales and marketing, but actual participation? These answers will not be easy in coming and I aim to be in the conversation to represent how events and local retailers can be the catalysts for broader participation amongst the untraditional populations in our cities. For a peek at some movements I think can help, check out RootsRated, Locally.com or Alite . Or check out this kickstarter concept coming out of a more urban, hip design mind. These solutions are a few that are building the future of access to adventure, IMHO.
How can we keep the engine of innovation and growth sustainable and moving in a positive direction for Luis’ and Brad’s States, your neighborhood and for the country? Because that is how we avoid the eventuality of a market plateau and drop, ala Quik and most of action sports. In my view, this is the crux conversation that this industry needs to be having. And it’s Urgent; lest we top out and enter what Peter Sheahan the ‘Crest’ only to struggle on the down-trend… which as all climbers know, can definitely be the more treacherous and deadly direction.
If you have insight to share, or experience with what happened in Fly Fishing, Action Sports, Resort skiing, or other struggling markets, please share! We’re smarter together than we’ll ever be alone in our brand/org silos.