How many stores do you now have across the UK?
We have three stores in the South West – Taunton, Exeter and Bristol – plus a large seasonal camping and tent outlet just off the M5 in Somerset.
What has been the biggest change in the outdoor sector since Taunton Leisure started over 30 years ago?
The improvements in design and technology of outdoor products has delivered great benefits to the consumer. Lighter, stronger and better performing equipment makes a multi-day backpacking trip, a family camping weekend or a days walking in the mountains more comfortable whatever the weather. Thirty years ago the outdoors was still out there of course, but the diversity of outdoor activities means your ability to find an activity that really ‘floats your boat’ are greater these days. Fancy rock climbing? You could try it out indoors, take a course with the hundreds of quality providers, join a local club or jump on a short haul plane and climb all day in the sun on some sport climbing Spanish rock. The growth of adventure and activity holidays in the UK and abroad has also made exciting and ‘once in a lifetime’ trips achievable for all.
What parts of the outdoor market are driving business at the moment? Triathlon? Camping?
Camping is definitely experiencing strong growth year-on-year for many seasons. This is not just because of the ‘staycation’ factor, well before the recent economic challenges families were appreciating the more simple pleasures of being in the outdoors together and enjoying the sense of freedom that camping brings. It’s also true that the improvements to the comfort you get with a typical family tent these days makes camping simple and affordable, but can also be luxurious with all the comforts you need. One of our most popular tent options these days is tent carpets, no more cold tent groundsheets.
The other strong sector that defies the recession is outdoor footwear; walking boots in particular are an area that customers don’t cut corners on and with a few bits of equipment everyone can enjoy a great days walking in the mountains, local paths or hills. We feel more and more people are appreciating the simple pleasures of a good walk in the fresh air. And it’s free.
What do you expect to see from the next 12 months at Taunton Leisure and the outdoor industry?
The next 12 months will see a period of consolidation with customers rightly looking for value, with this value being defined as a good quality product at a fair price. Our core customer is active in the outdoors and will remain so whatever the economic forecast is.
The outdoor industry is dominated by some big brands and we have some big competitors. I don’t see this changing but at Taunton Leisure we do strive to offer brands and products that challenge the customer to think differently with niche brands in our camping portfolio like Tentipi Swedish Tipis, Nomad Dutch cotton tents and Easton Mountain products. Plus we stock new brands for 2012 like Gregory Packs and Tenaya Rock shoes.
We aim to keep our range fresh innovative and, above all, quality. We are rightly proud of our service both online and in-store and for 2012 we aim to bring this to even more customers with online marketing and engagement through social channels like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as well as more established means.