Keys to Evaluating Outdoor Products

Deciding what to stock in your retail store has always been a mixture of art and science, an amalgamation of past sales data, a forecast of future trends, and an interpretation of what your customers want now and next. The pandemic’s effect on supply chains and consumer behavior have added even greater uncertainty about planning for inventory levels, product availability, and consumer demands. As you get ready for The Big Gear Show in Park City, UT on August 3-5, here are some recommendations for evaluating a wide range of products at the show and choosing what’s right for your store.
Obviously, there are the objective costs and profit margins to be considered, as well as the new and existing relationships you have with people and brands within the industry. But as you look for products to stock, we have made your job easier by bringing together a concentrated group of the best companies. The Big Gear Show is invite-only, meaning vendors are screened, the companies are reputable, and the products are high quality. For buyers, the show will be less of a test of finding good products in a sea of unknowns, and more of an opportunity to evaluate what you need and want from a selection of the best.
Considerations for Evaluating Products for Your Store

Which consumer is the product for?
In many categories there are similar offerings along a spectrum of price points and product features. There is no rule that says a beginner needs to or will purchase lower priced products or products with more basic features, just as there’s no rule that says expert-level outdoor enthusiasts will only purchase high-end gear. But if you are seeing or anticipating an increase in sales to inexperienced outdoor enthusiasts, it may be a good idea to stock products that can be used effectively with people with entry-level skills. Similarly, if you developed relationships with a lot of new customers during the pandemic summer of 2020, those customers may be great candidates for gear upgrades now that they have more experience.
Need or New?
Successful retailers carry a mix of familiar staples and a selection of new and novel products that attract new customers and pique the interest of your loyal, existing audience. If a product represents a perennial need, carefully consider whether even changing colors or brands could affect your customers’ buying behaviors. Not all brands are interchangeable, even if their products accomplish the exact same function. In the case of new products, novel is good but carries some level of risk in terms of adoption by your customers. Some of those risks can be mitigated by the next few recommendations.
Now or Next?
One of the great things about a show that brings together leading outdoor brands is the opportunity to buy what you need for right now, as well as test out the gear you’re going to want to stock next. With the BGS scheduled for August, retailers with a strong summer season focus will have great insights into what consumers have been purchasing. It can be tempting to go all-in on what’s hot right now, but wise to invest some spending power in products that will be in high demand as soon as they’re available.    
Niche or Universal?
Products that are universally useful for enthusiasts across the entire spectrum of activities and experience levels tend to be reliably good sellers. On the other hand, stocking only products with mass appeal can make a store feel generic. As a store, the niches you serve create a lot of the culture and soul of your environment. It is valuable to carry the deep niche products that experts want and can’t find anywhere else, and showing that level of expertise helps build the credibility and authenticity newer consumers value when they are deciding where to get their more entry-level products. On the flip side, being too niche can create an environment that is intimidating to less experienced outdoor customers.
Brand Story or Narrative
When faced with the choice between high-quality products that have very similar features, consider whether there is a brand story or company value that will make the product more appealing to your customer. According to a March article from Forbes, trends in consumer behavior include more socially conscious shopping, increased focus on values-based spending, and growing appeal of “green” products. Envision a customer asking why you carry X instead of Y. This is where a brand’s story and values can come into play, like whether their products are made from sustainable materials and where they stand on a variety of conservation, access, and diversity issues.
Regional Specificity
Outdoor gear is meant to stand up to the rigors of the outdoor environment, and conditions vary dramatically from one region to another. When considering products, is there a feature that makes it uniquely suited to the demands of your region? Antimicrobial fabrics may be more of a core feature in humid or rainy regions. Abrasion resistance could be critical for rocky or desert environments, and lightweight and easily compactible cold-weather gear may be important for regions where temperatures are likely to vary greatly and change quickly.
As you look forward to your trip to Park City and create your wishes and needs lists, be sure to check out the [vendor list] to plan your itinerary and use your time wisely.

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