The wholesale and retail turnover of outdoor brands in China posted another record year in 2009, according to the China Outdoor Commerce Alliance (COCA). At the retail level, total sales reached 4,850 million yuan renminbi (€569.1m-$716.5m) compared with RMB 3,650 million (€428.3m-$539.2m) in 2008.
At the wholesale level, turnover was up by RMB 490 million (€57.5m-$72.4m) to 2,670 million (€313.1m-$394.5m). Since the turn of the millennium, the average annual growth rate was at 47.5 percent in retail and 48.4 percent in wholesale.
By retail channels, the development seen in recent last years remains unchanged in the sense that the offer of outdoor items in department stores and shopping malls continues to grow faster than in specialty stores or other marginal distribution channels.
Both major distribution channels are growing in a number of locations, but larger surfaces increased at a faster pace than specialty stores: In 2009, there were 1,851 department stores and shopping malls with an outdoor offer compared to 1,620 the previous year. The number of specialty shops increased by 94 to 1,379.
In terms of sales, department stores skyrocketed while specialty retailers displayed solid growth: turnover of department stores overall increased by 39.1 percent to RMB 2,880 million (€338.0m-$425.5m), while specialty shops grew by 19.2 percent to RMB 1,740 million (€204.2m-$257.1m).
It is easy to imagine that the faster growth of large surfaces is due to massive investments by Western and local brands in own shops in shopping malls and/or concession surfaces in department stores.
The most interesting development over the past few years is not at retail but at brand level. The total number of brands in the market increased by nearly 14 percent between 2008 and 2009, with stronger progress by domestic labels, which rose by 23.8 percent to 187. The foreign brands are still ahead with a total number of 286, but with a significantly smaller increase by 8.3 percent.
The leading foreign countries in number of brands were the U.S. Italy, Germany, the U.K., South Korea and France. With 108 brands (2008: 102), the U.S. is by far the dominating country followed at a distance by Italy and Germany (30 each in 2009).
The previous year the number of Italian brands was 28 and German brands 27 respectively. Britain and France remained stable at 15 and 12 respectively, while Korean brands made the most significant jump from 10 to 15.
While the growing number of Chinese brands does not say much about the balance of power between domestic brands and foreign companies in terms of turnover, there is a clear trend towards a fast increasing market share by the domestic brands: The three brands widely considered as clear market leaders in China are Toread, Columbia and The North Face.
According to COCA, foreign brands are still ahead of their Chinese counterparts with sales of RMB 1,490 million (€174.8m-$220.0m) and a growth rate of 17.3 percent. Chinese companies had, in 2009, sales of RMB 1,180 million (€138.5m-$174.3m) displaying an impressing increase of 29.7 percent.
On the product front, there are interesting shifts going on. Both footwear and apparel have increased their share in the sales mix: Between 2008 and 2009, the share of footwear increased from 23.4 to 24.5 percent while apparel grew from a share of 44.2 to 46.6 percent.
The most important equipment category, backpacks, remained stable at 7.5 percent. All other categories of hardgoods and accessories lost shares significantly. This development suggests a trend that outdoor in China is evolving toward a mainstream lifestyle while technical equipment remains confined to core users' community.
As far as the Chinese market for functional outdoor footwear is concerned, there are quite detailed figures circulating in the industry. No less than 656,000 pairs of more or less rugged footwear were sold last year.
Probably the undisputed market leader, with 100,000 sold units, is Toread, followed by Merrell and The North Face with 80,000 pairs each. Columbia is also quite strong with 65,000 units and so are ECCO with 55,000 pairs, Timberland (30,000) and Vasque (25,000).
The next strongest selling footwear brands of which we have 2009 estimates are all Chinese or from other Asian countries, including Kolumb (25,000), Ozark (20,000), TrekSta of Korea (15,000) and Nikko (13,000).
The second best-selling European brand behind ECCO is Lowa with 12,000 pairs, on a par with an Asian manufacturer by the name of LaVaKo. The strongest Italian brand is Garmont with 10,000 pairs.
The number of shoes sold per brand says perhaps more than the number of brands which sell in China. For example, all the major Italian brands are there, but Aku, Asolo, Crispi, Garmont, La Sportiva, Lizard, Scarpa, Tecnica and Zamberlan together did not sell more than 40,000 units.