Demand for outdoor gear such as bikes, boats and camping supplies has spiked this summer, leaving some Maine stores struggling to restock due to supply shortages and shipping delays.
“We’re constantly ordering and every time we get boats in, they’re flying off the shelves,” said Colin Borowske, service shop manager at Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport. “Last week, we had a shipment of 14 boats and most are gone already.”
The shortages may be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to increased use of outdoor destinations throughout Maine, outdoor recreation experts believe that more people are spending time in pursuit of outdoor activities right now since many can be done while practicing social distancing.
The global pandemic has also caused problems for supply chains as many manufacturers have been forced to shut down their factories or operate with fewer employees. Meanwhile, shipping of many commodities has slowed down due to increases in items being shipped, new regulations and safety protocols and a number of other reasons.
“If I went to order a new bike right now, an early ship date would be Thanksgiving weekend,” Borowske said. “And a lot of bikes wouldn’t come until February or March of next year.”
Maine Sport Outfitters and several other Maine sport stores have reported an especially high demand for entry-level bikes, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards, as well as hiking, camping and fishing gear. They’ve also seen demand for more expensive, high-end equipment, but not to the same degree.
“I think more than usual people are coming in looking to start a hobby, either paddling or biking,” said Matt Harris, a sales representative from Ski Rack Sports in Bangor. “Things sell out pretty fast when everyone is coming to try to do the same thing.”
While gear such as bikes and boats are selling out fast, so are smaller but related items including bike helmets and paddles. And bike shops are having a difficult time acquiring parts to repair bikes.
“The things I sometimes can’t get completely surprise me — things I’ve always thought I could get like [bike tire] tubes, saddles and lights,” Borowske said. “Sometimes shipping goes nice and smoothly and other times it takes a month between ordering and receiving a small part.”
Pat’s Bike Shop in Brewer is experiencing the same problem. The shop is finding it difficult to keep certain items in stock such as entry-level bike helmets, 26-inch tires, water bottle cages and basic, comfortable bike seats.
Ski Rack employee Chris Hopper secures a newly purchased kayak atop a customer’s car on July 24. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN
“I was talking to one of our parts suppliers and most of the stuff comes from overseas,” said Scott Seymour, owner of Pat’s Bike Shop. “It has to land in port then get unloaded from a ship, and they don’t have as many workers [to do that] so boats are sitting there full of cargo and taking longer to unload. Then it has to be placed on a truck to get to a warehouse. There are just many delays.”
While delayed shipments and sold out equipment can be frustrating for outfitters and their customers, there is a bright side to the situation from a business standpoint. Many stores are experiencing increased sales compared to previous years. Plus the trend of more people pursuing outdoor activities may positively impact their businesses in the future if customers continue to enjoy any new outdoor hobbies they picked up during the pandemic.
For outdoor products that aren’t difficult to restock right now, stores are selling a lot of them.
“We’ve gone through just a crazy number of tents this year,” said Brad Ryder, owner of Epic Sports. “On those we haven’t had a problem with keeping inventory, so that’s really good.”
The same goes for hiking boots, Ryder said. They’ve been on high demand, and he’s been able to restock them just fine. It all depends on the company that makes each product and the challenges they’re facing to meet demand.
Also, the shortage of entry-level equipment has encouraged some customers to purchase items that are the “next level” and a bit more expensive, Borowske said.
“Most people are very understanding,” Borowske said. “There’s always some disappointment when they call and ask, ‘Is there a bike under 400 dollars?’ And you’re like, ‘I haven’t seen those in a few months and likely won’t for the rest of the summer.’ But most people are very understanding and accommodating this year.”