Canadian retailer enters competitive outdoor category

Canadian outdoor brand Arc’teryx is on a mission to raise its profile in the Australian market ahead of the opening of a new flagship in Melbourne’s Emporium shopping centre next month. 

The brand has hosted a number of events to connect with the city’s climbing and hiking enthusiasts in recent weeks, including a rooftop showing of the ski film Hoji. And on Thursday, July 11, it is holding a panel discussion with local business leaders about problem solving through design.  

These events are an indication of how Arc’teryx plans to grab a bigger share of the Australian outdoor retailing market, where it has been active for the past 10 years on a wholesale basis, and is now looking to grow its direct-to-consumer presence. 

“It’s about building a community of like-minded people,” Nicholas Dion, Arc’teryx brand activation manager in Australia, told Inside Retail Weekly.

The flagship store, Arc’teryx’s first in Australia, will offer a bigger range of the brand’s rigorously designed and produced apparel, packs and gear, and serve as a physical hub for new and existing customers to hear from brand ambassadors and outdoor experts. 

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“We’ve done events where we talk about being safe in the back country and how to take care of walls while climbing,” Dion said about the Arc’teryx events in other markets. 

This approach is in line with broader trends in the retail sector, where businesses now aim to offer experiences, not just products, in order to forge deeper, more emotional relationships with customers.  

It could also give Arc’teryx a much-needed edge in Australia’s increasingly competitive outdoor apparel sector, which has seen the arrival of European sports giant Decathlon and expansion of existing players in recent years. 

“The outdoor equipment retailing segment is undergoing a transformation of sorts.” IBISWorld senior industry analyst Tom Youl told Inside Retail Weekly

“Traditional variety stores, such as Ray’s Outdoors, are being wound back in favour of more specialised outlets, particularly clothing retailers.”

Activewear brands, such as Macpac and Kathmandu, are performing well and likely to report solid growth over the year ahead, Youl said, and he expects to see more retailers shift their focus to clothing going forward.   

But Arc’teryx sets itself apart from most other outdoor apparel brands in the Australian market in two ways: its Canadian heritage, and its price point. 

While the outdoor category is currently dominated by domestic and US brands, such as Kathmandu, Patagonia and The North Face, Arc’teryx plans to highlight its proximity to some of the most rugged and extreme terrain on earth.

The Melbourne flagship will feature floor-to-ceiling images of Canadian landscapes to make shoppers feel like they’re immersed in the ‘Great White North’, and to give store staff an opportunity to share the brand’s unique design approach.

“Arc’teryx is from Vancouver, which is one of the highest rainfall cities in North America, and just about two hours outside of that, you have the Canadian Coast Mountains. So we can prototype [a product], then go out and test it in some of the worst conditions and get immediate feedback,” Dion said.

The company, which is named after the oldest known fossil bird, archaeopteryx, describes itself on its website as being “obsessed” with “precise design and production”. 

This allows it to charge a premium for the men’s and women’s jackets, pants and other apparel it sells. Most items cost several hundreds of dollars, and several jackets cost $1000 or more.  

“We often sell these products as tools, not just apparel, because they can literally save your life,” Dion said.

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