"This isn’t a pattern" – L.L.Bean CEO says pre-orders present the pandemic-induced outside growth will proceed
American interest in outdoor activities grew this year as consumers sought health-conscious ways to pass the time during the coronavirus pandemic.
Boat, RV and camping sales, as well as auto sales, have risen despite the pandemic-triggered recession and have resulted in higher sales of outdoor clothing and other equipment for retailers like L.L.Bean.
Stephen Smith, managing director of the private company that specializes in apparel and outdoor recreational equipment, told CNBC on Wednesday that sales are in triple digits in multiple categories and that the company is seeing optimistic signs that not just one fad is fading.
"We believe this is not a trend, but a connection with nature," he said in an interview with Squawk on the Street. "There is an understanding of the physical and psychological benefits of being outside and we believe it will continue to do so through 2021."
L.L.Bean, based in Freeport, Maine, reports that sales in the winter sports category increased 165%. Snow tube sales are up 114% and snowshoe sales are up 340%, the company said.
With a global health crisis disrupting the year, 2020 was "unprecedented" for retailers, said Smith, who found that the spring and summer months saw consumers looking for both outdoor connections and indoor comfort.
In September, winter was on people's minds when customers started buying cross-country skis. Now that the year is ending, L.L.Bean sees an early interest in outerwear as some customers have their eyes on spring.
"We feel really good when we go into spring and summer. So many new outdoor enthusiasts with new gear, new activities and a new connection with nature," said Smith. "The fact that we saw winter gear sell out so early already shows signs of pre-orders for spring and summer activities."
To keep pace with changing consumer habits as more people shop from home and rely on delivery, it is important for retailers to take an omnichannel approach, including having a physical business presence and further developing a digital presence.
Brick and mortar stores will continue to play an important role, however, especially after the pandemic, when consumers are ready to leave home, travel and shop again in person to touch and feel the products they have bought, Smith said.
"When customers change, the best retailers have to change with them," he said.