The end of elite

The fastest-growing demographics are Hispanics and Asian, whose participation in activities like running, hiking, cycling, and camping has inched up about 1 percent over the last five years. But while the industry has been striving for greater inclusion[13], demographically speaking, the majority of outdoor users are white (74 percent) and 54 percent are male. Nearly one third of outdoor users have a college education, and a similar percentage has an annual household income greater than $100,000.

The second-largest grouping of outdoor users (22 percent) has less than three years of high school, and a similar percentage makes $25,000 to $49,999 annually. (The average Walmart shopper, by comparison, is a 50-year-old white woman with an annual household income of $53,125, according to a study by Kanter Retail in 2017.)

blonde woman in climbing gear shopping at the grocery store

Quick grocery store stop before a day of climbing

Outdoor brands, of course, have done well to market a relatable version of the outdoor ethos to the mass consumer. And not all brands herald “scarcity.” As they’ve grown, businesses like The North Face[14], YETI[15], Marmot[16], and Spyder[17] have increased their market share by selling outside specialty retail. Today, you can buy Spyder gear at Costco, a YETI cooler at Sam’s Club, see a Patagonia Nano Puff vest on just about any guy who works in finance, and find more of The North Face on the quad than in basecamp.

Marketing is also pivoting from the elite to everyday. Merrell[18] targets consumers who have real lives yet still enjoy being outside. Particularly popular are ambassadors who juggle full-time or multiple jobs while getting outdoors.

Shortly after this story unfolded, SNEWS asked readers[19]: Is selling premium outdoor gear through Walmart a good move? 46 percent answered “No. You abandon specialty retailers and your reputation.”

For Merrell, the decision to skew to a wider audience was an easy one. “People say hike is the new yoga,” says Strick Walker, Merrell’s chief marketing officer. “For us, this means making footwear and apparel for the trail. It also means inspiring folks to get out there—all folks.”

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