What You Missed: How Supply-Chain Woes Impact Outdoor Gear
Tips to navigate the outdoor industry’s gear shortage
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If you’re an American and have attempted to buy literally any consumer product in the past six months, you know that supply chains have severely disrupted everything from kids’ toys to microchips. COVID-19 has thrown a bagful of wrenches into our country’s distribution system, and the product funnel for the outdoor industry has not been spared.
First there was the initial pandemic lockdown. Then we experienced an outdoor boom. And now demand for outdoor experiences is booming even harder and the industry is thriving almost across the board. If the pandemic wasn’t still a rampant threat to our communities, some might say we’re enjoying an outdoor-industry golden age.
The only problem is that manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand for their products. Whether it’s a shortage of raw materials, or backlogs at ports, brands are facing challenges at every stage of building and distributing their products.
Over the past two months, Outside contributor David Ferry spoke to leading manufacturers to find out what was happening on the ground.
“It is absolutely crazy,” Vista Outdoors CEO Chris Metz told him. “We’ve never seen anything like this in our entire careers or lives.”
How does this affect you? Here are the three key takeaways from Ferry’s piece:
- The problems aren’t letting up anytime soon. If you need something, plan ahead and buy it early. While you can get some items on short notice, deliveries on items like bikes are often six months to a year out. Also, keep in mind that consumer buying habits are also changing. “The idea of seasonality has just gone out the window,” says Ben Johns, REI’s general merchandising manager for action sports. Consumers are buying whatever is in stock whenever they can, he says. This demand has ports backed up—and there aren’t enough dock workers to unload containers, or truckers to get the goods out across the country. Pent-up consumer demand continues to strain the system, and until something gives, we’ll be in a similar position.
- Even if a company manufactures its products in the U.S., it’s not totally invulnerable to distribution snarls. Salt Lake City–based DPS Skis sources materials for its skis from countries all across the globe. “Yes, we’re made in America, but we’re dependent on the world,” says Thomas Laakso, its vice president of product and operations. “The supply-chain crunch has exposed just how profoundly interconnected the manufacturing sector is,” Ferry wrote.
- Outdoor companies are doing their best to get you gear. Brands are getting scrappy in order to get their gear into consumers’ hands. The camping company MSR, based in Seattle, found new resin for some of its snowshoes, Vista is sharing shipping containers with other companies, and small ski makers are swapping materials. Keep your expectations in check and treat people kindly as you shop for gear.
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