Sporting goods, anyone?

Some big players are struggling to sell sporting goods. For independents, that's an opportunity.

The list of bankrupt or struggling sporting goods chains is growing.

The parent company of Eastern Mountain Sports filed for Chapter 11 in early February. Shortly after that, reports swirled about a similar possible fate for Gander Mountain. These events follow a year that saw Sports Authority declare bankruptcy and close 300 stores. Also last year, Sport Chalet went out of business.

Given the presence of sporting goods — from coolers to canoes to camping gear and beyond — at all the major hardware buying markets, the struggles of the large sporting goods chains raises a timely question for independent dealers: If Sports Authority can’t compete with Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shop — or Walmart and Amazon for basketballs and bikes — what chance does an independent hardware store have? A pretty good chance, actually, according to distributors who spoke with HBSDealer.

At Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Do it Best Corp., the co-op said it has members who are planning for sporting goods growth in 2017-18, because of opportunities in their markets, and that the current state of retail sporting goods bodes well for independent dealers.

According to Do it Best merchandise manager Shane Burnworth, the merger of Bass Pro and Cabela’s has put a lot of pressure on other large box sporting goods retailers, like Gander Mountain and Sports Authority.

A large retailer leaving a market is a clear positive for an independent. But also, independents have the luxury of dealing in sporting goods as a niche to capture additional sales, as opposed to an all-in, make-or-break effort, he said.

At Hardware Distribution Warehouses, Craig Cowart, president of the Houston division, said he also sees opportunity for independents in sporting goods, and any other niche category underserved by big boxes in a local market.

“We see home improvement retailers successfully catering to local market needs in sporting goods as part of their diversification,” Cowart said. “Most of those that carry the category either work on the edges featuring promotional items to bring in traffic, or try to be the one-stop shop in select categories such as hunting products, camping, collegiate apparel.” 

Cowart said he sees many of his customers succeed in gifts, housewares and sporting goods alongside traditional hardware staples.

“Stocking multiple unrelated categories under one roof — it's what makes local retail exciting to shop and profitable to run,” he said.

However, one area of sporting goods that has seen recent year-over-year declines is firearms. Demand appears to have dropped thanks in part to the recent political transition to a president and Congress deemed less likely to legislate restrictions on gun sales.

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