End of Year Review Year — Looking Forward to 2018

Happy New Year to you all!

Kate and I have just returned from Worcestershire where we spent a lovely New Years Eve with Bob and Rose Cartwright, of the Outdoors Stationed Backpackinglight.co.uk. 2017 was a strange year for all of us. Deaths in the family wiped out our TGO Challenge and Bob and Rose have spent much of the year settling into their new base.

All of us had better plans for 2018 and you’ll be able to hear many of them on the podcast that Bob and I made this morning which reflected on the likely industry trends next year and on how we saw the social media world changing. Knowing Bob this podcast will be up shortly. Some of this subject mater I want to write a bit about but the nice thing about the podcast is that we have now covered much of this ground.

So, the end of year review!


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The State of the Outdoor Industry — Update

I may not be posting here as often as I used to but I still try and keep up with those in the industry who keep their fingers on the pulse.

Earlier this year I took the decision not to post about gear very often. In all honesty it is hard to keep up. My current collection of gear is both very functional and lightweight and there is no pressing need to replace much of it. Indeed — and this may be sacrilege to some ‚ I’ve noticed that such ultralight gear has reached a natural limit. It is impossible to reduce weight that much and so the focus is more on innovative design and functionality these days. But guess what?  As a result weight is creeping up again!  Still, we rely on our outdoor designers and manufacturers and there is still a lot to think about.

If the last few years for the outdoor industry have been tough — as they have for many — the future looks even more challenging. Continuing austerity means people have less cash inter pockets and now rising inflation is set to eat into living standards both decisively and quickly. As I write I’m listening to a radio report that focuses on what amounts to an almost collapse in consumer spending. And, of course, uncertainty about what Brexit will mean to the sector is a major concern.

Small, niche, retailers are reporting that they are living in increasingly hard times. But it is now just the small operators that face difficulties, small and even large manufacturers are finding things getting harder. In the face of tighter margins the big retail chains are putting the screws on manufactures. I was recently told of a major award-winning outdoors chain (one with a major high street presence) that has written to all suppliers telling them that they will be discounting their invoices by 5%. In other words if the suppliers are given an invoice for X thousands they will be paid X minus 5%.  This kind of tactic is not unknown and has been the backbone of the supermarket world for years.

For us the consumer, this means that we are likely to see even less variety and choice on the high street. And while this is sad in many ways you, like me, might feel that you are honour bound to once nitrate what spending power we have left into the hands of the small online retailers.

Yes sir, of course we have a lot of jackets to look at. But you can only have the jacket this this one company and only in fluorescent blue.

What does the team think?

The Future of the Industry Debate III ‚ The Asian Car Crash

Back to the occasional series that I’ve been writing on the future of the (lightweight) industry which for this post looks more specifically at the UK.

Last weekend while I was in Snowdonia I was drawn to a piece in TGO by Chris Townsend who talked about the Innovation for Extremes Conference at Lancaster University. When I returned I went and had a look at the conference report and was particularly stuck by the contribution of Mark Held of the European Outdoor Group. Immediately after reading this I received a message from Mike Parsons — founder of OMM and organisers of the  conference along with Mary Rose — who had been reading out debate; the recommended reading the same article. And, of course, the article got me thinking!

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The State of the Lightweight Industry Debate to Continue …

Thanks to all of you who have contributed to the two threads here on the State of the Lightweight Industry. Your views and thoughts have made this not only a great read but something that should give many of us a lot to think about.

Some recent contributions and wider reading have encouraged me to come back to the subject but specifically I shall be focussing in on the UK, considering where we are and what we might learn from the USA. Thanks to Chris Townsend, Mike Parsons and Amanda from Chocolate Fish for the inspiration and ideas that will follow — though any problems with content will be mine alone!

I have also solicited a few thought pieces from people in the industry and we’ll see if they appear. First up will be from Amanda of Chocolate Fish who has a lot to say about the environmental sustainability of the industry. Amanda doesn’t pull punches. 

Sometimes it seems to me that many in the industry — or who review gear professionally — are too happy to sit in the sidelines and not to contribute to such discussions when in reality they can be important opinion formers. I hope the openness of Chris T and the boldness of Amanda will encourage more discussion and debate, not just here but elsewhere.

Stay tuned!