As a random individual, THIS is the face of the Outdoor Industry: He’s 45, male, makes a certain amount, has three kids, is married.
He’s our customer, he runs our companies, works in our retail stores. We see him at the crags, on the bike and running trails, on the slopes, and in the backcountry. He’s at the beach, in the mountains, and everywhere in between. As a slice of who and what we are, THIS is that guy.
What’s wrong with this picture? I’ll tell you: This guy is too damn old to be the Average Active American.
Of course, this guy is me. I just turned 45. For my age, I feel pretty young, and that’s important. You’re only as old as you feel, and I’m fortunate that – accident or misfortune aside – I feel as if I have a few more years left in me. It’s true that I’m experiencing “middle-age spread,” and there doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do about it. I don’t heal as quickly as I used to, and my body doesn’t respond to exercise the way it did even just a few years back. My vision has changed a LOT in the last three years, too. But I have good knees, good joints, a decent back if I maintain it well, and no specific issues that are likely to limit me, so far. With a little luck, I’ll be active for quite some time, yet.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about us. If we were a healthy industry, the Average Active American would be more in line with the age of the average American, which is now just a little older than 35. (Yep, we’re on average ten years older than the average American…)
For the past three years, at every Mountain Hardwear sales presentation I’ve shared statistics about who and what we are in the Outdoor Industry. For the past three years, the statistics have shown that I am only a few months older than the Average Active American, and each year the ages have tracked right along with me. I’m hoping that this year I fall off the bus and I start getting significantly older than what the statistics show us to be as a group.
The statistics we use come from the OIA and other recognized sources. I wish somebody somewhere was making them up, instead. Why?
If I’m just a few months older than the average of us, as a group we’re too damn old.
As with many things, it’s the Boomers fault. I’m not saying this as a way of placing blame; it’s just true. The Baby Boomers really founded the modern Outdoor Industry, there are a lot of them yet, and they are still active outdoors and in #OIBIZ. My group – Gen X – is a proportionately smaller number, so we’re a corresponding dip in the population that is working its way through the industry. Behind my demographic is Gen Y, also known as the Millennials.
The Millennials are our next best opportunity to swell our ranks in #OIBIZ, and that’s a good thing. But we’re competing with lots of other things for their time and attention, and we’re not drawing them at a rate that will replenish our numbers when the Boomers finally (and maybe literally) give up the ghost.
What to do?
We’re on the right track. We need to get more people of all age groups – and particularly younger ages – active in what we do. We need to embrace new populations – women, children, ethnic, differently-abled, and otherwise diverse – with an emphasis on new gateway activities, and even some old ones. Alongside Stand-Up Paddling and Slacklining, we need to be talking about the benefits of Family Camping. We need to put less emphasis on getting to the top of Everest, and more emphasis on getting to the local state park. We need to be talking about getting outside, which is not necessarily the same thing as getting to wild and remote places.
We’re doing all these things, yes. But we need to do them more often, more cohesively, and more naturally.
Why? Look at the picture again. We’re too damn old, too male, and – I may as well say it – too white.
Unless we plan to sell each other walkers and waterproof undergarments, we need to get some other people around here, and fast. At PEMBA, we’re going to beat this drum for a while yet, so stay tuned.