The 2010 SIMA Retail Distribution Study

The first thing to say is thanks to SIMA for making this study happen and to Leisure Trends Group for doing the research. We don’t get access to near enough industry and market data.

As I’m not a member of SIMA, I don’t have access to the complete study. I’m working with the “Media Highlights” package that came out after the press release on the study.     

Two years ago, when the previous study came out, I did the same kind of analysis I’m going to do now. You can see that analysis here.
 
As usual, I’m doing this to try and identify trends and information that will help you run your business better and make you think about important issues. But the Media Highlights weren’t constructed with my needs in mind. SIMA’s goal in producing the highlights is to promote the industry to the broader market and to make it look good. I do not, by the way, fault them for a moment for doing that. It’s part of their job.
 
Anyway, keep that in mind here as we proceed.
 
The Headline Numbers
 
I’m sure most of you all saw these numbers in the press release. The “core channel” sales at retail (all these numbers are at retail) fell 13.5% between 2008 and 2010 from $5.32 billion to $4.6 billion. Sales at skate focused stores were down 11.6% from $2.85 billion to $2.52 billion. At surf focused stores, they fell 15.8% from $2.47 billion to $2.08 billion.
 
Footwear in core channels rose 8.2% to $1.5 billion and represents one third of total sales. Hard goods sales over two years were up 35.3% to $1.46 billion and represent another third. Well, if footwear and hard goods were up, but total core sales fell 13.5%, then apparel must be, well, not specifically too good. Down 41.1% actually to $1.0 billion. Interestingly, men’s/boy’s apparel accounted for 57% of overall apparel sales. Even with the weakness in juniors, that surprised me.
 
So if you’re like me you looked at these numbers and went, “Huh?!” On the face of it the hard goods increase and apparel decline seem just impossible even though it’s over two years. Then there’s the “other” category of sales which fell from $498.8 million to $18.4 million in two years. I hypothesize that there are some changes in classification and what’s included or not included going on here.
 
Core stores do not include military exchanges, company stores, and national department stores. I know what a military exchange and a national department store are. But when it excludes company stores does that mean, for example, that the Billabong store in my local mall is excluded?
 
That’s just what it means and, having discussed it with SIMA, I can see their point of view. If you called a company owned store, SIMA said, and asked them what their best-selling board short was, what might you guess the answer would be? The weighting towards company owned brands in company owned stores, SIMA argues, would skew the data.
 
You can see the difficulty SIMA and Leisure Trends have in decided who to survey or not to survey. The other side of the argument, of course, is that those board shorts sold in a company owned stores are real board shorts sold to real customers. Surveying them might skew the results, but all the brands who have company owned stores are working every day just as hard as they can to do just that.
 
Then there’s the issue of company owned stores that carry brands in addition to those brands owned by the company. What would SIMA do with Billabong owned West 49 and its 125 or so stores if it was a U.S., rather than Canadian, retailer? On the one hand, it carries other brands. On the other hand, Billabong is working to increase the owned brands component of those stores to as high as 60%. Would that skew the sample in such a way that West 49 stores shouldn’t be included in the survey?
 
I don’t know.  I’ve got an opinion, but I don’t know in a definitive way. You don’t know either. Neither do SIMA or Leisure Trends. They make the best decisions they can make given the information they have.
 
Internet and catalog sales contributed 16% of the total, compared to 14% in 2004. 55% of retailers are now selling on the internet. That’s double the 2008 percentage of 24%. I’m surprised it’s only 55%.
 
SIMA also estimates that surf and skate sales in all channels (including company stores, military exchanges and national department stores) fell 13.6% from $7.22 billion to $6.24 billion.
 
There’s a chart on page 5 called “Putting Things into Perspective-Retail Size of Other Sports/Recreational Industries that I didn’t agree with.” It lists that all channel estimate for surf/skate and shows 2010 retail sales for Outdoor (core), including paddle sales at $5.70 billion. Bicycle comes in at $3.2 billion, snow sports at $2.92 billion, scuba at $658 million, snowboard at $481 million and paddle by itself at $360 million. Next to the chart it says the following:
 
“Based on other work completed by Leisure Trends Group, surf/skate is impressively positioned among other retail industries.”
I don’t know what “impressively positioned” means. And I would dispute the idea that an industry’s size is determinate of its competitive positioning against other industries. I wish that could have been stated a little differently.
 
Definitions and Methodology
 
Just what is “core,” we’ve all wondered. In doing the research for this study SIMA says, “The CORE channel includes retail operations that classify themselves as specialty, lifestyle or sporting goods stores. Core stores do not include military exchanges, company stores, and national department stores.”
 
I asked SIMA if surveyed stores really did classify themselves and if that meant that Sports Authority could be “core.” They clarified that sporting goods stores are, in fact, included in the core numbers but couldn’t tell me about specific retailers because of confidentiality reasons. I can understand that. You aren’t likely to get much cooperation if the retailers submitting data don’t think it will be confidential.
During January and February of 2011, Leisure Trends did 446 telephone interviews with surf and skate retailers in the U.S. This sample was taken from a list of retailers reviewed and provided to Leisure Trends by SIMA. “The list of core shops that are surveyed is a list that has been compiled by brands’ accounts.” The brands provided the list.
 
“By being on the list, and qualifying for the study by having at least 10% or higher of their operation’s overall sales coming from surf and/or skate products they are considered within the Core Surf/Skate Channel,” SIMA told me.
 
That 10% bar seems kind of low for me. Especially as that’s for surf and skate combined. I wonder to what extent setting the bar that low expands the size of the total market?
 
I also wonder how they measure which retailer makes it to the 10% bar and what products are included in the calculation. It sounds like the retailers decide if they are 10% skate/surf. If a sporting goods store thinks they sell 10% skate/surf by including boogie boards, beach umbrellas, various brands of apparel, cheap complete skate decks, every swimsuit in the place and sun tan lotion, can they end up classified as being in what SIMA calls the core channel? Okay, kind of an extreme example but you can see my point.
 
SIMA clarified for me that they weren’t trying to define what a “core shop” means by the study and use the word only to define the shops that were surveyed. They suggested that something like “surveyed stores” might be a better term. I think it might be and hope they consider using it in two years.
 
Just to say it again, every study like this one has methodological and statistical challenges to deal with. There are tradeoffs and choices you make as you do your best to collect good data. But my readers know I think the core market is a lot smaller than this study suggests and I suspect many of you agree with me. If so, do me a favor and put a comment to that effect on my web site please.
 
Some Interesting Trends
 
The most interesting thing I found was that chain stores represented 35% of the total list of stores compared to only 9% in 2008.  The report notes that “Independent stores closed many doors in the past two years. Most of these were replaced by specialty chain stores causing a less than expected drop (-1.7%) in total surf and skate doors to 4,826 in 2010.”  That speaks more eloquently than I can to the way the industry is changing; or maybe it’s better to say the way larger brands are evolving out of the core action sports space.
Consistent with this, 81% of all surveyed retailers use a point of sale system, up from 60% in 2008. I conjecture that’s because a lot of the smaller, unsophisticated stores are gone, replaced by chains with good systems. SIMA points to two other trends that are probably driven by the growth of chain stores in their sample.
 
The first is the increase in the average number of store employees from 6.5 to 7.7. I’m guessing this could also reflect some recovery from the depth of the recession.
 
They also note more stores carrying snowboarding, wakeboarding, motocross, BMX and other sporting goods and suggest this is because more chains are in the sample. Probably true.
 
I’ve spent more timing writing and rewriting this than you would believe. It’s kind of old news, I’m working with incomplete data, and while SIMA was as cooperative as they could be, there was just some data they aren’t allowed to give me and questions confidentiality prevented them from answering. Why am I doing it?
 
As usual, because I think there’s a business lesson to learn. You just can’t look at the headline numbers and say, “Oh, this represents how the industry has changed.” 
 
The dramatic changes in certain categories (hard goods up so much, apparel down so much, the “other” category) gives me pause. They are indicative of huge changes in our competitive environment. They reflect vertical integration, the rise of chains, specialty shops going out of business, a broader definition of what our industry is, the use of systems by the survivors (and probably some different classification of product as a result), a lousy economy, and some others as well.   
 
You shouldn’t be depressed because the industry is smaller than it was two years ago. There’s good news for some segments, and for some companies, in there.    At the same time, you shouldn’t be giddy with joy as a hard goods company just because hard goods were reported to be up 35%.
 
What we can learn, as a reader of the press release and even the media highlights or the whole study if you have it available to you, is that you have to be cautious in drawing conclusions from summary data lacking a thorough understanding of how the study (or any study for that matter) was conducted.