M State of the Market Report: Outdoor Specialty Retailer Complacency and the Disappearance of Retailers as Experts (Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2004)
by Ryan Jordan
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Article Summary:Lightweight backpacking is one of the fastest growing segments of an otherwise somewhat stagnant and product-saturated outdoor specialty market. More and more manufacturers are jumping on the lightweight bandwagon for two reasons. First, and most obvious, it's a good marketing move - a chance for major manufacturers to distribute their revenue streams and leverage their brand in new territory. Secondarily, and far less obvious, it provides a new niche for cottage companies to differentiate themselves as leaders in the field. Outdoor specialty retailers, however, are feeling a little less joy over the lightweight revolution. Merchandising lightweight gear is requiring them to adopt new merchandising strategies and invest new time in staff training and customer interaction. Niche, or "activity" merchandising, and staff training are low priorities for most specialty retailers, who are already struggling to squeeze a 2.5% profit margin. Manufacturers are making high quality, saleable lightweight gear and apparel. Consumers are educating themselves and learning about their benefits enough to make the purchase. Retailers, on the other hand, typically tuck the "light" stuff back in a corner for their fringe customers, fearful that if they actually sell it, they are going to have to honor return policies and deal with dissatisfied customers demanding their money back. Are retailer fears warranted? Or are they acting as the bottleneck (it wouldn't be the first time) in allowing this market segment to grow because of their failure to provide their floor staff and consumers the education they need to guide smart buying decisions? Let's examine this hypothesis more closely in an attempt to understand the current standard of retailer-consumer relationships. Herein, we examine critical issues within the outdoor specialty retailer industry that is causing manufacturers to supplement their dealers with less conventional revenue generating channels, and lay the foundation demographic of the lightweight backpacking niche market as a basis for bringing innovation back into outdoor specialty retailer. Finally, we recognize some fo the retailers that are 'doing it right' - the ones that our readers have recognized as best of the best, and why.
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