Outdoor Retailer - April 2021 - 10
Vermont's Darn Tough,
which manufactures in the
state, has worked with
offshore suppliers to ensure
it can keep things rolling in
its U.S. factory.
The Myth of Greatness
The pandemic brought some uncomfortable truths about U.S.
manufacturing to light. Here's what we learned over the past
year and what the future holds. By Berne Broudy
FROM BIKESTO BOATS, SNOWSHOESTO SOCKS, IT'S BEEN HARD FOR RETAILERSTO STOCKTHEIR
shelves. A year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down outdoor retailers across the country. Brands
slammed the brakes on their supply chains, terrified of being overcommitted, which halted production globally. But, after a two- to three-month lull, as retailers opened up shop, the outdoor economy
roared forward. June sales were high; July sales were higher; and the trend continued. Most manufacturers cautiously waited for demand to settle, but people confined to home consumed outdoor
adventure like locusts. Demand for camping, biking, and paddling gear ripped through the industry
like wildfire. Some companies had their best years ever, while others frantically worked to get their
production lines back up and running.
" There was a fundamental shift in the economy during COVID-19, " says Doug Sanders, Cascade
Designs VP of operations. " When COVID hit, we slammed on the brakes when retail shops closed.
Then we had two months of demand above normal. We were five months behind when the industry realized there'd been a change in consumer behavior. There was a crazy supply chain reboot, de-
10 OUTDOOR RETAILER
/ April 2021
HOW WAS IT DIFFERENT FOR U.S.
Most raw materials still come from overseas
for U.S. manufacturers, even for a simple
product like socks. Brent Blevins, VP of operations for sock brand Darn Tough, says, " Good
partnerships helped us get through this year. "
Darn Tough worked with its overseas partners to secure supply. Before shipping delays
compounded shutdowns overseas, Darn
Tough's suppliers helped the company stage
In many cases, solid partnerships determined whether manufacturers thrived or
just survived. Longtime industry vet Dana
Gleason, owner of Mystery Ranch, says his
company delivered on the dot because it
stayed the course when shops closed down.
" Outdoor companies canceled huge blocks of
production, which left lots of Asian suppliers
in the lurch, " says Gleason. " We had some faith
in the marketplace. We didn't cancel everything coming to the outdoor marketplace, so
once stores reopened, we kept shipping. " The
brand did run out of some packs before winter,
however, but recalibrated to meet demand.
Courtesy Darn Tough
manding higher production than ever before.
As a result, the supply chain ran out of stuff,
and it didn't have the materials to make more. "
According to Sanders, the domestic supply
chain rebounded more slowly than the Asian
supply chain, compounded by the U.S. being
more dramatically impacted by COVID-19.
" It's been a particular challenge for domestic
companies, " says Sanders. " We've been struggling to get enough parts for a surging and
continuous demand. Because we manufacture
ourselves, we're coordinating 50 parts to make
one thing. If we can only get 48 parts, we can't
produce the finished good. "
Four months ago, Cascade was delivering
half or less of retailers' orders. In 2021, deliveries caught up-for the most part. Some products, like snowshoes, still haven't been delivered. And Cascade is doing significantly better
than other manufacturers, who, in some cases,
are only fulfilling 15% of orders. Heading into
summer 2021, Sanders says most sourcing hurdles have been cleared, and delays are focused
on a few specific commodities and vendors.
Outdoor Retailer - April 2021
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Outdoor Retailer - April 2021
Outdoor Retailer - April 2021 - Cover1
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