Mention “family camping” and some people will tell you to wash your mouth out with soap. But the attitudes of many in the outdoor industry are changing.
* FAMILY CAMPING: AKA THE OTHER “F” WORD. The phrase “family camping” often evokes images of cabin-style tents (family cabin tents), 20-pound, four-burner stoves and air mattresses, provoking a collective scowl in an outdoor industry full of `core’ brands. Well, before this image clouds your vision, remember that it’s not good to ignore the hand that’s fed you. The outdoor industry’s core consumer base is getting gray, and as these folks mature and raise your future customers, they’re looking to trusted brands in the outdoor industry to provide them with family camping goods.
Scott Weir, sales and marketing manager for Armadillo, a new division of Walrus tents, is a perfect example of this emerging customer base. “I used to only buy two-person, backpacking tents, but now that I have two children of my own I’m looking for a best family tent that’s more family oriented,” says Weir. Walrus birthed the Armadillo line to reach just such a consumer.
RIGHT ON THE MARK. “We’re applying the old business triangle to Moss, Walrus and Armadillo,” explains Weir. “The highest end is Moss, followed by Walrus for the backpackers who are quality and value-minded and, then, Armadillo is designed to reach the broadest consumer base, the family campers.”
After one season in REI, Weir says he’s convinced that Armadillo is on the mark. The line–which Weir says is more technical than traditional “cabin” style family tents–ranges in price from $249 to $395. It’s not the cheapest line of tents on the market, which reflects the fact that suppliers are hoping that these new family camping consumers will be willing to invest in products that are more technical.
Sierra Designs President Sally McCoy says that the company’s higher-end family oriented product is seeing great sell-through. “Our larger, multipurpose tents are definitely selling better. We’re seeing dramatic percentage increases in sales from more upscale customers,” says McCoy.
Casey Sheahan, president of Kelty, says that he, too, sees growth in this consumer base. “Obviously, there’s a huge group of baby boomers out there who are really into getting their kids into an activity that they grew up doing,” says Sheahan. Kelty has already seen the proof in the bottom line. According to Sheahan, sales from the company’s two-year-old kids’ line are already on par with sales of Kelty backpacks.
With results like that, Sheahan says he’s going full-speed ahead to attract these consumers. Judging by the product displayed at the 1998 OUTDOOR RETAILER Summer Market, Kelty won’t be the only brand pursuing this market.
MAKE NO BONES ABOUT IT.
Quest debuted more family oriented tents, including the Adventure and Journey lines, which range in price from $129 to $289. The attempt to reach family campers was a natural progression for the company, which is owned by Jin Woong– the largest OEM tent manufacturer in the outdoor industry that caters largely to the massmerchant sector.
“We’re not making any bones about the fact that we’re going after this family consumer,” says Mary Henningsen, operations manager for Quest. “We plan to expand our family offerings in the future. We’ll keep some image pieces in the line, splitting it into a more core outdoor line and a family line.
“There are a lot of people out there to reach,” she says. “Those backpackers who are having families want affordability and quality, but don’t want to go to the mass merchants to buy.”
There are changes in store for the product lines of brands traditionally known for family product. At Summer Market, Wenzel showed a line of family tents loaded with high-tech features, such as UV treatments and multiroom tents. Coleman has also embraced the trend toward more technical tents, yet has kept the line to affordable price points. These product debuts point to an emerging middle ground that has been left wide open by the core brands and those sold in mass-merchant retailers. As an extension of this bridge, retailers are getting more savvy with each season.
“It’s easy to find promotional or cheap tents for sale in the spring with the sale-priced items,” says Sheahan. “Retailers are finding hooks to get these families to come back in to load them up with the rest of the gear for the summer.” Sheahan points to the echo-boomers (children of baby boomers) as the real engines to the trend of higher-tech product for family campers. “This trend will only grow stronger as echo-boomers are estimated to grow into a demographic that will be between 60 million and 70 million people by the year 2003,” he says. *