‘This is not a trend’ — L.L.Bean CEO says preorders show pandemic-driven outdoor boom will continue

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Americans’ interest in outdoor activities blossomed this year as consumers sought health-conscious ways to spend the time during the coronavirus pandemic.

Boat, RV and camping-related sales, like car sales, have surged, despite the pandemic-induced recession, and it has led to higher sales in outdoor attire and other equipment for retailers like L.L.Bean.

Stephen Smith, chief executive of the private company that specializes in clothing and outdoor recreation equipment, told CNBC Wednesday that sales are up triple digits in multiple categories and that the company is seeing optimistic signs that it’s not just a fad that will fade away.

“We feel like this is not a trend, this is a connection back to nature,” he said in a “Squawk on the Street” interview. “It’s an understanding of, you know, the physical and mental benefits of being outside, and we think that that will continue into 2021.”

L.L.Bean, which is based in Freeport, Maine, reports that sales in the winter sports category are up 165%. Snow tube sales have surged 114% and snowshoe sales have skyrocketed 340%, the company said.

With a global health crisis disrupting the year, 2020 has been “unprecedented” for retail, said Smith, who noted that consumers were looking for both outdoor connections as well as indoor comfort during the spring and summer months.

By September, winter was on people’s mind as customers began buying up cross country skis. Now with the year nearing a close, L.L.Bean is seeing early interest in outerwear as some customers have their mind on the spring.

“We feel really good about where we are heading into the spring and summer. So many new outdoor enthusiasts with new gear, new activities, a new connection to the outdoors,” Smith said. “The fact that we’ve seen winter gear selling so early, we’re already seeing some signs of preorders around spring and summer activities.”

To keep up with changing consumer habits as more people shop from home and rely on deliveries, Smith said it’s important for retailers to have an omnichannel approach, including having a physical store presence while continuing to build out a digital presence.

However, brick-and-mortar will still play an important role, especially post-pandemic when consumers will be ready to get out the house, travel and shop in person again, an opportunity to touch and feel the products they are buying, Smith said.

“As customers change, the best retailers need to change with them,” he said.

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