Independents losing share to online and multiples in outdoor market

OIA tells BikeBiz that the outdoor industry's biggest challenge is shifting distribution model
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A revitalised Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) conference this year saw over 200 delegates from the sector come together to discuss how to tackle impending challenges for the industry, not least the increasingly less active population and the shifting distribution retail model – a topic or two with plenty of relevance for the bicycle market too. BikeBiz speaks with OIA CEO Andrew Denton to find out how the association has fought to earn its relevance to the market once more…

BikeBiz: How is the state of the outdoor sector? Is there optimism and signs of recovery following the economic downturn?
AD: For sure. The market has proved recession resilient – not recession proof – but it has stood up reasonably compared to others. Growth is forecast for this year and participation numbers are increasing.

What are the biggest challenges ahead for the outdoor market?
There is huge change in the distribution system. Independents are losing share, large multiples and big online players are taking that share. You need to be nimble and flexible to adapt. A lot of our seminars and speakers at the conference focused on this subject and how to cope, but unfortunately we had hardly any independent stores at the conference –there is a way forward but not by simply standing still. We are also faced by huge shifts in demographics – a less and less active population, changes in ethnic groupings, and a shift to more screen time in the younger population – the trade needs to adapt if it is going to flourish.

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It sounds like the AGM was a storming success. What do you put that down to?
Four years ago, the OIA couldn’t achieve a minimum of 15 people for its AGM. This year, the conference attracted 215 delegates. The collection of people from right across the trade meant that the networking and catch up opportunities were fantastic. Of course, the world class speakers and seminars, great food and fantastic location helped as well – the OIA conference is now simply the ‘must go to’ outdoor event in the trade calendar.

Why are more people from the trade attending now? Has the conference changed in format? Are companies in the outdoor space recognising the benefits of working together?
The conference success is a really a reflection of the recent OIA success. A revitalised OIA board and a new CEO over the last two years have contributed to real results. The UK is a significant outdoor market now it has a dynamic active trade association working for it, and the results are clear for all to see.

Having seen the video round-up it seems many attendees enjoy mountain biking. How big a part is cycling of the outdoor market?
There is a huge overlap. In surveys, climbers and mountaineers state the most popular alternative to their main sport is MTBing. Outdoors is a very inclusive sport, very few people are ‘pure’ rock climbers that never go walking. Most of us own a mountain or road bike, walk, run, even paddle, as well as climb. A lot of the equipment manufacturers now enjoy sales in both markets, and we certainly want to engage more and more with the cycle market – especially off road and touring.

Are you looking to grow membership of the OIA?
Absolutely – we welcome anyone who makes their living in the outdoor economy in any way. There are significant benefits to membership, as well as being a part of a wider voice to lobby government and internationally too – we welcome all enquiries!

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What is the plan for next year?
The conference is being held in the Lake District again next year (16th and 17th March 2015) and everybody is welcome – so if you own a bike business, why not come along, mingle with the outdoor trade, form new relationships, listen to great speakers, and work on your business, not just in it?

If you’re not yet an OIA member but believe that the UK outdoor trade deserves good representation and needs to be ready for the next crisis to hit the industry, then OIA membership is a very small price to pay for that insurance. If you are already a member, then please encourage your suppliers and customers to join us. We really need the entire trade, who benefits from the work, to pay for the work. Together, we can support and grow the industry for the benefit of all. For further information, please visit www.outdoorindustriesassociation.co.uk.

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