Public lands seek to carve out a niche in outer space – WWD

It’s no surprise that being outdoors has grown in popularity since the start of the pandemic, as consumers seek safe alternatives to being locked in their homes. Even now that the vaccinations have helped ease the situation, people who have discovered – or rediscovered – fresh air are still heading outside for a bit of sanity.

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s recent State of the Industry report found that overall outdoor sports participation among active Americans reached 52.9% last year, up from 48.4% five years older. early. The hike in particular was popular, with 57.8 million people taking the trails last year, up more than 16% from 2019.

This is the backdrop that prompted Dick’s Sporting Goods, the nation’s largest sporting goods retailer, to create a new retail concept, Public Lands, which it describes as an outdoor specialty store. . The first store opened in September outside the company’s headquarters in Pittsburgh and on Friday the second will open in Columbus, Ohio.

The second store is located in Columbus, Ohio.

Public Lands is led by Todd Spaletto, a 25-year outdoor industry veteran who has held senior positions at The North Face, Wolverine World Wide and Jansport. He joined Dick’s at the end of 2020 to lead the launch of Public Lands.

“It was a really fun project to be able to work on an entrepreneurial start-up in a large public company,” said Spaletto.

Either way, Dick’s makes a major statement: The Pennsylvania unit measures 50,000 square feet and is self-contained in a former Field & Stream location. (Field & Stream is another division of Dick’s.) And the Columbus store is 60,000 square feet in the Polaris Fashion Place mall with exterior entrances and the mall. In both stores there are 30 foot high climbing walls as well as stores dedicated to a variety of outdoor activities including biking, camping, fishing, boating, skiing, skiing, climbing, running and hiking.

The stores also offer a charitable component, with 1% of all sales donated to local and national conservation efforts.

Spaletto said that since opening, the Pittsburgh-area store has performed well with “very strong” sales of durable goods such as bicycles, tents, fishing gear and tackle. In addition to big outdoor brands such as Patagonia and The North Face, customers have responded to some of the smaller niche brands present in the unit, such as Howler Brothers, Kuhl and Cotopaxi in men and Free People Movement at women, he said.

“We love to celebrate brands,” Spaletto said. “When you step into Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nike really comes to life. That’s what we want to do with our key brands, ”which include Patagonia, Osprey, Hoka, Brooks, Cotopaxi and Vans. But with all of these brands widely distributed, Public Lands has a different assortment, like Hoka hiking shoes and MTE outdoor products from Vans.

In general, the overlap in the mix between Public Lands and Dick’s is small, 20% or less, with brands such as Yeti and select pieces from The North Face worn in both. But Spaletto said Public Lands is “significantly different” from Dick’s, which focuses more on ball and team sports for the local communities in which the company’s 700-plus stores operate. Public Lands Homes are more of a service to a community of outdoor enthusiasts who also support its mission of giving back.

Spaletto said that even before COVID-19 changed the world, Dick’s explored the idea of ​​developing a concept focused on outdoor space, which had already started to gain more attention and attendees. He quickly realized that it was a different clientele, younger, more diverse, more feminine and even more urban. The outdoors has also attracted a low-income consumer because “bank accounts don’t matter” when you are outdoors in nature. “Everyone is welcome,” he said.

Todd spaletto

Todd spaletto

After the pandemic hit, consumers realized that the outdoors offered not only a physical challenge, but also an emotionally restorative atmosphere where they could relax and be inspired.

Dick’s believes that creating a concept that ticked all of those boxes was a distinct opportunity for the company, and Public Lands was born.

In addition to focusing on popular outdoor sports, stores are partnering with small businesses to offer community-produced natural foods, local artwork, and classes on a range of topics such as practice mountain biking, meditation, outdoor photo taking and hiking. catering – all in a quest to create a sense of community.

This tactic is certainly not new. Other brands such as REI, The North Face, Patagonia and others offer similar services, but tend to focus more on the technical side of the outdoor market. Spaletto believes that Public Lands’ ability to deliver a unique branded product from a variety of labels as well as local events to a wide range of consumers is what sets Public Lands apart.

Public land climbing wall

The stores have 30 foot high climbing walls.

“We are focusing more on the consumer than on our competitors,” said Spaletto. “We think we are different based on the experiences we offer and our ability to speak to creatives as well as those looking for a technical product. We want to create a multidimensional experience different from what the consumer has seen before. “

During his two-plus decades in the outdoor space, Spaletto has said that there are two stereotypes: one is the primary customer who can survive alone in the woods for three weeks, but also wears baggy pants, a floppy hat, carries a stick and “probably doesn’t have a lot of friends.” The other is the person who wears the latest kit and the most technical gear from the best brands, “but he’s just a installer.” None of the stereotypes are correct.

Outdoor enthusiasts today cannot be easily categorized and the climate is different from what it was 15 years ago, he said, when the outdoors was relegated to extreme athletes who attracted a tertiary audience. Instead, today’s consumer is looking for an authentic product that is “shamelessly styled forward,” and that’s the white space Dick hopes to fill with the public lands.

Spaletto said there are no plans to add any other Public Lands stores beyond the two – at least not at this time. “We’re tucked away in a large, leading retailer that gives us the ability to study and nail ideas and take the time to get it right. But the opportunity is definitely greater than just two stores.

Public Lands also has a sophisticated e-commerce site where shoppers who are not in Pittsburgh or Columbus can check out the concept. “One of our goals is to balance content and commerce,” he said, highlighting the activity and curation information offered on the site.

Spaletto believes that while the pandemic subsides and consumers can return to restaurants, arenas, concerts, movies and other hobbies that have been forced to close as COVID-19 spreads, the outdoors will not will not loosen its grip on customers.

“COVID-19 has brought new people into the outdoors,” he said. “There is also a younger group that values ​​experiences over ‘things’ and wants to partner with public service brands.” With Public Lands’ donating part of its sales to the Public Lands Fund, which supports organizations protecting public lands and making them accessible to all, it will appeal to this socially conscious consumer and help Public Lands carve a niche for itself.