The market researchers of GfK and NPD Group have joined forces to provide in-depth research results for the outdoor market. The first result is a report based on a retail panel in Germany, but the two firms are determined to add other European countries in the months and years to come.

For the first time, both companies really examined smaller product groups such as climbing ropes and camping kitchens. In addition, they discontinued their own peculiar form of (non-)cooperation: Nuremberg-based GfK and U.S.-based NPD have formally cooperated for a long time in their joint venture, Sport Tracking Europe, in which NPD owns 75 percent and GfK 25 percent of the shares.

In fact, the partners initially went separate ways: GfK concentrated its efforts in Germany on winter sports, methodically gleaning their main results from retail panels. NPD placed its main focus on summer sports and collected data mainly from the brands' perspective. The latest report on the German market is the first result of a genuine cooperation.

In the first step, the pilot project limited itself to Germany. However, following a statement from market researchers Stefan Brunner (GfK) and Dietmar Brandl (NPD), they will also examine the markets in Austria, Switzerland and France.

The data are based initially on general sports retailers and not on outdoor specialty retailers. The research uses the product key provided by Fedas, the European federation of sporting goods retailers, which is applied by Intersport, Sport 2000 and Karstadt, the department store chain. Kaufhof is not part of this system, and its data had to be laboriously collated outside of the Fedas key.

The fact that specialty retailers were not included in the research calls for a critical interpretation of the figures. GfK and NPD admit that in regard to specialist products, for example climbing ropes, the specialty stores' market share might be significantly high, whereas the figures for hiking shoes sold through general sports retailers might reflect the entire market in a more accurate way.

Overall, the research firms assume that their results cover 50 to 60 percent of the entire outdoor market – including retailers who do their business without any special focus on sporting goods such as food chains, cash & carry operators and others.

The researchers assume a market volume in Germany of between €1.6 billion and €1.7 billion for the outdoor segment. This number includes specialty outdoor shops and general sports retailers, as well as department stores and non-specialty retailers.

2011 results were determined by unfavorable weather conditions. The winter sports category was significantly down, while the entire sports industry on the retail level was down by 5 percent. The outdoor segment did not escape this fate: Though its decline was just 2 percent compared with the previous year, the spoiled-by-success sector had forgotten what it's like to lose. However, compared with categories such as ski, snowboard and inline skating, outdoor appears as solid as a rock.

After a difficult 2011, the first five months of the current year seem to have proven that both sporting and outdoor goods are back in business: Sporting goods' sales have increased by about 8 percent, with outdoor products soaring by 17 percent. These figures compare the January to May figures for 2010 with 2011.

A look at the main categories is highly interesting, because it describes an unusual picture: Outdoor shoes seem in particular to be responsible for the general deficit of 2 percent, mainly because in 2011 they were down by 9 percent on the previous year. Clothing remained stable and hardgoods recorded a slight increase of 2 percent.

What is remarkable is the comparison between outdoor footwear and the development of shoes in general sports retail: Outdoor shoe sales were down by 2 percentage points to a 25 percent share of total shoe sales, whereas overall footwear in sports retail increased by 1 percentage point, to a share of 26 percent. Apparel and equipment remained relatively stable as far as their shares of total sales are concerned.