January 31, 2017 6:25 am
Updated: January 31, 2017 7:52 am

Outdoor apparel and equipment retailers continue to expand operations in Canada

WATCH ABOVE: Many Albertans have been cutting back spending according to a new report, but that’s not stopping on retailer from launching a major expansion in Alberta. Global’s Mia Sosiak reports.

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TORONTO – In a country bordering three oceans, boasting the Rocky Mountains and dotted with more than 40 national parks, it seems natural that outdoor apparel and equipment retailers would flourish.

Three such companies all have plans to expand their national footprints in the near future, growing their store count as bricks-and-mortar retailers struggle to keep their doors open.

There is “definitely a robust marketplace for them to play in,” said Matt Teeple, the director of sports for NPD Group, a market-research firm.

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MEC, which already boasts 21 locations, plans to open a new store in Kitchener, Ont., and a second location in Calgary. A third store for Calgary is planned for 2019. The company will also upgrade its Vancouver and Toronto locations to bigger buildings next year.

SAIL, which sells outdoor, camping, hunting and fishing equipment, totals 10 stores in Quebec and Ontario with plans for 11 as of April, spokeswoman Kathy Kourlas wrote in an email. SAIL also wants to open additional stores in Ontario and Quebec in the immediate future, she said, but did not elaborate on how many and how soon.

READ MORE: Mountain Equipment Co-op to open 2 new Calgary stores amid economic slump

Outfitting retailer Cabela’s operates 11 stores and plans to open one in Halifax next year.

Meanwhile, retailers in other sectors are folding their operations. Last week, a judge approved an application to place music chain HMV Canada Inc. into receivership and close its 102 stores.

In recent memory, Danier Leather, Mexx Canada, Smart Set, Jacob and Blacks are among some of the chains suffering similar fates and shuttering storefronts across Canada.

MEC, a brand built on outfitting backcountry enthusiasts, says it manages to maintain momentum by changing along with Canadians.

“We know that to be relevant into the future, we have to do things differently,” said CEO David Labistour.

MEC noticed its members were just as active in the cities they lived in as they were in the wilderness.

READ MORE: MEC to open second store in South Edmonton Common this fall

In 2015, the company introduced its first collection of skis and snowboards for resort-style downhill skiers. It has also added goods for urban-dwellers who get their activity fix by cycling and running, Labistour says.

Since its rebranding, MEC’s grown from 17 locations to 21, and Labistour said there’s no question it was a good decision.

The company’s shift makes sense, said Teeple, considering more Canadians are a softer type of outdoorsy consumer.

Nearly half of Canadians identify as outdoorsy, he said, citing NPD Group data. However only about 11 per cent would go so far as to say they’re a backcountry type of outdoor enthusiast, according to an online survey the firm conducted between Sept. 1 and 9 last year. Nearly three times that – or 29 per cent – fit into a softer version, one that enjoys camping, walking, hiking, cycling, and aerobic or other types of workouts.

The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

While the increased assortment may make MEC attractive to more customers, it also exposes it to competition from retailers it previously didn’t contend against, said Teeple, like the Running Room or SportChek.

It’s a competitive market that’s gaining players, he said. Walmart, for example, sells fitness products and fashion retailer H&M offers clothes aimed at the sector.

This increased competition, as players like MEC expand and compete for market share of a broader array of fitness products, can only be good for consumers, Teeple said.

“Greater competition can lead to more variety, better prices and greater accessibility to those products.”

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