By Steve Bauer
In what is typically the strongest part of the year for hunting-related product sales, manufacturers and dealers have seen troubling declines for both new unit and PG&A sales.
In a recent online poll conducted by Powersports Business, nearly 53 percent of respondents stated their sales of hunting-related products were significantly down compared to 2007.
Those grim numbers were enforced by the November sales report released by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). The OIA reported that core outdoor retailers saw sales in all three channels (specialty, chain and Internet) decline 12 percent from November 2007.
The report also revealed that specialty stores, which includes retail outlets such as dealerships, posted a decline in sales for the first time since October 2006.
retailers reporting declines
The news is not surprising to powersports retailers and dealers that have seen hunting-related sales slow to a crawl in the past three months. Wade Grienke, ATV product manager for hunting accessory manufacturer Mad Dog Gear, says sales for his company’s products have been sluggish this fall.
“We did expect sales to slow somewhat, and results have been in line with our estimates,” he said. “We’re hoping with some promotional sales and other incentives that we can pick up that slack during the holidays.”
Darrell Tadman, owner of Crystal Powersports outside of Little Rock, Ark., says the decline in hunting-related sales has actually been a trend he’s seen at both of his dealerships for the past few years.
“We really started to notice a dropoff in our fall hunting sales about two years ago,” Tadman said. “Big-ticket items have taken the biggest tumble, especially this hunting season. We’ve probably sold five or six ATVs since the beginning of September, and three years ago we had already sold close to 20 units leading up to the Christmas holiday.”
Tadman says most of his hunting customers are focusing their purchases this season on essentials only, choosing to hold off on a new ATV, gun scabbard or parka that they might have bought on impulse in previous years.
“Customers know exactly what they want when they walk through our doors, and most don’t even want to discuss non-essential purchases,” he said. “The only way to get them to really consider an item is if it has been heavily discounted or included as part of a package promotion.”
Internet sales stay strong
The November OIA report showed one retail outlet, Internet sales, has yet to feel the negative effects of the down economy. In November, hunting-related Internet sales totaled $67 million, which included a 20 percent increase in new unit sales and an 11 percent increase in overall dollars spent compared to November 2007.
Rodney Adams, a communications coordinator for the OIA, says similar to findings in other industries, core outdoor shoppers seem reluctant to buy big-ticket items, such as ATVs, firearms, safes and vehicle accessories, such as sport racks. However, lower-priced equipment accessory categories gained 15 percent in accessories attached to units and 8 percent in apparel and other accessories, reinforcing the belief that hunting consumers are focusing on need-based items.
“We found that both apparel and footwear had modest gains, with outerwear and sportswear sales remaining flat,” he said. “Dealers should try to focus on showcasing their hunting accessories and other related small-ticket items, as we believe those products are going to gain traction in what is widely agreed will be a soft economy in 2009.”
Hunting interest decreasing
The poor retail sales are reflecting what hunting industry experts see as a larger problem plaguing many states: Revenue from hunting and fishing license sales is plunging because of waning interest in the outdoors.
“We’re losing our rural culture,” said Steve Wright, a regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation. “There are so many distractions, and we’re not recruiting young people into hunting and fishing.”
Sales of hunting licenses in Pennsylvania, which boasts the most hunters per capita than any state in the U.S., have dropped more than 20 percent in the past two years, leaving the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department pleading with lawmakers for more money, and local dealerships scrambling to fill the gap in lost profits.
Other traditionally “hunter friendly” states have reported similar dropoffs:
• Arkansas hunting license sales dropped from about 345,000 in 1999 to about 319,000 in 2003.
• Wisconsin sold about 946,000 hunting licenses in 2008, down from just more than a million in 2007, and a peak of 1.3 million in 2006.
• Oregon had 70,000 fewer licensed hunters, a 20 percent decline compared to 2007.
• West Virginia sold 154,763 resident hunting permits in 2008, a 17 percent decrease.
With the decrease in hunters heading to the field, Tadman worries if hunting-related sales will ever come back to levels seen in the past.
“Arkansas is a hunting-oriented state, and it scares me as a dealer to see participation numbers on the decline,” he said. “The economy will recover at some point, but it won’t matter if there aren’t as many hunters in the field anymore. It’s a double dose of bad news for my dealership.”