Though the COVID pandemic is on the wane in the United States, manufacturing slowdowns and heavy demand mean local outdoor-gear retailers are still encountering challenges in stocking their stores—and customers are having to wait longer than usual to get some items.
“One of the bright sides of COVID is that a huge number of people discovered the outdoors. One of the dark sides is that a huge number of people discovered the outdoors,” said Paddy McIlvoy, managing partner at Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum. “Everyone was expecting a decline in demand—they got just the opposite.”
“We thought it was going to be difficult last year, but there are way more challenges this year,” said Susanne Connor, soft goods buyer at Lost River Outfitters in Ketchum. “The supply chain has come unraveled, and I don’t know when it’s going to go away.”
Sturtevants Store Manager Mary Geddes said the problems have been “across the board—from apparel to bike racks to helmets.”
“Worldwide, the industry has gone through the roof,” she said.
Geddes said buyers at Sturtevants have had to search harder to find the products they want, though manufacturers and wholesalers have been helpful in directing them to sources of supply.
Connor noted that items for sale last summer had been manufactured long before, and items in stores now were made—or not made—during the middle of the pandemic.
“The main thing is that it all happens a year ahead of time,” she said.
Connor noted that manufacturing declines have been exacerbated by shipping delays.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s out of our control,” she said.
Over the year that made up the peak of the pandemic in the United States, resort areas such as the Wood River Valley were viewed by city dwellers as places of refuge from COVID-related lockdowns. Connor noted that many second-home owners in the valley have moved here full time, “so all these people are shopping here and preparing to be in the great outdoors.”
She said the store has few models of shoes stocked in a full range of sizes, and some fishing gear is hard to get—one brand of waders is on back order until February.
Supply shortages are especially acute with bicycles, McIlvoy. He said the industry encountered a “perfect storm” of a reduction in manufacturing, particularly in Asia, followed by skyrocketing demand. He said bike orders are now being taken for delivery in the fall.
“If you need a bike ordered, you should do it now,” he said.
Bike factories take time to tool up to increase production, he said, and are now in a position of having to determine whether the current high demand is permanent or just a blip that will soon drop back down.
Retailers will face a similar dilemma in placing orders for next summer’s goods this fall from uncertain sources of supply, Connor said.
“So do you order double what you’ll need, or will you get double and then you can’t sell it? It’s hard to say what to do—it’s so much guesswork.”
Lost River Outfitters looks full and has enough stuff for now, Connor told the Express, though shortages are likely to become more apparent later in the summer—when the store will also have to deal with young employees going back to school, during a time of a worker shortage due to housing unavailability.
“It is what it is and we’re doing good business right now and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” she said.