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Great Outdoors: Where Individualism and Community Converge

Is outdoor dead? That was the question NPD Group sports and leisure executive director Julia Day asked a room jam-packed with outdoor industry manufacturers, retailers and buyers at the Jan. 22 Outdoor Retailer seminar, “Current Market Trends and Dynamics,” in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Right now, consumers don’t consider themselves hikers, bikers and cyclists anymore. It’s all about the active lifestyle. It’s all about a blending. It’s all about the activity,” Day said.

The square box the outdoor market once was—a category that was well defined by outdoor brands and their specialties—is no longer what the future is, Day explained. “This is the end of defining yourself by one activity.”

It’s a far cry from the late ’90s, when the outdoor industry was a group of Renaissance thrill seekers dabbling in a myriad of activities. Instead, Day outlined a series of consumer trends that depict an evolving customer base hungry for individualism, community and authentic experiences.

Blurred Lines
Consumers are defining the outdoor market. Stereotypes——both gender and outdoor——are dissolving, Day said. Case in point: the rise of the Lumbersexual, the man-bun wearing, pedicure-partaking hiker, camper and fly fisherman, which didn’t exist 10 years ago. She added, “This is about the individual consumer saying, ‘I’m going to define myself. You’re not going to define me.’”

Common Ground
Consumers are increasingly free to be themselves, but as much as they want to be unique, Day said they are tied to community. It is why fun runs, Tough Mudder races and music festivals remain popular. “It’s a community,” she said, noting that retailers and brand need to look at how they are fostering networks in their own spaces. “Without them, you have nothing,” Day said.

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Experience Required
Experiences add value to products. “No one wants to buy a pair of hiking boots just to buy a pair of hiking boots. They want to enjoy the fall colors. They want to get fresh air. They want to take their dog walking and have that experience,” Day explained, noting retailers should ensure each consumer has an experience in their store.

Inventory Control
In addition to buying closer to need, consumers are managing their own inventories. “It is no longer the age of acquiring new stuff… If they want a new pair of Sorels or Keens, they are going to see what they can get rid of in their closet first,” Day said.

Instead of trying to reeducate consumers to plan out their purchases and expect them to buy winter boots before the first snowfall, Day suggests that retailers “commit to inventory.” She added, “Train your customers to come see you when they need [something].” It might mean a slow off-season, but retailers can reap the benefits by having the right product at the right time.

Honesty is the Best Policy
Value is the new currency. By standing up for something more than your bottom line, Day said retailers and brands have the ability to strengthen their ties to consumers, including new ones. For example, Day said Under Armour connected to an entirely new audience with its ad featuring ballet star Misty Copeland by successfully applying their core values to the women’s market. “You can’t watch it without connecting to it,” she added.

“Content is what people want. Useful is cool now,” Day explained. “People want to do business with people who believe what they believe. Ask yourself what do I believe in, and what is my authentic value. Ask yourself that and you will be able to align yourself with the right consumer.”

And don’t forget, the consumer values transparency. Day added, “People get that you’re in business and that you need to make profit. Tell them that.”

Choose Your Own Adventure
A well-curated selection of products should encourage adventure and discovery, Day said. A curator, she noted, should give the consumer a story, but not tell them exactly what the story should be. She added, “It doesn’t have to be your story. Let them discover it for themselves and go through that adventure.”

Loyalty Rewards
The outdoor industry has two things every industry strives for: functional and emotional participation from the consumer. “As outdoor brands, you have consumers that would lay down in the middle of the street for your products,” Day told the crowd. “Are you leveraging it?” she asked.

Relationships, something specialty stores have mastered, are key. Day added, “Everyone wants what you have. Amazon even has studies on this, but you have it. Use it.”

Don’t Fake It
Consumers have a deep desire for wild and authentic, Day said. “Consumers will spend an extraordinary amount of money and time on what is real, authentic and it can’t be faked.” Consumers can detect phonies a mile away. Day said that is why brands like Oiselle, a running company, uses real athletes instead of models to showcase it is apparel, and why books like “Wild,” about a real person’s struggle, resonate with so many people. It’s real.