Outdoors gear supply still negatively affected by pandemic, but not as bad as 2021

Verus Kayaks founder Josh Pecaric found himself at the confluence of high shipping costs, increased tariffs and other supply-chain issues in recent years, factors that have had a huge impact on the outdoors retail industry. Now, he’s working temporarily as a salesman at Confluence Kayak & Ski in Denver while he moves his whitewater kayak manufacturing operation from China to South Carolina.

Pecaric has unique perspectives on the myriad challenges facing outdoors gear stores, bike shops, paddle-sport retailers and their suppliers. Like many working in outdoors retail, he says inventories are better than they were a year ago. Confluence Kayaks, just down the street from Confluence Park, sells kayaks and paddleboards, and right now they’re doing OK on inventory.

“It’s still taking a lot of time for things to trickle in,” Pecaric said. “It’s a slow trickle. We had an order that was supposed to arrive in September 2020, and it didn’t arrive until about three weeks ago. We at least have enough stock to get us by and do the sales that we need.”

One night this week, the shop received a shipment of 38 boats.

Pecaric’s experience as a manufacturer offers insight into how all those supply-chain problems evolved. Issues related to the COVID pandemic were hardly the only causes. Tariff increases on goods shipped from China played a big role, too.

Pecaric said his company went from paying $2,800 to transport a 40-foot shipping container (which can hold 120 kayaks) three or four years ago to $54,000 per container now. (That’s not a typo.) His overall shipping costs increased more than 19 times over what he had been paying. That’s why he is “re-shoring” — that is, the opposite of off-shoring, meaning he’s bringing manufacturing back to the United States.

“And, believe it or not, it only costs $10 more to make a boat here than it does in China,” said Pecaric, who will move to South Carolina in a few weeks to help set up the new factory.

There are other pressures on supply chains, of course. The high cost of fuel is one. Now, too, there is the looming threat of a labor impasse at West Coast ports that could idle more than 22,000 dockworkers when their union contract expires in June.

But for now, at least, inventories generally are better at bike shops and outdoors gear stores than they were a year ago. Phillip Brown, co-owner of Elevation Cycles — which operates four shops in the metro area — said about three-quarters of the stock they normally carry is readily available.

“But things haven’t been bouncing back in a linear fashion,” Brown said. “So, that quarter that is not readily available, some of those things are still a year away. Those things have trickled in over time, so if we were aggressive enough with our purchasing when it was available, we were able to get a lot and we still have decent inventory on a lot of those things. But, what I order right now is on back order, and won’t show up for eight months to a year in some cases.”

Brown said Elevation’s inventory of entry-level and high-end bikes is good, but bikes in the range of $2,000 to $4,000 will be harder for customers to find.

At Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden, marketing manager John Weir said his store has a good availability of inventory.

“Not in everything all the time, but availability has definitely gotten better, and the supply chains have gotten better overall,” Weir said. “We are seeing a lot of price increases. That’s price increases from the manufacturers, and then price increases in what they are charging us as well as setting prices for consumers.”

Customers may need to be flexible in what they want when they walk in the store, Weir said.

“There might not always be the magazine ‘top pick,’ or the specific model they’ve decided that they’ve wanted,” Weir said. “I would also suggest to customers, if they do find something, snatch it up. We’re not going to be seeing the mentality of waiting for stuff to go on sale. There’s just not going to be as much of that this year. It’s going to be hard to find deals on stuff. I would say shop early, and if you find it, snatch it up.”

At Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, floor manager Tim Dailey said there are still some holes in inventory but shipping is flowing better than last year.

“It’s better across the board,” Dailey said. “If I was going to say one category is still lagging, it’s footwear. I don’t know if that is because we deal with the Italian-based brands like La Sportiva and Scarpa, where we are still having holes in inventory and things are getting back-ordered. But the back-order list is getting smaller. Our buyers have been working really hard to find alternative brands to have inventory in products where we are thin.”

Both Brown at Elevation Cycles and Dan Dwyer of Peak Cycles in Golden say their inventory is better for mountain bikes than road bikes.

“We’ve done really well getting mountain trail bikes lately from Specialized and from Giant,” Dwyer said. “Road bikes, gravel bikes, hybrids and some of the cross country bikes have been a little bit harder to get. That’s not just us, that’s all the dealers around the metro area. We’re hoping that by the end of this year or early in the first quarter next year, we’re going to start seeing a normal distribution of bikes.”

Across the street at Bentgate, Weir said customers should be able to find the goods they need, but they may not find the specific model or color they prefer. And, they may need to shop around if there are specific products that they have their hearts set on.

“That’s something we’ve been hearing from a lot of people,” Weir said. “They go into an REI and can’t find something, but they can find it here or at Wilderness Exchange, one of the smaller shops. So, call around if there is a specific thing you want. You might be able to find it.”

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