SALT LAKE CITY — What consumers buy is based largely on the weather, said James Hartford, CEO and chief market analyst at SportsOneSource, at the Outdoor Industry Association seminar Thursday.
"As we all know in this industry, it's what drives everything, more so than the economy or anything else," Hartford said. "It played a major role for the season this year."
Hartford said consumers' outdoor apparel spending habits follow the weather. If it rains, consumers buy rain coats. If it snows, they buy snow-related apparel. But if it doesn't snow, and temperatures don't drop, consumers don't buy snow gear.
"That consumer is living in the here and now," Hartford said.
Tracy Collins, GNM at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, echoed Hartford's comments.
"They're not buying unless they need it," Collins said. "I think purchasing habits have changed."
This was evidenced by a 13.3 percent increase in jacket sales and a double-digit increase for rain gear across the nation from August through December. Soft and hard shells both also saw double digit increases. The problem is that the hard and soft shells are both considerably smaller than the insulated business, which took a hard hit Hartford said.
However, there was an overall 9.1 percent increase in outdoor apparel sales for the fall time frame. The increase amounted to just over $2.4 billion, up from about $2.2 billion the previous year. Collins said his company saw an increase in running gear during the fourth quarter as a result of the lack of snow.
Hartwell said winter apparel sales in January have started slow, but that he thinks falling temperatures and new snow will have a positive effect on winter apparel.
"For the most part, we don't expect that it will save the season," he said.
Marshall Merriam, vice president of merchandising for Eastern Mountain Sports, said the lack of snow resulted in a rough fourth quarter for his company. He went on to say that his company's numbers actually lagged behind national numbers.
"It's been a harder go, separating customers from their money," Merriam said.
Kristin Choi, GNM of bigskycountry.com, said the fourth quarter for her company went pretty well. During that time, her company had a gain of 400 percent in its customer base as a result of social media promotions on Black Friday.
Internet sales were up about 44 percent in the fourth quarter across the country, which may have had some effect on Choi's business. Merriam didn't give an exact percentage for his business's Internet sales but he did say the Internet has been trending well.
Different speakers at the seminar agreed that consumers are looking for added value in their purchasing decisions and that they're trying to provided that to them.
Choi said with each purchase, her company is trying to give the customer a reason to come back for more.
Merriam said his company is trying to find creative ways to give customers the best outdoor experience possible through things such as guided experiences through technology and simply through giving them advice.