While it’s hard to pinpoint many positives from the pandemic from a retail perspective, one revealed that several manufacturers – and even retailers – have taken advantage of: the arsenal retail.
Aside from a handful of companies already dedicated to the neck and face cover category, before the pandemic, few companies took a second look at face masks when it came to helping retail financial results. But that all changed when mask warrants ensued, everywhere from restaurants to ski resorts. And while some mask restrictions might decrease, with Delta’s continued uptick, many companies are still seeing their sales increase. And the stigma of masks has also received a facelift, with balaclavas and other traditional face coverings now part of skiers and runners’ kits alongside skis, boots, poles and helmets.
âWith the increase in sales of masks and balaclavas, we have seen a 132% increase in sales over the past 18 months in our ‘headgear’ category,â said Steve Osborn, general manager of the online retailer and online Evo Gear. “Face masks accounted for 25% of this growth and our sales of balaclavas and neck warmers more than doubled.”
Osborn added that while they sold their own neck warmers for a while under the company’s private label, “for face masks in particular, we focused on what we could get from our own. brand partners “. The top selling masks per unit from a brand perspective, he added, were masks from Outdoor Research and Helly Hansen. âThe category has had a high unit volume, but is not a huge revenue driver overall due to the lower prices,â he said. âThey are an important driver of revenue in this category for us, but not relative to other props, material or material goods. “
One company that capitalized on the trend early on was Colorado face cover maker Phunkshun Wear, which has since rode the COVID wave enough to become the official face mask company for ski resorts such as Steamboat, Winter Park and Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley).
CEO Jason Badgley said that while sales have definitely increased because of COVID, it has taken time. âIn March 2020, with all the shutdowns, sales fell across the industry,â he said. âA month later, when the CDC recommended fabric face covers, sales increased, but not for our main product, which is ski / snowboard goggles. “
They therefore turned to the manufacture of masks specifically for the warrants. âWith so many resorts requiring face coverings, there was an unprecedented demand – you needed them to get on the elevators, go out to dinner and get rentals,â he said. âSo face coverings of all kinds – including non-medical PPE and ski / snowboard goggles – sold well across all channels. “
The company has also started to develop some new SKU references specifically for the category. âPrior to the CDC recommendation, we started developing non-medical PPE fabric face covers, and after many iterations we were able to create a comfortable, multi-play and durable one,â Badgley said. âBut it took a long time. And without the recommendation, we didn’t feel comfortable releasing them. But after the recommendation, we were able to quickly pivot and start producing them, having invested and remodeled our manufacturing facility to accommodate workplace guidelines. We called them our PH masks, synonymous with personal hygiene. “
Badgely added that the company’s Multilayer Double Tube Mistral is currently its best-selling product for this winter, and they have manufacturing plans to replenish supply several times during the season.
But assessing inventory needs is difficult. “It’s been a challenge, from the labor shortage affecting the production of shredded fabrics in the country, to other brands panicking buying shredded materials in the United States when they can’t get it. of imported fabrics, âhe said. âDelays are happening everywhere. We therefore prioritize fulfilling orders for retailers and restocking for them, with our D2C business coming in second.
Other large companies have been able to count on better economies of scale. Even though they weren’t making medical masks before the pandemic, Seattle’s Outdoor Research took note by developing a mask with a built-in filter. As with Phunkshun, he is also riding the wave of the pandemic to increase sales while helping to spread the contagion.
âSince we started manufacturing protective face covers in the spring of 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, we have sold over one million consumer masks with our unique integrated filter design,â said Roger Barton, president from Outdoor Research. This fall, he added, the company built on that program with its new 3-layer face cover, also made in Seattle. âIt has a washable built-in filter that filters down to 0.1 microns,â he said, adding that its ASTM-compliant design means there is no need to remove or replace. the filter.
One of the first outdoor companies to embrace the category, it commissioned its traditional hood and uberubes designers early on to delve into the COVID face mask market. After ramping up production of surgical masks and N95 masks ashore, it has now launched its Essential Coverage collection, a range of breathable (so that they don’t get wet) multi-layer hoods and Ubertubes with its Essential filter and its adjustable nasal thread to adjust.
Later, after ASTM created its standards for non-medical masks and blankets, OR developed its new 3-layer face cover, an ASTM-compliant mask with a built-in filter that is reusable and washable. . Made from moisture-wicking polyester, it features minimal stitching and adjustable nose thread and earrings for a customizable fit and fogging prevention on sunglasses. It is currently sold only direct to consumers online, but will be rolled out to select specialty retailers from January 2022.
âGoing forward, we believe our face covering program will continue to be an important offering in our line,â added Barton. âConsumers have learned the benefits of wearing a mask, both during COVID and beyond the pandemic. There is an increased awareness of the role that such protective face coverings can play.
Mitch Mode from Mel’s trading post in Rhinelander, WI, reports that OR mask sales have been strong, as has runner-up Stormy Kromer. âThese two were clear winners for us,â he said, adding that they had never made theirs, but instead ordered them from existing suppliers. âSales were strong from early 2020 through spring 2021, then plummeted before seeing a slight increase again this fall. We have sold a lot of them, but a sale of bicycles or canoes brings in more money.
As for the Buff and other type chokers, he added that these have sold well as well, but it’s hard to assess what to attribute that to. âWe’ve been selling them for years and our winter activities for them depend as much on the temperatures as anything else,â he said. “I think there was enough skepticism about the effectiveness of neck warmers that after a short-lived spike in interest in spring 2020, their sales returned to more normal levels.”
Photo courtesy of Phunkshun Wear