Return to Cold Weather Could Boost Winter Retailers’ Sales
MONTREAL—A year after warm weather curtailed their Christmas cheer, Canadian winter sport vehicle and apparel retailers aren’t ready to pop the champagne despite a forecasted return to seasonally colder temperatures and snow.
Following two challenging winters, retailers are cautious after enduring another late start to the season.
“We could have the mother of all winters from here to the finish line, which would be wonderful for everyone, but the reality is that this is the third winter that’s deviating from the statistical norm of what winter is,” said Jeff Crook, chief product officer for sporting goods retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op.
Besides weather, he said the winter retail season is experiencing a “revolution” amid economic uncertainty, new competitors and the growth of online sales.
“We do think that there is a fundamental change in the game of winter sales in Canada,” he said from Vancouver.
After “getting kicked in the teeth” over the last two seasons, Crook said MEC has curtailed purchases of discretionary fashion outerwear as it tries to preserve profits despite being forced to offer deep discounts.
A specialist on how weather affects North American businesses says that some retailers were gun shy about buying too much stock a year after enduring the warmest and driest November and December in more than 55 years.
Still, Fred Fox, CEO of Pennsylvania-based Planalytics, anticipates retailers will see a lift in sales as temperatures in December and January are forecast to be 5 C cooler than normal levels before Christmas, from Winnipeg east to the Maritimes.
Fox forecasts demand for boots will increase by 21 per cent from last year’s depressed level, while hats, gloves and scarves will be up 8 per cent.
“It’s not that we’re expecting, at least in December, for it to be hugely cold, but it’s going to be cold enough that retailers are going to sell a lot more, consumers are going to buy more and that’s going to be good for everyone,” he said.
After seeing sales of boots fall about 10 per cent last year, the president of Quebec-based chain Yellow Shoes has already seen a lift in sales of the product.
“For us it’s been a much better year than it was last year,” Douglas Avrith said in an interview.
However, the entrepreneur warned that the 100-year-old retailer will be offering fewer big markdowns after better controlling its inventory and purchasing more fashion boots rather than heavy felt-lined footwear.
Le Chateau says weather fluctuations aren’t “a big deal” for the fashion business, even though they affect sales of coats and boots.
The growth of online sales is diminishing the impact of extreme weather by allowing shoppers to buy even if snow and cold keeps them away from stores, said Franco Rocchi, senior vice-president of sales and operations at Le Chateau.
Ski-Doo maker Bombardier Recreational Products says its retail dealers are relieved that snow is allowing enthusiasts to hit the trails.
“I think it’s too early to celebrate, but they’re in a good mood,” CEO Jose Boisjoli said in an interview.
Industry snowmobile sales are expected to rise by about 5 per cent this year, after falling almost 10 per cent last season, he said.
Warm weather forced the company to offer aggressive discounts to help dealers clear showrooms before this year’s introduction of a completely new model.
Without cold and snow, customers tend to delay purchases and even skip a year to upgrade their rides, Boisjoli said.
“When you have snow at this time in December it’s like waking up the customer.”