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Chainstore China and the growing middle class demand for outdoor sports equipment

“One branch store can connect thousands of outdoor club core members. The shopping habits and correspondence addresses of these members are good indicators of market demand for different products and which cities or districts are the ideal locations for opening the next chain store.” The above comment on China’s outdoor sports equipment market came from an executive of Beijing Sanfo Outdoor Products Co Ltd.

Middle- to high-income earners are major sales targets

According to Sanfo, the trendy professional outdoor products they sell mainly target consumers in the 18-45 age group, with those aged over 30 with a stable job and higher income being the mainstay. Similar comments were gathered by HKTDC economists during their visits to other outdoor supplies chain stores and independent stores in Beijing and Tianjin.

In fact, currently the main sales targets of well-known branded and professional outdoor sports equipment in China are middle- to high-income earners. As the lifestyle of the middle class changes, more and more of them now go after travel and outdoor activities and their demand for trendy professional products continues to increase. However, despite the fact that there are already quite a lot of famous outdoor products brands on the market, professional outdoor stores are few and far between. As such, specialised outdoor sports equipment stores which can offer professional advice and sales service are immensely popular with middle-class and higher-end consumers.

Photo: An outdoor store specialising in trendy professional gear
An outdoor store specialising in trendy professional gear

Autumn and winter are naturally the high season for the sale of heavy-duty goods such as hiking gear and apparel as well as ski equipment. During spring and summer time, lightweight outdoor apparel and water sports gear are the hot spots of sale. As regards the best sales times, apart from lunch time and after-work hours during the week or weekends and holidays, many customers also shop at outdoor goods stores in the morning or afternoon on working days. Among these customers, quite a lot are corporate executives or big bosses who choose to take time out of their busy working schedule to shop at outdoor goods stores in order to prepare for their activities and trips over the weekend.

As for students and young workers aged below 30, with the exception of those who came from well-off families, they seldom patronise upmarket professional stores because they are of relatively lower incomes. Hence, they are not the main target of outdoor goods stores. Moreover, outdoor goods stores, which attach great importance to product features and quality, seldom sell medium to low-end products in order to stay away from fierce competition in the mass market and avoid problems involving quality and functions often found in cheap and fake products.

Setting up outdoor activities clubs to boost customer relations

Another characteristic of chain-operated outdoor stores is that they would normally employ outdoor activity coaches, retired athletes or experienced outdoor activity enthusiasts to man the shop. As for independent stores, often the store owners themselves are outdoor activity leaders. Providing customers with on-the-spot professional advice on products and activities not only helps boost product sales, but also contributes to building customer relations.

Photo: Toread chain store
Toread chain store
Photo: Sanfo chain store
Sanfo chain store

Furthermore, chain groups often set up outdoor activities clubs. Club members do not only enjoy discounts on their shopping, but also regularly receive news on outdoor activities run by the club through Weibo or other online social media. Many independent stores also organise various kinds of activities jointly with other leaders and coaches in order to strengthen customer relations. Such activities include outdoor activities, outings, short-haul hiking trips and certain outdoor charity events, as well as more challenging activities such as mountaineering, skiing, and long-haul travel.

Take for example Sanfo which has over 30 specialty stores in cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chengdu and Shenzhen. The company set up Sanfo Outdoor Club more than 10 years ago which has over 100,000 members today. Every week the club hosts a range of self-financed outdoor activities requiring varying degrees of physical strength. It also regularly organises different activities such as talks on outdoor training, walkers groups, outdoor parties, high-altitude mountaineering, hiking, cross-country self-drive tours, and leisure tours. Up to 15,000 people take part in these activities every year.

Photo: Outdoor activity member recruitment ad at an outdoor store
Outdoor activity member recruitment ad at an outdoor store

To Hong Kong’s outdoor sports equipment suppliers, outdoor goods stores are one of the channels for distributing products of their own brand. There are also some chain stores which would cooperate with a small number of suppliers in the form of ODM (original design manufacturing), selling original design products of the supplier under the chain store’s brand. However, Hong Kong companies should take note that they might be required to give support to outdoor goods stores by providing all kinds of repair and maintenance service to customers. They might also have to guarantee a sufficient supply of spare parts and components of the products involved. When necessary, they might even have to sponsor relevant outdoor activities as a form of support to the operation and sales strategies of the outdoor goods store.

Content provided by Picture: Wing Chu
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