Outside Business Journal

Opinion: “The Outdoor Industry Makes Way Too Much Stuff”

Nate Porter, co-owner of Salida Mountain Sports in Colorado, discusses how we can use the pandemic to create a more sustainable, functional industry

Nate Porter

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The outdoor industry makes way too much stuff. That has ramifications all down the line. There is a lot of product in the marketplace that retailers don’t buy from vendors, and that customers wouldn’t miss if they never saw it. I would like to see lines shrink overall and focus on what a company does best—the true best sellers. Why does everyone have to be all things to all consumers? Suppliers should also make as much of their product as possible from recycled or sustainable materials. Don’t just add an “eco” line and continue to produce all your other stuff. Make more of the core line sustainable. It should all be “eco,” right?

Some might argue this will create supply chain issues. In a way, the solution to the problem is simple. If companies collectively demand a different system from their manufacturers, change can happen. If we develop tight, sustainable lines and muster enough confidence to run with them for more than one season, we can take the pressure off the ridiculously accelerated buying cycle and eliminate the scramble for factory time. Yes, the consumer wants new and different, but in large part because we have trained them to expect it. Just as the industry has leveraged the message of sustainability, we can leverage a new message that promotes fewer choices, where the constant pursuit of “new and different” is unnecessary.

Packaging should also be addressed. There are some positive trends happening with packaging, but what we’ve done isn’t enough. If all vendors demanded better packaging options, manufacturers would be forced to figure it out. I know there are cost concerns; nobody wants to be the first to leave money on the table and pay higher costs. But done collectively, the impact could be spread evenly and have much more effect.

Let’s take this opportunity to rethink the outdoor industry, rework how we do business, and re-train the consumer to have realistic expectations about product lines: to support a new paradigm of sustainable retail. The time is ripe to re-message, reboot, and create an industry we feel is meaningful moving into the future. Consumers will buy a new message if we sell it to them.