The European outdoor market is getting better, as already indicated in our previous issue by the renewed confidence expressed by financial analysts in the publicly listed companies in our sector. A survey of 50 members of the European Outdoor Group (EOG), presented during the Ispo Munich trade show at the end of last month, showed that 47 percent of them experienced growth of 5.1 percent or more in 2017 and 32 percent between 2.5 percent and 5 percent. Another 15 percent reported growth of up to 2.5 percent, and 3 percent said their sales were flat. Only 3 percent suffered a decline, and it was limited to less than 2.5 percent.

In contrast with 2016, when apparel fared better than equipment in Europe, and footwear declined, hardware performed best in 2017, followed by clothing and footwear. No precise growth figures were given by the EOG in Munich, but the association said that 57 percent of the respondents reported sales increases of 5.1 percent or more for their hardware products last year, while 21 percent put the growth rate at between 2.5 and 5 percent. However, 11 percent reported flat sales and 4 percent admitted to a decline of between 2.5 and 5 percent.

Sales of apparel went up by 5.1 percent or higher for 50 percent of the sample. Another 27 percent indicated that they had risen by between 2.5 and 5 percent, while 12 percent reported an increase of up to 2.5 percent and 12 percent said they were flat. Nobody had lower sales than in 2016 in this product category.

In contrast with the previous year, which saw the first decline in the European outdoor shoe market in many years, 73 percent of the respondents to the EOG survey indicated that their sales went up in this category last year. Increases of 5.1 percent or more were reported by 39 percent of the participants in the survey. The growth rate ranged between 2.5 and 5.0 percent for 17 percent of the sample, and between 0.1 and 2.5 percent for another 17 percent.

However, 13 percent of the 50 respondents to this preliminary survey declared that their footwear sales had been flat. Only 9 percent said they had suffered a drop of up to 2.5 percent in this segment in 2017, and 4 percent said their footwear sales had declined by up to 5 percent.

The momentum has been improving in the course of the year, probably because of the relatively cold weather in the autumn, as 85 percent of the respondents reported a better autumn/winter 2017/18 season than the previous one. Another 13 percent said it had been about the same, and 2 percent mentioned a decline.

Very few companies are pessimistic about their prospects in 2018, as 47 percent expect a much better market this year and 44 percent a slightly better one. Nobody is forecasting a drop, while 9 percent predicts stability.

Asked about the key trends that helped support the outdoor market in 2017, EOG members mentioned the desire by the urban population to go into the outdoor and the industry's emphasis on sustainability, the use of natural fibers and the development of high-quality, longer-lasting products. A focus on innovation and the development of lightweight products have been accompanied by the increasing popularity of sports like climbing and trail running.

On the other hand, vendors have been adopting a clearer segmentation of their product lines and built up stronger relationships with retailers, which in turn are focusing more on story-telling to help drive the sell-through for the brands they offer in their stores.