Little kids make big market

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2000

DENVER -- The flat snow-sports retail business is getting a boost from parents spending record amounts of money on gear and clothing for their children.

A survey of more than 800 snow sports product manufacturers, suppliers and distributors showed a nearly 10 percent increase over last year in spending on products for children.

The baby-boom generation, defined as the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, is now raising families, spending large amounts of money in the process. In addition to the sheer size of this baby-boom effect, retailers said parents are buying ski clothes for their children because those products are warmer and more durable.

''Stuff has gone from high fashion to high function, and function is where the action is,'' said Ken Gart of Specialty Sports, a Denver-area retailer.

The $929 million in overall spending on snow sports products from April 1, 1999, to March 31 remained flat over the previous year, according to the SnowSports Industries America annual survey released in November.

The survey's results mirrors what those in the industry have been noticing the last decade.

''Our juniors business has increased steadily over the last 10 years, and last year we showed a 15 percent increase,'' said Paula Hambleton, buyer for Christy Sports/Sportstalker. She added that at most of the company's stores, the junior department is larger than the men's department.

Barbara Owen, director of sales and marketing for Aspen-based Obermeyer Sport, said she's noticed the trend for the last 25 years.

In nearly every category, kids products manufacturers showed healthy sales increases. For instance, children's parkas were up 36.5 percent to $20.2 million; children's ski suits were up 39.3 percent to $3.8 million; junior snowboard jackets were up 59.4 percent to $2.1 million; junior snowboard pants were up 18.6 percent to $1.1 million, junior alpine skis were up 11 percent to $8.6 million; junior alpine boots were up 1.8 percent to $5 million; junior alpine bindings were up 51.7 percent to $4 million.

Total sales of all snow sports-related products by manufacturers to retailers from April 1, 1999, to March 31 were $929 million, off 0.2 percent from 1998-99's sales of $931 million. The industry's sales high-water mark occurred in 1989 with $1 billion in sales.

''Everything came together in 1989 -- it was a great snow year, the economy was good,'' said Bill Clapper, associate director for communications and public relations for SnowSports Industries America. ''The entire industry has been pretty flat since then, but last year the kids' stuff was off the charts.''

Overall, ski apparel showed a 4.6 percent increase to $241.3 million, while snowboard apparel jumped 28.9 percent to $67.2 million. Accessories, however, were down 4.3 percent to $155.7 million; alpine ski equipment was off 2.1 percent to $264.8 million; cross-country gear lost a little ground, down 1.9 percent to $32.2 million; and snowboard equipment slid 8 percent to $168.3 million.

Specialty Sports has finished converting the former Best discount store in Aurora into a Colorado Ski & Golf store. The 64,000-square-foot site includes a special area for children, complete with videos and bean bags.

''It's no coincidence the design is based on this resurgence,'' said Gart of Specialty Sports.

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