SmartWool nears record

Sock maker logs 2nd best sales

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— SmartWool recorded its second-best sales month in November, a possible nod to what President Mark Bryden says is consumers' desire for "affordable luxury."

Local retailers backed up the Steamboat Springs company's assertion, saying that holiday numbers were down but that people still bought lower-cost items.

"I think there's an affordable luxury component that consumers pull back to, where they might defer the purchase of multiple hundreds of dollars in equipment. : Fifteen dollars, $20, $22 for a pair of socks is the way they can sort of upgrade or keep their equipment moving forward without taking on such a huge financial burden," Bryden said.

At Backdoor Sports, owner Peter Van De Carr said people were buying more $200 coats and fewer $450 coats. But customers still were coming in, he said.

"I was definitely down in November and December, but for me, anyway, now that we're getting snow, and we have been getting snow most of December, that means everything," Van De Carr said. "It's far better than it was, say, in 2002, when we had after 9/11 and then there was a drought in Steamboat. After being through that, this has been nowhere near as devastating."

He was optimistic.

"Things are down, but it's OK down," Van De Carr said. "It's definitely not anything a little hard work or a little more creativity on my own part can't make up for - so far."

Chuck O'Connell is the Steamboat area manager for Christy Sports and manages Sport Stalker in Gondola Square. Holiday season sales were down, he said, but could have been worse.

O'Connell agreed with Bryden's statement about customers' purchasing patterns.

"From what we've seen so far through the holiday season, people were still looking for nice and tasteful, nice, good quality gift giving ideas," he said, "but were looking for things : maybe a little bit less expensive than maybe what they were looking at in previous years. Our sales volume would support, at least in part, that statement."

Bryden also theorized that in times of economic turbulence, people buy core items such as the socks and base layer apparel SmartWool sells.

Van De Carr said, however, that he'd sold more "hardware" such as skis and boots than "software" items. He's given up on trying to predict what will move and what won't.

"I don't even guess anymore," Van De Carr said. "My philosophy is just to try and stock the shop as best I can."

This year, for example, he didn't buy as many knickknacks such as repair patches. Van De Carr said he typically buys those later - in October or November - and was reluctant to place orders this year. That's brought him up a little short on those supplies, he said.

He, O'Connell and Bryden said they were pleased that products still were moving.

"I'm thrilled, to be honest with you," Van De Carr said. "I'm ecstatic."

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