Is there such a thing as an industry that's truly recession-proof? Many purveyors of sporting goods certainly believe there is. "I'd say we're somewhat recession-proof," says William Green, owner of Vandalia, MO based Green Supply (www.greensupply.com), which specializes in outdoor equipment, including camping gear and weaponry. "We've averaged around 20, 22 percent growth every year over the past six." Camping gear sales remain strong, he says, "Because a lot of people still go camping if they can't afford to go to Paris or Disneyland or someplace like that. It's affordable, but it's still getting away. When the economy goes south, people start thinking more about self preservation. And for a lot of people, self preservation means food, toilet paper, and ammo," he laughs.
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, total sporting goods sales are expected to top $51.6 billion this year, up 1.7 percent from $50.7 billion in 2009. The group also notes that, according to the Monthly Retail Trade Survey compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, sporting goods store sales in July rose 7.7 percent over July 2009, to $3.6 billion, a figure nearly equal to that of June's 7.8 percent increase over June 2009. Year-to-date sales as of July 31 were $22 billion, a six percent increase over the first seven months of 2009. Sales for 2009 totaled $37.7 billion, the organization says, up 1.6 percent over 2008. That was the smallest increase since 2002, when growth was 0.2 percent. Sales in 2006, up 10.6 percent over the previous year, represented the strongest increase in the past ten years.
The current upswing is being reflected in figures released by large sporting goods chains. Pittsburgh based Dick's Sporting Goods, the largest company in the sporting goods stores industry, reported its second quarter results in August, which revealed a 19 percent increase in earnings and a 5.7 percent rise in same store sales, its best second quarter results ever, according to chairman and CEO Edward W. Stack. Indianapolis-based The Finish Line reported that its second quarter earnings were up 47.6 percent, with same store sales increasing by two percent for the quarter; its same-store sales were down by 9.9 percent for the second quarter of 2009. According to The Indianapolis Star, same store sales were up for the retailer by 6.2 percent for the month of September.
But it's not just chain stores that are enjoying sales success. Standalone concerns like San Jose, CA's Real Action Paintball Inc. (www.rap4.com) are also doing solid business, according to sales leader Jin Dat. "We're doing well," Dat says. "Business has been pretty much consistent through the past year, and we're looking forward to it continuing to be so for the foreseeable future."
RAP is currently offering a variety of 2009 paintball vests at closeout prices of $30 to $65, normally priced at $64 to $109, and often offers pre-sale prices on a number of items. The RAP4 Box Magazine, which has a 250 paintball capacity, is available for $149.99. The store also holds a free DVD drawing every day, in an effort to increase traffic and encourage sales.
It's the hardware, of course, that's most popular. The RAP4 combat pistol is on sale for $159, (regular price $249), while Tacamo Magazine conversion kits for a number of paint guns are sale priced at $59.95. Those not familiar with the world of paintball combat may be surprised to learn that it goes well beyond guns. Paint grenades and mines are also available, many of them reusable, and priced from $49 apiece to $500 for multiple packages. There is even a non-hazmat smoke grenade for $12.95. RAP's top seller was the explosion simulator, "For use in explosion simulator mines, for generating the realistic effect of an explosion with loud audible report," at $8.99. Dat says the company is eagerly looking forward to the winter months. "We usually do 40 to 50 percent of our business during the holiday season," he says. "It's absolutely our best time."
Green Supply is also anticipating a big holiday season. "We've already started running overtime shifts," William Green said in September. "We see no reason that we can't again end this year with about a 21 percent increase over last year." Even those figures will likely pale next to Green Supply's 2009 sales, which were up some 40 percent over 2008. "It helps when you've got a robust traditional business and a web business growing and working together," Green says. "I give a lot of the credit to the client base that we have, and our team's ability to find the right people who can move our product. We've actually had to turn some buyers down. We are dealing with whom we feel are the right chain stores, dealer businesses, and web based folks, and can customize pretty much anything for anybody," he continues, "depending on their needs and the format they want."
Green also credits his buying team which, "Finds the right products and gets it to our buyers more efficiently. As the saying goes, 'If you don't have it, you can't sell it.' Of course," he adds with a laugh, "if you have too much of it then you've got other problems." Ammunition does "extremely well" for the company, Green says. "Beyond that, nearly all of our categories are going up steadily. There's nothing that's been particularly off."
While Green Supply's website requires registration to reveal prices, the company does allow casual buyers to browse its list of clearance lots, which can include everything from high definition shooting glasses, ball caps and jackets to ammunition, rifles, and hunting knives. "Long guns are down right now," Green says. "Shotguns, and to a lesser extent rifles, have been sluggish for the past few months." The reason for that, he explains, is that, "Not everyone can keep going out and buying that brand new, $1,000 rifle every year. People are still pinching their pennies, so they might decide to buy a used one or buy a cheaper weapon." Green Supply also continues to do well with its camping equipment, with tents, sleeping bags, and binoculars all selling steadily.
Meanwhile, the picture at Milan, TN based Exit Sales Company (www.wholesalecentral.com/exitsales), has been improving after a few slow months, according to associate Bobby Fowler. "This year started well, then fell way off," he says. "But we always do well through the summer, and then do a decent amount of business during the holidays."
Exit Sales wholesales fishing tackle and related equipment, specializing in manufacturer's specials, closeouts and overruns of new fishing gear. As a factory authorized distributor for ZEBCO, Quantum, Martin, Rhino, B & M Poles, Vicious Line, and others, Exit has what Fowler calls a "constantly changing, inventory." He notes, "Strike King did really well for us this past spring," referring to the manufacturer of soft plastic lures, spinner baits, and crankbaits. "ZEBCO (fishing rods, reels and apparel), Quantum (freshwater and saltwater fishing reels and rods), and Martin (the nation's oldest continuous manufacturer of fly fishing tackle) have been our biggest sellers." Exit Sales also does a fair amount of business with off-brand merchandise, as again many sportsmen continue looking to save a little money wherever they can. "Every little bit helps," Fowler says.
Business at a number of other sporting goods outlets has also been relatively brisk of late. Atul Mahajan, president of Pro Impact Sports (proimpactsports.com) says that while it depends on which category one is speaking about, since he sells everything from football, volleyball, and soccer gear to boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) and cricket equipment, overall activity has been strong. The boxing and MMA category has been particularly strong, with a range of boxing gloves, handwraps, and shorts featured alongside MMA grappling gloves, shin guards and sparring gloves. The store also features some unusual items. A supply of soccer balls originally intended for the U.S. Army, for instance, on sale for $7.50 (regular price: $14), and the large range of cricket equipment, including bats, stumps, balls, protective equipment, and apparel, helps make it stand out from the crowd.
The picture at Brentwood, TN based Outdoor Active Gear (www.outdooractivegear.com), has been improving of late, according to manager Ethan Zuhl. "We're certainly doing better than we were last year," he says. "So far this year we're doing better than we expected to, and we're hoping for a better holiday season this year than last." As its name indicates, OAG specializes in backpacks, outdoor chairs, and picnicking/barbecuing equipment. "Camp chairs have been what's really moving," Zuhl says. "Our theory is that with the economy being what it is, people are getting outside more and trying to take advantage of what might be nearby, rather than planning long trips to cities."
An eight pound, 36-inch-tall folding tailgating chair, complete with drink holders, is the store's best selling item, available in a number of colors for $25. A slightly different design is featured with its six pound "Wreef" tailgate chair ($18.95), while the five pound "Pro Sports Chair" goes for $19.95. Also popular is the "camo seat cooler," capable of holding up to 18 cans plus ice, with an Army camouflage design. As its name implies, the cooler also has a steel frame and padded seat to accommodate tailgating or other such activities, and sells for $32.95.
Another strong seller is OAG's barbecue apron set, with apron, three heavy duty stainless steel utensils, including a triple function spatula with serrated edges and bottle opener, and a carrying case to hold it, for $15. Zuhl notes that OAG has been focused of late on inventory, but that it should be deciding on new sales and/or marketing initiatives over the next couple of months. "We're very much looking forward to the end of this year," he says, "which should be good."
For more information:
William Green, Owner
3059 Audrain Road # 581
Vandalia, MO 63382
Toll Free: 800-424-4867
Jin Dat, Sales Leader
2215 Ringwood Avenue
San Jose, CA 95131
Bobby Fowler, Associate
Exit Sales Company
1108 S Main Street
Milan, TN 38358
Atul Mahajan, President
Pro Impact Sports
88 Howard Street # 2112
San Francisco, CA 94105
Toll Free: 877-932-9664
Ethan Zuhl, Manager
Outdoor Active Gear
7108 Crossroads Boulevard, Suite 307
Brentwood TN 37027
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