Feb 3, 2022 - COVID

NWA's outdoor retailers see pandemic boon

Percentage of state GDP from outdoor recreation, 2020
Reproduced from BEA; Map: Axios Visuals

Outdoor retailers in NWA thrived during the pandemic but could've done even better had it not been for a sickly supply chain.

What's happening: Nearly 161 million people in the U.S. participated in at least one outdoor activity during 2020, the Outdoor Industry Association reported. That's 7 million more than a year before.

  • At the same time, products became increasingly harder to get from overseas.

Why it matters: In 2020, as the pandemic hit, this translated to an added $2.9 billion of value to Arkansas' GDP in 2020, according to the U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis.

By the numbers: Those dollars accounted for about 2.2% of Arkansas' GDP that year.

  • The industry — which includes everything from fishing to camping to recreational flying — employs more than 37,000 people in the state, roughly 2.9% of the workforce.

Zoom out: At the national level, the outdoor industry generated $689 billion in economic output, creating 4.3 million jobs.

State of play: The industry's existing challenges and uncertain future loomed large at the annual winter Outdoor Retailer trade show last week in Denver, Axios' John Frank reports.

  • The risk of COVID-19 led the largest players, including Patagonia and The North Face, to skip altogether, and forced others to make last-minute cancellations.
  • The retailers who made the trip lamented delays in manufacturing and other supply chain troubles that made it difficult to meet growing demand.
  • Others expressed concern about inflation increasing the already steep cost of entry for outdoor activities.

What they're saying: Sales were up about 20% in 2020 over the previous year, Rob Potts, co-owner of Lewis & Clark Outfitters in Springdale and Rogers, told Axios.

  • Sales were flat in 2021 largely because "the bike supply chain was a disaster."

Adam Higinbothom of Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville said sales in 2020 initially dipped as people curbed all activities.

  • As the year progressed, people began going outside. Sales increased by a "double-digit" percentage, he said.

Both said that getting products and getting them on time has been a challenge.

What's hot: "Paddlesports are insane right now," Higinbothom said. A load of kayaks that should have arrived in October just recently arrived at Pack Rat.

  • Sales of e-bikes were up 300% between 2020 and 2021, Potts said, and he's bullish on growth in that segment for 2022.

What to watch: The outdoor industry is expected to grow in 2022 but at a much slower clip compared to the pandemic spike, said Matt Powell, an industry expert at market research firm NPD Group.

  • Potts expects this year to be better but believes demand for all outdoor products will outpace supply.

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