Written by Matt Johnson for the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association.
After an initial stage of the pandemic that saw people locked down and anxious to get back outside, demand for recreation products dramatically increased.
“It’s definitely affected us positively,” said Trevor Norgan, store manager of Regina’s Fresh Air Experience, who notes the high demand for summer time products like kayaks and stand up paddleboards.
“It's really been an improvement for the health and lifestyle of people. The benefit to the community as well too in health and wellness, it’s definitely, it's been a huge boon for us,” said Norgan.
When it comes to winter equipment, Norgan says the store has seen significant growth in demand for cross country skiing, snowshoe, downhill skiing and snowboarding products, as well as general winter camping gear.
“We’ve never had so many customers come in and be excited to go cross country skiing, and we've never had so many repeat users and people that have tried in the past and are getting back into it that have been so excited to try it again,” said Norgan.
While Norgan’s Regina store doesn’t sell bikes, Fresh Air Experience in Prince Albert does, which has been fighting the supply and demand battle.
That’s been the story of the late for the recreation industry — supply chain issues. It’s been extremely difficult for local businesses to keep their shelves stocked, a problem Lawrence Vandelinden, co-owner of Regina’s Dutch Cycle, has certainly faced.
“The demand for bikes has been super strong, but we can't get half of them that we want,” said Vandelinden. “I hate to say no to people when they come in and say ‘I have money I want to spend on a bike, what can you get me?’ When we say nothing, you're turning away business.”
It’s part of that demand that makes it a tricky industry to evaluate for Jay Woytowich, owner of Doug’s Spoke and Sport in Saskatoon.
“It feels like there's been an increase in people wanting bikes, but I think part of it might be the fact that it's been tough to get bikes,” said Woytowich.
Woytowich and Vandelinden both said that so far, the demand is strong once again this summer. While supply issues are still there, it's shaping up to be a lot better than last year.
“Last year was the worst for supply. We had hardly anything at all on the floor to sell,” said Vandelinden. “This year has been a lot better. We’ll see how it continues on.”
As for where the recreation industry goes from here remains to be seen. The question of where people will choose to spend their money with more options back on the table is certainly looming over business owners like Norgan.
“That's a great question. If I had a crystal ball man, I'd be a millionaire by now,” joked Norgan, who went on to say he does expect the cross-country ski market to eventually slow down..
As for Woytowich, he believes that demand will start to drop off with the return of more individuals opting for a hot holiday instead of a new bicycle per se, but he still expects numbers to be stronger than pre-pandemic levels.
“Me and my partners here have had this conversation about four months ago and that's the big unpredictability in this whole game — what’s this year going to bring? Now that people can travel again and things are ‘back to normal,’ what are people going to do?” said Vandelinden.
“This year is going to be the tell-tale year.”
Story by Matt Johnson
Edited by Christian Bates-Hardy
Photo provided by Fresh Air Experience