Apparel and Accessories Paced Strong Retail Season

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SAM Magazine-McLean, Va., May 16, 2006-Overall sales for the winter sport market (including specialty and chain stores) rose 4 percent, to $2.3 billion for the August 2005 through March 2006 period, compared to $2.2 billion a year earlier, according to the SIA Retail Audit. Unit sales were up 6 percent. For the season, strong sales through December 2005 more than offset weakness in the first quarter of 2006, when warm weather and uneven snow conditions in some regions dampened sales.

Tellingly, apparel and accessories delivered all the gains, not equipment-which actually declined 1 percent in dollars. This is the culmination of a trend that started nearly a decade ago. And the sales story is much the same for both chain and specialty stores. (Since specialty stores represent about 75 percent of total sales, we quote specialty-store data below).

Equipment accessories increased 10 percent, thanks to gains from goggles (9 percent), sunglasses (18 percent), snowshoes (14 percent), helmets (16 percent), technical daypacks (35 percent), luggage (12 percent), and snowboard accessories (13 percent). Apparel accessories eked out a 4 percent gain, led by winter boots (12 percent), gloves (18 percent), mitts (14 percent), and neck gaiters (16 percent).

In apparel, winners included women and junior soft shells, up 75 and 637 percent. Women's softshell sales accounted for 36 percent of all softshell sales, up from 28 percent. Shell parkas climbed a moderate 15 percent. Sales of vests (no fleece) and fleece (includes vests) rose 31 and 14 percent, respectively. Insulated waist pants leapt 24 percent. Junior alpine bottoms increased 22 percent and accounted for 14 percent of all bottoms sales. In chain stores, most of the above categories showed even greater gains.

Snowboard apparel sales rose 15 percent, with strength across most categories (the big exception: juniors). Men's tops outsold women's 1.9 to 1.

In hard goods, snowboarding was a strength. Sales of freestyle boards, 47 percent of all snowboard sales (up from 40 percent last season), rose 21 percent. Freeride board sales inched up just 2 percent while all-mountain boards declined 15 percent. Step-in boots and bindings continued to wane, down 65 percent and 60 percent.

Alpine sales are generally flat. Ski sales slid 4 percent, but integrated system sales were up 19 percent. The ratio of adult flat skis to adult integrated systems fell to 1.1 to 1, from 1.7 to 1 a year earlier. Junior systems, 7 percent of all system units sold (up from 3 percent last season) jumped 143 percent in dollars. Even junior flat skis are up 15 percent in dollars over last season-making junior gear a bright spot generally. Among adult flat skis, both carve and midfats slumped 32 percent. However, twintip ski sales jumped 59 percent-not including all-mountain twintips, which are tracked in other categories.

Nordic and Telemark sales declined 17 and 20 percent, respectively, impacted by adverse weather and favorable weather in the prior year, when sales climbed dramatically.