Hurt by unfavorable weather conditions, the A.S. Adventure Group has reported nearly flat sales for last year, in spite of eight store openings. But it remained the largest outdoor retail group in Europe, with a turnover of nearly €290.9 million, down almost imperceptibly from €291.1 million in 2010. Owned by Lion Capital, the A.S. Adventure Group comprises the A.S. Adventure chain in Belgium, Bever in the Netherlands and Cotswold Outdoor in the U.K.

The revenues chalked up by the international multi-banner group compare with a turnover of €250 million recorded by Globetrotter for its financial year until the end of February, up by 10 percent with two store openings. The turnover of Blacks Leisure, which previously came close in the European rankings with its Blacks and Millets banners, has shrunk due to its financial issues and store closures, and its network is being pared down under the ownership of JD Sports Fashion. Au Vieux Campeur, the French outdoor retailer, is also smaller with sales of almost exactly €150 million for the fiscal year until the end of September 2011, up by 18 percent including about 5 percentage points added by a store opening in Grenoble the previous year.

The A.S. Adventure Group's chief executive, Frederic Hufkens, said that the past year had been disappointing, as all of the group's banners suffered a decline in their comparable sales. Still, it has been quick to recover, achieving a double-digit sales increase since the start of this year.

The group's weaker performance in 2011 was chiefly attributed to the climatic conditions, particularly the mild weather at the start and the end of the year. To make matters worse, the U.K. went through its driest spring on record, deeply affecting the Cotswold Outdoor chain, where rainwear remains the largest category of products.

At the same time, Cotswold suffered from the upheavals in the British outdoor market toward the end of the past year as Blacks disrupted it with discounts of up to 70 percent in a desperate attempt to generate more cash. Cotswold was more directly hit by this cleanup than some other British outdoor retailers that are mostly situated outside of city centers, such as Go Outdoors, but A.S. Adventure estimates that it did gain market share.

The A.S. Adventure Group confirms that it did issue a bid for some of the Blacks stores, before it was trumped by JD Sports Fashion. Instead, the company took advantage of the unstable retail market situation to open six new Cotswold stores, ending the year with 64 units. The British retailer reached a turnover of £90.2 million (€113.0m-$140.8m) for the year, up by 1.4 percent. It will be opening another store in Windsor in the coming weeks, and it should open another six or seven by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the Belgian-based A.S. Adventure banner reached sales of nearly €129.8 million, up by 2.4 percent, with two store openings in the course of the year. One of them was in Sint-Joris-Winge, east of Brussels, while the other was A.S. Adventure's first French store, covering about 2,100 square meters in the city of Reims. Contrary to a French press report, the store has been performing above expectations. This year in March, the company opened a second French store of 2,500 square meters in Metz.

The two French stores compare with the relatively large Belgian stores that A.S. Adventure operates in Zaventem and Dendermonde (the network also contains much smaller city stores) and the range offered in France is roughly the same as in Belgium. The locations are meant to take advantage of the retailer's Belgian logistics, including a warehouse that was enlarged two years ago.

While scouting for new locations in neighboring French cities such as Paris, Strasbourg and Lille, the company also opened another store in the Belgian town of Nivelles earlier this year. The management estimates that there is potential for several more in its home market. In Belgium, the group operates three single-brand stores for The North Face as well as a virtual store. Its online sales stil make up only about 2 percent of the Belgian company's sales. They were flat last year, but they have been up by 260 percent since the appointment of an e-commerce manager at the end of 2011. He has done some e-marketing and added some fashion products to the online offering.

In the Netherlands, the group's recently renamed Bever chain chalked up sales of €55.8 million last year, which was a decline of 8.1 percent, while the number of its stores remained unchanged with 36 doors, including a TNF mono-brand store. Bever is now opening a second TNF store in Utrecht. Like many other retailers in other sectors, Bever was apparently affected by the reluctance of worried Dutch consumers to part with their money because of the uncertain economic situation. Hufkens said Dutch consumers were not trading down – they were just buying less, or not at all, due to consumption restraint as well as the weather.

However, the Dutch arm of the group has made a lot of progress in terms of organization. Since the appointment of an online sales manager two months ago, the team rebuilt in the last two years is now complete. Bever moved its head office and warehouse to Pijnacker, offering a much larger surface of over 7,000 square meters. And a new ERP system was implemented, enabling Bever to replenish more rapidly.

Data processing is one of the strengths of the entire group, which has put more emphasis than many other outdoor retailers on information technology to find out quickly what is selling and to quickly replenish its inventories accordingly, strongly adding to the enviable margins it reaped in more favorable years.

The improvements in Dutch stock management have already contributed to an increase in comparable sales at Bever this year. The snap of cold weather that occurred toward the end of February gave a big push to the Dutch banner. A new Bever store will open in June in Deventer, while Bever's store in Utrecht will be relocated.

The investments in the Dutch organization and the lackluster consumer spending have not made it judicious for Bever to go ahead with a planned conversion of its stores to a new concept. The Bever store in Nijmegen, which switched to an updated format a few months ago, is still the only one to have adopted it, but it will be used for the new stores in Deventer and Utrecht.