Retail giants and niche names have overcome the competition—you can, too!

Health-conscious messaging lambastes you just about everywhere these days. Turn on the TV—a vitamin infomercial is waiting. Hit up your local fast food joint—there’s a calorie-counting menu. Head into a big box retailer—find an aisle’s worth of “must-have” gadgets geared toward feeling your very best. For the most part, consumers have caught onto such faux health trickery. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be healthy, though. It couldn’t be more opposite.

Consumers are taking their newfound interest in health to the great outdoors. The profound benefits of regular exercise have spread among the masses. And with per capita disposable income on the up and up, they have more funds to go camping or hiking (plus purchase the mandatory gear). Per IBISWorld’s March 2018 report on recreational spending, revenue for the active lifestyle industry is expected to increase an annualized 1.6% to $4.4 billion over a five-year period!

Active lifestyle retailers you know—and some you might just be discovering—have figured out what it takes to hook consumers. Keep reading to learn how you can distinguish yourself in this booming space.

1. Technical R&D is being overshadowed by customer service and innovative product lines.

Historically, the active lifestyle industry’s main players have relied heavily on technical prowess. Innovative materials promising weather-resistance, durability and more have earned repeat business. Yet, affordability and functionality aren’t so hard to combine now with advancements in manufacturing. Differentiation comes from unique services, or proprietary product lines that can’t just be ripped off and re-branded.

One such way this is being done is through repair and maintenance services. Colorado-based maker of sleeping bags and tents Big Agnes has long been a front-runner, offering gear repair since 2001. It frequents events across the country, putting sewing machine skills to the test before your very eyes.

Patagonia, who owns 13.6% of the industry’s market share, brings similar value to an even bigger audience. Worn Wear encourages repair, reuse and recycling of Patagonia products. Additionally, the outdoor mainstay entices eco-conscious buyers with a sustainable product line made from wood pulp and recycled cotton scraps. The ReCircle™ Collection is exactly the kind of exclusive product line we’re talking about.   

The ReCircle™ Collection by Patagonia

2. Keep the adventure going in-store and off-site.

People are getting outdoors more for a lot of reasons. The ever-popular “staycation” has some looking for things to do nearby. Eco-tourism has drawn others to undisturbed natural areas, where they can support conservation efforts and experience an alternative to commercial tourism. Adventure travel offers a walk on the wild side with high-energy activities that don’t favor tanning beneath a beach umbrella. The main theme here? This segment is interested in their outdoor activities, and they’re intentional about them.

You can feed off that passion by luring consumers in-store for classes and book signings, or to outings and events. Owning close to half the active lifestyle industry’s market share, REI puts this idea into practice like the pro it is. Take a gander at the company’s upcoming events and adventures for inspiration.

Black Diamond, renowned for mountain sports equipment, makes itself visible through sponsorship and participation at tons of annual events. Community is important, and they promise that “whenever the tribe gathers, we are there."

Black Diamond Events

3. Great products must solve a need when they’re needed.

All the thrills and frills of great product lines means nothing if they aren’t available when consumers come looking. Remember that most purchases in the active lifestyle industry are born from necessity. This person is going on a trip. They’re preparing to workout. They need something(s) to do that. Don’t overlook this crucial element of customer service. Capitalize on convenience and fulfilling their needs.

Weather is especially significant, and should be a leading determinant of your inventory. Rainy season in full swing? Highlight products in that category—ensure they’re in-stock. A great way to do this, beyond traditional means like paid advertising, is to create branded editorial content tied to the season.

Stutterheim Raincoats produce rubberized raincoats crafted the way they were decades ago. The company doesn’t just tie its content to stormy day needs, but to the melancholic sense of calm that comes with it. Check out the company’s blog to see these intersections at play.

4. Social media brings community to the outdoor experience.

Finally, how could we omit today’s favorite social channels? Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all give retailers a direct line of communication to their consumers. Not to mention, they’re a cost-effective way to market special promotions or in-store events. But these things are about something deeper: building brand awareness and connection.

Strategic content can accomplish so much. It can explain the technical benefits of a new product. It can be more editorial in nature, showing the aspirational side of outdoor lifestyle. It can even be used to tell the history of your brand.

Social contests are perfect for tapping into the passion and authenticity behind customer stories. Outdoor Research helms the #SheAdventures scholarship, which invites users to post on Instagram to win a privately guided climbing trip. The REI Member Made Program creates limited edition products from illustrations posted by artists to Instagram.

REI Member Made Program Illustrations

If you liked this blog, here’s another you might enjoy.

As mentioned here, the active lifestyle industry has many overlaps with the travel industry. Read our post on the 3 Travel & Tourism Marketing Trends you must know. We discuss generational shifts, social media experiences and the rising “bleisure” trend.




Alison Trickett

Alison Trickett SVP, Client Growth