Outdoor Industry: Plan for the Unexpected [Weather]

Feb 19, 2016 in Outdoor, Retail, Startups

The outdoor industry’s sales are strongly tied to weather trends. While other retail categories experience seasonal shifts, outdoor retailers also have to contend with real-time weather fluctuations which can heavily impact sales. Atypical weather patterns, such as colder winters, can push cold-weather gear and sports sales higher than normal levels, but these same trends can have adverse effects if they impact tourism in popular tropical destinations. While you’ll always have to deal with unpredictability in the outdoor industry, there are a few advantageous aspects of unexpected weather patterns.

Positive Weather Effects

Historically, weather-appropriate categories get an excellent boost when impacted with some unexpected weather patterns. An earlier, colder winter in 2013 increased cold weather outdoor apparel and related categories by 9 percent, resulting in $2.2 billion in sales. Overall outdoor sales increased 6 percent due to this same weather pattern. Outdoor retailers had a sell-through rate of 84 percent, which increased 4 percent from the year before.

The higher sell through rate can cause challenges surrounding inventory management, especially because seasonal gear and apparel have a short sales window. If unseasonable weather patterns come in too early, the right products may not be delivered or prepared. Along the same lines, weather patterns can increase consumer need late in the season when stock and inventory is already depleted. While weather-related retail execution does involve some guesswork, you can maximize the positive impacts with the right tools.

Negative Weather Effects

Popular tourist spots that are desirable because of their locations and activities often rely on certain weather patterns. Unseasonably warm falls, large storms caused by El Nino and other unexpected weather can disrupt typical seasonal outdoor activities. Brands relying on that weather could suffer a decrease in sales due to changes in demand.

For example, warm weather persisting through late fall can result in lower sales for outdoor brands selling cold-weather gear. An unseasonably warm September in 2010 slowed down outdoor product sales; consumer purchases were focused on immediate use, as opposed to what they would be using once weather patterns switched back to normal. 

How to Prepare for Unexpected Weather Patterns

Your outdoor industry retail execution is tightly tied to unpredictable weather patterns. While historical weather data provides a foundation for each season, you need agility to adjust to the unexpected. Many areas see weather shifts that aren’t in-line with older patterns, so keeping a handle on the weather requires even more resources. Merchandising, display styles and in-stock inventory must adjust according to potential demand. You don’t want warm weather merchandising languishing when a massive cold arrives, or a lack of cold weather gear when winter visits early. Maximize the sales boosts that come from weather-appropriate inventory by being as prepared as possible.

Adapting to Future Weather Patterns

There are a few strategies for adapting to future weather patterns. Most obviously, spend time and resources studying regional and nationwide weather patterns to gather a good idea of overall trends for your upcoming sales seasons. 

To adapt with unexpected market changes, stay on top of in-store data collection. Record and document data from retailers who are carrying and selling your outdoor gear and products to see changes in the marketplace, trends and areas for improvement.

Mobile data collection tools are an excellent asset. The right software provides real-time insight into product sales and retail execution year-round. You can make adjustments to your merchandising and get displays tweaked to adjust to current weather, gain information on inventory levels and supply retailers with additional inventory to maximize sales.

You can also gather valuable data on your inventory sales levels during each unseasonable weather shift. You may suffer from decreased sales during certain weather patterns, but mobile data collection tools give you the information you need to improve your responsiveness the next time a similar situation occurs. You have exact sales numbers and vital retail execution data so you can send just enough to accommodate the weather patterns, without overextending yourself or under-supplying a retailer. Inventory management  is challenging within the outdoors industry, but the right platform will keep you on track to reach sales goals and satisfy customers.

Weather is uncontrollable, but you can control what you do when unexpected weather hits. Implement mobile data collection tools for real-time adjustments to strategy, inventory and plans. You get invaluable short- and long-term benefits when you work with the weather patterns instead of merchandising with a one-size-fits-all approach that leaves outdoor retailers without the proper inventory numbers.