Call it brand extension if you want, but Camping World Holdings (NYSE:CWH) is branching far beyond its sales and service of recreational vehicles. The company recently made its fifth acquisition in the outdoor recreation market in just nine months, and it shows no signs of quitting.
The great outdoors
Camping World is deepening its foray into the outdoors with purchases of what could generously be termed ancillary businesses that support its primary operations. While its RV business offers trip planning services and products related to the RV lifestyle, four of its acquisitions reside fully in the sporting goods camp and may be useful to those who live life on the road, sometimes for months at a time.
The spending spree includeds:
- Assets of bankrupt sporting goods retailer Gander Mountain, which the company renamed Gander Outdoor.
- TheHouse.com, an online retailer of outdoor gear, such as bikes, sailboards, skateboards, wakeboards, and snowboards.
- Uncle Dan’s Outfitters, a specialty retailer of outdoor gear, apparel, and camping supplies.
- W82, another specialty retailer of snowboarding, skateboarding, longboarding, apparel, and accessroies
Now, Camping World has kicked off 2018 with the purchase of Erehwon, a three-store Midwest chain that sells outdoor apparel. In a statement announcing the purchase, chairman Marcus Lemonis said, “The combination of these retailers and their e-commerce platforms provides Camping World Holding with a strong foundation in the outdoor lifestyle market from which to continue building and serving the outdoor enthusiast.”
There’s good reason for wanting to expand beyond the narrow confines of the RV market. According to the market analysts at Freedonia Group, the RV market is expected to have closed out 2017 with nearly 5% growth to $10.7 billion. Following the collapse of the industry during the recession, the U.S. RV market has since expanded, benefiting from a combination of a growing economy, favorable interest rates, low gas prices, and growth in U.S. tourism and travel.
Wide open spaces
Yet for all of those tailwinds, RVs pale in comparison to spending on the outdoor recreation market, which the Outdoor Industry Association pegs at around $887 billion annually. In 2016, nearly half of all Americans participated in at least one outdoor activity, or some 144 million people participating in 11 billion outings.
It was those kinds of numbers that convinced firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson to abandon its preeminent position as a pure play gun company and aggressively enter what it terms the $60 billion rugged outdoor market. Changing its name to American Outdoor Brands, it’s similarly hoping to capture growth by selling to gun buyers goods and accessories for survival, camping, and more.
But this is already a crowded space, with rival Vista Outdoor also targeting the same group of consumers and now Camping World joining the fray.
Yet even though Camping World was able to gain a toehold in the space by buying Gander Mountain’s assets for cheap, it also indicates the market may be quite the challenge. Lemonis pegs Gander’s problems on trying to be a firearms superstore, which is seemingly bolstered by Cabela’s needing to be rescued by Bass Pro Shops, but the demise of outlets like Eastern Mountain Sports, Sports Chalet, City Sports, and Sports Authority — all of which had nothing to do with guns — suggests the problems run deeper.
Camping World’s shopping spree actually allows the diversified retailer to more closely live up to its name, but the RV seller may just find that it will need exceptionally honed survival skills if it’s to successfully navigate through the outdoor recreation market’s wreckage.
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