Are Outdoor Gear Makers in NC Getting a COVID-19 Bump?

Are Outdoor Gear Makers in NC Getting a COVID-19 Bump?

People in our state have been heading outdoors in great numbers since the beginning of COVID-19. Everyone is looking for activities to stay active and healthy and, as a result, the sale of outdoor gear in NC has experienced a huge bump.

North Carolina’s landscape, from mountains to sea, offers an abundance of outdoor activities. We are fortunate to have this state as our playground. You can take part in a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain climbing and biking, fishing, and kayaking.

For instance, sales of bicycles jumped 63% in June from a year earlier, data from the NPD Group shows. Spending on sports such as kayaking (which had declined before the pandemic) bounced up 56%. There were similar gains in sales of golf equipment, camping equipment and binoculars, as more people took to bird-watching.

Who makes NC’s outdoor gear?

outdoor gear backpacking
Photo courtesy of Kirk Thornton on Unsplash.

Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO)

NCND recently spoke with Laura Williams, Marketing Director for Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) based in Asheville. Laura said ENO has seen an influx of people finding ways to enjoy the outdoors safely.

General public outdoor interest has certainly led to an increase in the purchase of their products. For example, hammocking has gained even more popularity as a quarantine hobby. Laura said hammocks have always been a great relaxation outlet for all outdoor experience levels. Given their portability and ease of use, hammocks can be enjoyed at home, in the backyard or at local parks, trails and campgrounds.

ENO has also experienced considerable growth in overall sales, particularly through their website and other online retailers. Many shoppers were unable to visit their local outdoor retailers due to closures or weren’t comfortable going in person.

Williams said they couldn’t have predicted the high demand this year, but it certainly put pressure on their supply chain. She added that the strain is a shared challenge among many outdoor gear makers. “All we can do is take it one day at a time, do our best to support our retailers’ needs and communicate well with our customers to manage expectations and provide a positive ENO experience. Just like others, we’ve had to adapt to this new reality which means there’s never a dull moment!”

ENO donates 1% of their annual sales to support nonprofit organizations focused on helping leave the environment a better place for future generations. In addition, they have partnered with Trees for the Future and plant two trees for each hammock they sell.

outdoor gear hammock
Image courtesy of Eagles Nest Outfitters.

LightHeart Gear

LightHeart Gear is an outdoor gear seller based out of Fletcher, NC. They sell all types of outdoor gear such as tents, rain gear, clothing, trekking poles and other options.

NCND recently spoke with the company’s owner, Judy Gross, about what LightHeart Gear experienced in the beginning of the pandemic. She said they were shut down for only three days when she was contacted by a local fire chief (also a LightHeart Gear customer). He asked if they could produce reusable, waterproof isolation gowns for his staff. Judy said “Sure,” and by that afternoon they were producing gowns from fabric usually meant for ultra-lightweight tents. They produced hundreds of gowns and shipped them to local EMS and fire departments, as well as to departments all over the country.

Soon their production shifted back to their customers and contract sewing customers, whose products are for the outdoor industry. Orders arrived from both sides of the business. Judy said that, at the same time, they were short-staffed due to employees under self-quarantine. They saw lead-times for fabrics and other materials lengthen. That slowed their ability to replenish inventories for a while, but Judy said they are back on track.

Judy noted that it’s hard to keep outdoor enthusiasts penned up for long. “They got to get outside. Activities like hiking and camping meet the criteria of social distancing and isolation, so that is what folks have been doing.” Accordingly, sales in tents, rainwear and women’s hiking apparel have been strong.  

She said the most important thing that LightHeart Gear learned is that in extraordinary times you have to think outside the box, be willing to pivot and continue to persevere. She added that COVID-19 reinforced what she already knew, that she has a great staff willing to rise to the occasion and wonderful customers who work with them as partners.

Image courtesy of Dominik Jirovský on Unsplash.

What happens for gear makers moving forward?

Industry analysts predict a continued sales increase for outdoor gear. Senior Sports Industry Advisor Matt Powell states, “I expect we will see a renewed and heightened interest in wellness and fitness post-crisis. In addition to the stay-at-home period providing a greater incentive for people to exercise at home or be active in the open air, I believe this virus has also motivated people to adopt healthier habits. Overall, I expect the combination of these factors to drive an increased interest in healthy lifestyles, which bodes well for sports.”

So keep it moving, NC! And also be sure to check out these other great NC-based outdoor gear companies as well:

Also, skim our other articles on cold water kayaking and rustic NC campsites in North Carolina for weekend trips!

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