Executives within the outdoor industry remain cautious about the economic situation, according to a survey conducted by the American Outdoor Industry Association and Piper Jaffray Companies. The study, the fourth in 12 months, looked at opinions of executives from member companies of the OIA regarding current economic prospects, a timeline for recovery, cost inflation and the effect that a tighter credit market has on short-term business operations. Improvements were noted in sales, inventory and employment.

While there was still a great deal of concern, executives reported that it had eased up slightly, and expectations for an economic recovery rose significantly: 68 percent of those surveyed are forecasting a growth in revenues, while this figure was just 50 percent in the survey conducted in the summer.

Businesses have been trying to keep inventory levels down during the economic crisis, but as the retail climate picks up, companies are looking to get inventory levels back up to previous levels. Twenty-five percent of respondents planned this move, compared with just 17 percent in the summer.

Inversely, those planning cuts in inventory had shrunk, from 58 percent in the summer to 42 percent now. Piper Jaffray analysts warned, however, that faster turns of inventory usually improve profitability and returns on invested capital as earnings can remain consistent on a lower level of investment.

Employment in the industry is looking brighter as well. Earlier this year about 40 percent of executives surveyed said they expected cuts in employment, but in this survey about 20 percent said employment had dropped. Twenty-nine percent are expecting a future increase in employment, compared with just 19 percent who felt that way in the summer.

The outlook was not so rosy when it came to credit. Though the situation was no worse than it was in the summer, it was no better, either: Almost 75 percent of those surveyed said their access to capital had not improved and 12 percent expect reduced access. Sixteen percent expect an increase in access to capital.

The survey covered mostly independent businesses bringing in less than $50 million a year in sales, and the majority described themselves as retailers or vendors. Vendors were more optimistic about the current economic environment overall.

ISPO REDEFINES THE ‘TRADE VISITOR,’ EYES NEW MARKETS

Messe München has presented the new concept for its upcoming Ispo show scheduled for Feb. 7-10. The show is being held sort of late next year respecting the changes in the U.S. trade show calendar. As reported, the American SIA show moves from Las Vegas to Denver, which had an impact on the timing of the various shows.

Next year’s Ispo proves to be stable as far as the number of exhibitors, at about 2,000. The number of booked square meters is slightly down by 5 percent. This decrease is not due to exhibitors staying away from the show, but rather to long-time exhibitors – notably from the ski industry – reducing their exhibiting surface. New exhibitors or those coming back after a break are, among others, Napapijri, Thule, Victorinox and Nike 6.0/Nike SB (replacing Nike ACG). The Ispovision show welcomes new exhibitors such as Völkl (apparel), Sigg and Kjus

Ispo is redefining its idea of a trade visitor. A trade visitor is no longer necessarily a traditional sporting goods retailer, but anyone who is strongly connected to the industry. Messe München calls these visitors “opinion leaders,” and they might be fitness trainers, mountaineering guides, ski teachers and so on who will be especially welcomed on the fourth day of the show. The invitation of such market players is not just to make official what has been common practice among exhibitors for many years; it also seems to be intended to reach a reasonable flow of visitors during the last day, which is traditionally sort of dead. Messe München will, however, avoid opening its doors to “anybody.” An official consumer day is not at the top of Ispo’s agenda.

Foreign markets are something that Ispo is especially after. Ispo China is taking place March 4-6 due to the country’s New Year, which will be celebrated during the second half of February. This year, the Beijing show increased its exhibiting surface from 20,000 to 25,000 square meters, but the number of trade visitors decreased by 17 percent and reached 13,500. New visitors at the 2010 edition are mainly outdoor-oriented companies such as Coleman, Karrimor, Edelrid and ECCO.

China is one thing, other prosperous regions are another. Messe München established an Indian subsidiary this year, but the group’s new chief executive, Klaus Dittrich, said that India is still too small to merit a sporting goods trade show. He, however, did not say that an Ispo India is pure science fiction. The same goes for Brazil, another emerging market, for which Dittrich did not manage to produce a convincing denial as far as future sporting goods shows are concerned.