Out­door equip­ment re­tail­ers aim for growth in tough mar­ket

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - ALEKSANDRA SAGAN

In a coun­try bor­der­ing three oceans, boast­ing the Rocky Moun­tains and dot­ted with more than 40 na­tional parks, it seems nat­u­ral that out­door ap­parel and equip­ment re­tail­ers would flour­ish.

Three such com­pa­nies all have plans to ex­pand their na­tional foot­prints in the near fu­ture, grow­ing their store count as brick­sand-mor­tar re­tail­ers strug­gle to keep their doors open.

There is “def­i­nitely a ro­bust mar­ket­place for them to play in,” said Matt Teeple, the di­rec­tor of sports for NPD Group, a mar­ke­tre­search firm.

MEC, which al­ready boasts 21 lo­ca­tions, plans to open a new store this year in Kitch­ener and a sec­ond lo­ca­tion in Cal­gary. A third store for Cal­gary is planned for 2019. The com­pany will also up­grade its Vancouver and Toronto lo­ca­tions to big­ger build­ings next year.

SAIL, which sells out­door, camp­ing, hunt­ing and fish­ing equip­ment, to­tals 10 stores in Que­bec and On­tario with plans for 11 as of April, spokesper­son Kathy Kourlas wrote in an email.

SAIL also wants to open ad­di­tional stores in On­tario and Que­bec in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, she said, but did not elab­o­rate on how many and how soon.

Out­fit­ting re­tailer Ca­bela’s op­er­ates 11 stores and plans to open one in Hal­i­fax next year.

Mean­while, re­tail­ers in other sec­tors are fold­ing their op­er­a­tions. Last week, a judge ap­proved an ap­pli­ca­tion to place mu­sic chain HMV Canada Inc. into re­ceiver­ship and close its 102 stores.

In re­cent mem­ory, Danier Leather, Mexx Canada, Smart Set, Jacob and Blacks are among some of the chains suf­fer­ing sim­i­lar fates and shut­ter­ing store­fronts across Canada.

MEC, a brand built on out­fit­ting back­coun­try en­thu­si­asts, says it man­ages to main­tain mo­men­tum by chang­ing along with Cana­di­ans.

“We know that to be rel­e­vant into the fu­ture, we have to do things dif­fer­ently,” said CEO David Labis­tour.

MEC no­ticed its mem­bers were just as ac­tive in the cities they lived in as they were in the wilder­ness.

In 2015, the com­pany in­tro­duced its first col­lec­tion of skis and snow­boards for re­sort­style down­hill skiers. It has also added goods for ur­ban-dwellers who get their ac­tiv­ity fix by cy­cling and run­ning, Labis­tour says.

Since its re­brand­ing, MEC’s grown from 17 lo­ca­tions to 21, and Labis­tour said there’s no ques­tion it was a good de­ci­sion.

The com­pany’s shift makes sense, said Teeple, con­sid­er­ing more Cana­di­ans are a softer type of out­doorsy con­sumer.

Nearly half of Cana­di­ans iden­tify as out­doorsy, he said, cit­ing NPD Group data. How­ever only about 11 per cent would go so far as to say they’re a back­coun­try type of out­door en­thu­si­ast, ac­cord­ing to an on­line sur­vey the firm con­ducted be­tween Sept. 1 and 9 last year. Nearly three times that — or 29 per cent — fit into a softer ver­sion, one that en­joys camp­ing, walk­ing, hik­ing, cy­cling, and aer­o­bic or other types of work­outs.

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