For Spring ’19, outdoor retailers are mixing it up across categories to give consumers what they want. That means personalized options and water-friendly, versatile styles in footwear, materials and textiles with a great story to tell, and shaking up their normal mix with products that appeal to younger shoppers. Here, outdoor shops sound off on what strategies for outdoor success they’re embracing for Spring ’19.
“Versatile” continues to be a major buzzword in outdoor footwear, and retailers who spoke to Outdoor Insight say that getting wet is a critical part of that feature set.
“People want something that can go on the trail but can also paddle and then also go out to lunch,” says Kate Westphal, of Rutabaga Paddlesports, Madison, WI. Astral has been a critical brand in that space, she says, making sneakers with rugged outsoles and drainage and an expanded hike collection of styles that “go from trail to water to dinner pretty effortlessly.”
The $140 TR1 Merge boot from the Asheville, NC-based brand is a great example, Westphal says: A grippy rubber outsole with aggressive lugs and stabilizing heel counter perform on the trail, but the drainage ports and quick-drying canvas upper keep it water-friendly. While the store initially brought it in for customers planning trips with plenty of portages, Westphal says it’s been embraced by a much broader selection of people who want a lightweight summer boot.
Jake Crowe, buyer for Okemos, MI-based Playmakers, agrees. “We’re really looking at very functional summer travel styles,” he says. “Our customer is very casual and laid-back. They might go on a river-rafting excursion on vacation, but they’re not necessarily river rafters. They want a shoe that can do a little bit of everything.”
Crowe says the store was impressed by the update to Salomon’s $110 Techamphibian style. The Techamphibian 4 has a sleeker, more sneaker-y design designed to make it both more trail- and street-appropriate. Quick-dry meshes and the brand’s Contagrip rubber on the outsole that should keep wearers ultra-stable on both slippery rock and packed trails.
To keep his store mix fresh – and appeal to the college-age children of his current customer base – Appalachian Outfitters president and owner Mike Leffler says he’s given a younger buyer a budget specifically earmarked for experimental purchases. And if they don’t make any sense to him, so much the better.
“She’s pushing us,” he says.
Some of her pickups have included United by Blue and Parks Project, as well as advocating for adding Cotopaxi and The North Face Fanorak pullover to the lineup.
“Our customers have kids who are hitting college age and it’s good to have some of the trendier pieces for them,” Leffler says.
In fact, he says, focusing on less penetrated brands such as Fjällraven, Jack Wolfskin and Sherpa Adventure Gear, has proven to have broad appeal.
“Even the 35-to-45-year-old professionals, they understand Fjällraven. That’s their brand,” he says. “They’ll spend $150 on a pair of pants, they’re doing those types of trips.”
Buyers agree: When there’s a story – and a material benefit, like Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), insect repellence, or waterproofing – to textiles, there’s consumer interest.
“The biggest thing is the UPF rating — people do come in and ask for a rating,” Rutabaga’s Westphal says, noting that in this realm vendor hangtags are critical. “They’re curious and its helping them get into the product. If there’s a choice between two pieces, they’ll go with the one with the rating.”
Sustainability has a role here, too. While Westphal says consumers aren’t coming in the door asking for it in the same way they are with more protective options like waterproofing or UPF, she’s been impressed with the variety of apparel options made with Tencel or cotton-Tencel blends.
Betsy Bertram, buyer for Carrboro, NC-based Townsend Bertram and Co., says she’s been actively looking to move away from synthetics for both apparel and footwear. “Hemp is, in general, a fabric that we cultivate to have as much as possible.” She’s been impressed by Astral’s options — the brand is showing styles including the $90 Hemp Baker slip-on and the $100 Hemp Loyak laceup (both unisex) and the $90 Maria ballet style for women.
Product personalization continues to appeal, retailers say, and styles that seamlessly incorporate a custom element are top of mind.
Pine Needle Mountaineering, in Durango, CO, will be bringing in Italian brand Tecnica’s new Plasma S boot, an outgrowth of the customizable Forge collection introduced this year. The low-cut style for men and women ($150; $180 for a Gore-Tex version) has a moldable insole and upper that can be fit and finalized in-shop in about 20 minutes.
And the personalized fit story really resonates, Pine Needle owner Jeremy Dakan says. It also lets him carry fewer SKUs.
“There are only so many brown boots that we’re willing to stock on the wall because they aren’t selling like they used to,” he says. “This is something with a nice fit out of the box and custom molding is a process our staff is used to doing all winter for ski boots.”
And customers appreciate it, he says. “It’s going the extra mile. We’re super happy with the program.”
Townsend Bertram and Co.’s Bertram says the $300 Alta Bunion Boot by Swedish firm Hanwag has been a surprisingly robust seller. “We have a ton of people who come in, and they all say, ‘Oh, my foot is so weird.’ And we say, ‘You and every other person.’”
The boot, designed to provide a comfortable fit for hikers with the bunions, has been a revelation, Bertram says, in a space where footwear designed to accommodate the relatively common foot condition is lacking. The reaction from customers has convinced her that there’s a market for footwear that truly caters to the diverse realities of people’s feet. “That success has been really nice to see,” she adds.