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Outdoor gear like tents, running low due to supply chain issues
April 19, 2021
With outdoor enthusiasts turning from winter activities to warm-weather pursuits, supply chain issues fueled by pandemic demand are frustrating shop owners who have been unable to fill out inventories for the spring rush.
People shopping for bikes, for example, are doubling what they intended to spend because of limited stock at the price points they had in mind. Mountaineering shop managers say if high-demand items in their limited inventories sell out in the spring, they may not be able to restock those items for the summer months.
Reasons for the shortages, shop owners say, include production issues in Asia; a shortage of commercial truck drivers; and a backup of massive container ships filled with goods manufactured in Asia that are waiting to be offloaded at West Coast harbors.
“It’s pretty scary,” said Jimmy Funkhouser, the owner of Feral Mountain Co., an indie shop in Denver’s Tennyson Street district. “Coming out of COVID and all the challenges with that, you think, ‘OK, we’re finally going to hit our stride, we’re finally going to get back, everybody is going to be out shopping.’ And then you get hit with these completely frustrating supply chain issues. It’s like a double whammy.”
Consumers may soon have a hard time finding basic outdoor items, such as tents.
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“We’re already beginning to see shortages in those hard goods that we were seeing last summer with supply chains internationally, with aluminum hard to get,” said John Weir, marketing manager for Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden. “A lot of the more techie camping materials — tents, techie camp chairs, that sort of stuff — are already in short supply.”
Funkhouser is hearing the same thing from tent suppliers.
“We’ve been told by most of our brands that they will be shipping significantly fewer tents this year,” Funkhouser said. “Some brands have told us they will not be shipping any more tents this year.”
Bike and paddleboard shops have been hit especially hard. Peak Cycles in Golden is operating at between 25% and 35% of its normal inventory for this time of year, according to spokesman Dan Dwyer. At Altitude Paddleboards in Littleton, owner Willy Taylor says his inventory is running at about 30%.
“I should have pretty much had all my inventory by now, because I am seasonal,” Taylor said. “A lot of it is still sitting in container ships outside San Pedro (in southern California) or somewhere in the supply chain, kind of held up. It’s not just the ships, it’s also the trucking side of things. From what I hear from vendors and suppliers, they’re like, ‘I can’t give you realistic dates, because I don’t know. Once my stuff gets off-loaded, I should be able to tell you better.’ I suspect it’s partially COVID, partially geopolitical stuff, partially factories being shut down. I think it’s tons of things that ripple down.”
Demand for bikes, which reached historic levels last year in response to the pandemic, continues to run high.
“There was definitely a sense of panic buying last spring and summer,” said Adam Johnson, director of sales for Wheat Ridge Cyclery. “It maybe eased up a little bit as we got into the fall, and then we had a phenomenal winter. Usually in winter, we’re just trying not to lose money. That was not an issue this winter. We were still making money, which has probably never happened (before). Now the weather is getting nice again, so that’s always when we get busy. Now that there are fewer bikes than there were last year, so it’s even harder to get a bike. People are buying stuff without even test riding, buying stuff at twice the budget they thought they were going to spend.”
One day this week, Johnson took a phone call from a man looking for a road bike, for which he was hoping to spend $2,000. The shop, which is one of the largest bike stores in Denver, didn’t have anything at that price point in his size.
“He bought a $4,500 bike he’d never even heard of before, over the phone,” Johnson said. “We had three bikes in his size. One was $4,500, another was $6,200, the other was $9,200.”
Dwyer said two mountain bikes priced at $3,200 that arrived at the store last week were gone within 24 hours.
“I had a situation the other day where a young lady wanted a Specialized Allez Elite, which is a $1,500 bike,” Dwyer said. “She called and said, ‘Can you set it aside?’ I said no, because it’s first-come, first-served. But I said, ‘I expect that at this time of day, on a Monday, it’s going to be here.’ Within an hour, somebody emailed and wanted to know if I had that bike available. They were from California.”
Dwyer said some customers who were unable to find new bikes to their liking are fixing up old ones themselves, which has been a boon to the store’s online sales of bike parts.
“But sometimes we have a shortage of parts,” Dwyer said. “We’ll have bikes sitting here past the time we said they’d be ready because we can’t get a part.”
At Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, the selection of backpacks and tents is “a little thin,” according to Tim Dailey, a floor manager there.
“I think if people are on the fence about new purchases, they should get it sooner rather than later, because it might not be around in a month,” Dailey said. “It definitely seems like things were a lot easier to come by (before the pandemic), to where we could place special orders for customers if we didn’t have something in stock and it would generally arrive in seven to ten days. Now, if we can get it at all, some of our products have a three- to four-month wait time.”
At Feral, Funkhouser said the product shortages create more problems for smaller stores like his because suppliers favor big chains with more buying power. They will even cancel orders with small stores in order to help companies that have more leverage. Feral does sell used gear, which helps a lot. About 40% of its current inventory is used.
“We’re very lucky in that regard,” Funkhouser said. “We’ve seen a big shift from new to used as a percent of our business over the last year. As the supply chain breaks down, and people go from store to store to store and can’t find something, they start looking for other options. That pre-owned, used option is where a lot of people go.”
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