Sporting goods industry hit or miss during pandemic

GILBERT, Ariz. (AP) — Brian Morris faced a difficult scenario when the coronavirus pandemic started leading to shutdowns across the nation.

If Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey opted to include bike shops among the businesses deemed nonessential, Freeride Bike Company, which he owns with his wife Ashleigh, would have to shutter its doors for who knows how long.

When Ducey deemed bike shops essential, it turned out to be huge boon for their business as cooped-up Americans sought ways to go outside and get moving.

“We’ve seen a huge spike in sales across the board, from beach cruisers all the way up to high-end mountain bikes, road bikes,” Brian Morris said. “A lot of tubes, tires tools as a lot of people are learning to do home repairs with a lot of shops being overloaded in service. We have seen a major spike and had a hard time keeping up with the demand at times.”

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The pandemic has had a devastating impact on retail as businesses across the country were forced to close their doors for weeks at a time.

In the sporting goods industry, the impact has depended on the focus of the business.

Stores that rely on in-store sales have taken a big hit.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of the largest national sporting goods chains, was forced to close all its stores on March 19 and furloughed a significant number of its 40,000 employees in early April. The company started reopening some stores in recent weeks.

Modell’s Sporting Goods filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early March, but a judge approved an emergency request to mothball the case once the pandemic hit.

Stores selling uniforms and equipment for team sports also saw massive revenue declines as sports leagues across the U.S. went dark during the pandemic. Stores connected to sports facilities, like pro shops at hockey rinks, also have struggled.

“It’s been pretty difficult, especially with a lot of summer things being canceled people aren’t ordering the baseball uniforms like they normally would have or wear uniforms for other sports that might be going on,” said Marty Maciaszek, director of communications for the National Sporting Goods Association. “So it’s a little more challenging for them.”

On the flip side, some sporting goods businesses have flourished.

Fitness equipment sales soared after gyms closed, rising 130% in all categories, including cardio machines, free weights, home gym weight machines and strength training products, according to retail tracking company NPD Group. Weight benches were among the biggest gainers, increasing 259%.

Golf net and screen sales are up 144% and putting mats 138%. Companies selling bikes and cycling equipment have had a hard time keeping up with the demand, with sales of adult leisure bikes up 121% in March and children’s and BMX bikes up 56%.

Kount, a fraud prevention company, tracked a 599% increase in sporting goods transactions for the week of April 19 from a year ago among its more than 6,500 clients that do online business.

“We might see 5% here, 5% there, never something like that,” Kount chief customer experience officer Rich Stuppy said. “People are not spending money, they’re not going out to restaurants, so it’s like, what can I do? Maybe I’ll go get that driver I wanted.”

Many smaller chains and local sporting goods stores have struggled financially during the pandemic, though the National Sporting Goods Association has yet to see any of its members go out of business.

The Amazon effect may have something to do with it.

When Amazon first started gaining traction, sporting goods stores — like many other retailers — felt the financial sting as shoppers were lured by the prices and convenience of shopping from home.

Many sporting goods stores adapted by providing online options of their own, allowing customers to buy products from their computers and phones or even just check to see if a certain store has what they want.

By changing their business models, the stores inadvertently prepared for the pandemic.

Instead of having to ramp up quickly or start from scratch, retailers who already have an online presence were able to continue selling while their store doors were shut.

“With what has happened with Amazon, people realized that they needed to get up to speed online,” Maciaszek said. “I think it did have an impact in that it did help prepare a lot of the smaller retailers and team dealers out there for something like this as best as they could prepare for it.”

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News Researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.

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