Business

Outdoor supply chain issues are real


These two customers were serious about boat shopping at the 2022 Louisiana Sportsman Show.

Cane poles, boats, ATVs, ammo, fish baits… outdoor supply chain issues are real.

There are many ways to stick tomatoes in your garden. I prefer 12-foot cane poles cut into four-foot sections. They’re small, cheap, sturdy and last multiple years. Even though I don’t fish with one anymore, I go buy a few each year.

Not in 2022.

I walked into the Honey Hole, a well-stocked prime spot for all things fishing in West Monroe, La., and asked owner David Owen why he had moved the cane poles off the rack out front. He just laughed.

“I haven’t been able to get cane poles in two years,” he said. It wasn’t funny. It was a prime example of what has been going on in the outdoor sport industry.

“Sorry, we’re out of that,” has become an all-too-familiar response to fishing and hunting customers. Or orders placed online come weeks or months later. Retailers have done their best, but it is a battle.

Shortages of guns and ammo, baits and all kinds of tackle have been prevalent. At one point in 2020, so many people were fishing that bait shops had to ration live fish baits like crickets and worms. That’s something no one would have ever dreamed.

Sticker shock hits some boating shoppers hard, but dealers and boaters keep finding a way.

Big ticket item pain

But where it is really painful is big ticket items. Boat and ATV shopping has been hit and miss. Parts are even worse. Break the prop on your boat? It might have taken months to get in the past year. Order a new boat? Again, probably a months-long wait.

Manufacturing was hit. Then lockdowns on shipments and supply disruptions even hit big market items like trucks and other tow vehicles. Thousands of new pickup trucks sat on lots for months waiting on key chips and other parts from China. The selection and competitive pricing that has spoiled us all in our outdoor pursuits is gone.

It was very noticeable at the 42nd annual Louisiana Sportsman Show and Festival over Father’s Day weekend. But you have to hand it to the folks that put on the show and the vendors and dealers who were there with booths and gear. They did the very best they could to showcase products and offer them for sale or customer order. It was a step toward bigger and better things next year.

Inflation is an issue, too. A major purchase these days can rock your world.

Buying a boat is a major financial decision, compounded these days by the current economic situation.

Nothing like it before

David Ivey, General Manager of Boats Unlimited of Baton Rouge, La., was one of many dealers that all said about the same thing about the supply chain.

“No sir, we have never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s absolutely insane. The boats we are getting now may have been on order for eight months or longer. “We had one customer whose rig took a year. It’s everything. Motors, tires, props, seats…The whole system is a mess. And I don’t see any end in sight unless some serious political changes occur. In fact, this isn’t a sales pitch, it’s a fact. If you see a boat you like and you can afford it, you better get it. We don’t know when we will get more. And I hope people understand. It’s not us. Be patient. We’re trying to make it through the best we can.”

Long-time sporting goods manager Lea Benoit of Bowie’s Outfitters, a huge part of the show with stores in Louisiana and Mississippi, has expressed the same feelings about some sporting goods.

Four-wheelers and larger ATVs have also been hit hard by supply and demand issues — and inflation.

“I’ll tell you this. If you see something you want or need, whether it’s a big ticket item or a new rod and reel, you better go ahead and get it while you are looking at it. If you don’t, there’s no telling how long it will be until we can get another one like it,” he said.

Manufacturers pressed for materials and labor the past couple of years aren’t making some low-end products with very slight profit margins. Who can blame them? Thus, the shortage of even things like cane poles.

And inflation is brutal, but it isn’t stopping outdoorsmen or dealers. Just as an example, a 2022 Ranger Z521L with a 250 Mercury motor lists for $82,895, and that’s not even the most expensive bass boat. The popular saltwater 2022 Excel Boats Bay Pro 220 with a 150 Yamaha retails for $62,990.00. Bigger boats easily go into six figures. Popular, top-of-the-line electronic upgrades can add $10-$15,000 more to each. Prices vary according to dealers, makes, models, motors and accessories.

Most buyers end up financing their boat for longer than their car or truck. Are you a hunter? The Polaris Ranger Crew 1000 Premium two-seater side-by-side starts at $19,399 retail without any customization accessories. Average price five years ago in 2017 was $12,675. Correspondingly, prices of used outdoor equipment is at an all-time high, and low availability levels, as well.

Patrick Tarlton of Ammo Wild shows customers his selection of ammunition. Availability is scarce and prices are high, but hunters and shooting sports participants haven’t backed away.

Ammunition concerns

Hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts know the situation all too well. Ammunition is scarce and is at a premium. And it’s not getting better either, according to one large exhibitor at this year’s Sportsman Show, Patrick Tarlton, vice president and part owner of Ammo Wild, a central Texas business.

“We sell ammo across the country and in the past 20 months, it’s been crazy,” he said. “Not just availability, but the prices. It’s not going to get better. Since the start of 2022, we have seen three price increases. The year started with one and we’ve had it go up twice already because of supply issues.”

A steady flow of customers at their booth seemed to indicate customers realize that fact as they stocked up on calibers that are difficult to find. The same scene is repeated daily at sporting goods stores across the state and nation.

The country’s leading arms sales manufacturers explain it like this. During the Obama administration, fear of tighter firearm regulations led to a run on guns and ammo. Then, that demand trailed off during the Trump Administration. Now, with the Biden Administration talk of gun control, the rush is on again. But this time, combined with supply chain issues, it is making it a pretty tough business. That has meant shortages or total lack of some popular calibers and limits of one or two boxes of certain shells and bullets by most sporting goods stores so more customers could be served.

Overall, there has been a quiet bright side to social distancing for the industry. While people avoided crowds, they found fishing and other outdoor pursuits to be safe. And the situation brought a whole new group of people into outdoor sports. One survey using data from 24 states showed that participation in fishing and that sales of fishing equipment increased by 50% in 2020 – not including big ticket items.

American outdoorsmen and women are still pursuing their favorite sports and finding ways to bear the cost and availability issues. What drives them to do so?

Perhaps it’s this.

Famous American humorist Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

In other words, those who want will find a way: Eat. Sleep. Fish. Boat. Hunt. Camp. And be patient.

The outdoor economy is tough right now, but businesses like Bowie Outfitters are battling to keep sportsmen in gear at the best prices possible.

Down, but not out, sportsmen persevere

After researching multiple sources and conducting numerous interviews, here are 10 quick points about the pursuit of outdoor happiness these days:

1. Covid seriously hurt businesses the past two years. Charter boat operators, guides and resort businesses were hit hard by social distancing. Fortunately, they are getting back to full speed. And the situation led to a large group of new fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts.

2. Political decisions compounded the recovery situation, continuing to affect manufacturing, supplies and shipping, from major ports all the way to local deliveries.

3. Inventory shortages and demand are pushing prices higher; the labor market struggles for qualified workers and costs at wholesale and retail have seen double digit inflation.

4. Then there’s the price of gasoline (see No. 2). It may get worse. The $4.60 national average is predicted by reliable business sources like the Kiplinger Letter to soar well over $5 a gallon for regular and diesel near $7 a gallon on average by the end of summer.

5. Retailers have cut expenses where they could — even garbage pickup, store hours, inventory, travel, advertising and more, and one bluntly stated, “I’m afraid nothing is transitory about this. I’ve never seen prices go down after they go up.”

6. Despite all this, it isn’t all bad news. Surveys have shown that less than 20% of fishermen reduced the numbers of trips they take. The number of people fishing increased an estimated 10-15% in 2020 and another 8-10% in 2021.

7. There were an estimated 5.4 million new gun owners in the U.S. last year.

8. Major product development and promotion in the outdoor industry has slowed from the norm. That was apparent at the world’s largest tackle and outdoor show, ICAST in Orlando. Last year, the number of exhibitors was down 30%.

9. And through all of this, the Gulf Coasts’ “perfect storm” was made worse by Mother Nature herself. In August 2020 Hurricane Laura was catastrophic. Two months later, Hurricane Zeta, hit. More devastation followed in 2021 from Hurricane Ida and all of them spawned additional tornadoes, wind damage and other storms in Louisiana and Mississippi.

10. While things are tough, outdoorsmen and women and sporting goods businesses appear tougher. The long lines to get in the recent Louisiana Sportsman Show proved interest is still high and fishermen, shooters, campers and hunters aren’t giving in.

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