Enterprise is Blooming: Report from The Nice Outdoor

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VermontBiz For residents and visitors alike, Vermont is an invigorating, scenic, and welcoming destination for outdoor recreation…all year round. Behind the scenes there is a thriving network of professionals and community organizations that nurture and grow the business side of outdoor recreation and promote fun and education for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and interests.

The Starting Point spoke to VtSBDC Business Advisor and Outdoor Leisure Specialist Heidi Krantz about the industry climate in Summer 22.

The starting point: Heidi, what trends do you see in outdoor leisure this summer?

Pagan: For an overview of the current climate, I reached out to Kelly Ault, executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA). Kelly reports that in the wake of the pandemic, there is a renewed loyalty to brick-and-mortar retail stores and a desire for the personal, outdoor shop experience. She explains that specialty retailers with a unique niche show the most promise for growth and sustainability over time, such as: B. the climbing gear shop near a rock, the paddle shop near a waterway, or the bike shop near hiking trails. Customer service, relationships, and customized amenities and information for customers make independent businesses a good choice for the economic growth of Vermont’s more rural communities.

Photo: Business is booming. courtesy photo.

Kelly also shared that the workforce continues to be a challenge, particularly for high-demand, seasonal customer service and recreational teaching jobs, as well as highly skilled technical positions such as bike mechanics, trail builders, guides, and gear and apparel manufacturing workers.

Educational institutions and non-profits are reaching out to employers to understand their needs going forward and to create tailored pipeline programs and internships/apprenticeships to support the outdoor sector.

The starting point: What have you observed in your own experiences with outdoor recreation business owners and customers?

Pagan: I’ve noticed an increase in participation in outdoor activities, with some changes over the past few years. For the 50+ market, many people are more cautious but still want to enjoy the great outdoors. For example, instead of mountain biking, this segment can be riding e-bikes. Hiking and kayaking has also increased from my point of view. Instead of buying equipment, many people want new experiences. They feel comfortable when they are guided, mentored or accompanied by someone who teaches them the best and safest way to do things. This is particularly appropriate for new Vermonters coming from suburbs—they feel comfortable with being guided while building confidence and enjoying a more rural and remote environment. For outdoor entrepreneurs, this is a welcome opportunity to share their skills and expertise.

I’ve also seen business owners react to the current conditions and change direction. For example, ski shops adding backcountry access gear. Bike shops with snowshoes and cross-country skiing equipment. Many retailers are finding ways to be year-round and plan inventory ahead of time.

The starting point: What do you see due to global changes?

Pagan: On the one hand, the reopening of the Canadian border has had a dramatic effect. Especially in northern Vermont where this market segment has been severely neglected. I’m also interested in the impact of rising gas prices. While it’s a tough situation, it could result in Vermonters staying close to home and enjoying “staycations” at outdoor venues. Today’s problems with air travel can also lead to more regional traffic.

The starting point: What else should we know about the state of Vermont’s outdoor industry?

Pagan: Don’t forget that Vermont isn’t just known for biking and skiing. We have fantastic fishing and water activities, hiking, boating, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and even sculpture parks that encourage walking and being outdoors. People camp with their children. All of these activities fuel the prosperity of Vermont’s outdoor businesses—from specialty retailers to trail builders to outdoor gear and apparel manufacturers.

The need for outdoor gear and services has inspired entrepreneurship, with many new businesses seeking funding and venture capital. VtSBDC consultants are enlisted for pitching, business development, technical support and mentoring guidance to navigate start-up opportunities.

The starting point: Any thoughts on the future of the industry?

Pagan: The good news is that attendance has increased. Another piece of good news is that Vermont outdoor professionals have recognized the importance of being responsible and protecting our environment and have become educators in sustainability and environmental awareness.

Looking ahead, Kelly Ault of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance believes that leisure businesses are seeing positive signs from travelers and anticipate customer purchases will be reflected at pre-pandemic levels. She explains that Vermont is well positioned for the propulsion markets and there is pent-up demand for outdoor recreation. Industry data shows that increased gear and apparel purchases during the pandemic are now reflected in money and time spent on outdoor experiences in 2022.

Overall, a very positive outlook for Vermont and for outdoor business owners in our state.

Would you like to find out more? Check out our resource page or request a consultation from a regional consultant!

Photo: Business is booming. courtesy photo.