Canadian outdoor brand Hotcore embracing camping boom
One of the side effects of the global pandemic has been a resurgence in the interest of all things outdoors. Most interactions and experiences these days are outdoors, so it makes sense. That resurgence gave us an outdoor gear and bicycle boom in 2020, which is continuing on into this year.
As anyone who has done any shopping for tents and associated equipment knows, supply chains are wonky at best, and right now the demand is exceeding supply.
One Canadian outdoor gear brand is having a banner year and is looking to continue to push forward and establish itself as a sought-after label when it comes to tents, sleeping bags, and accessories.
Just before the long weekend, Randy Campbell of Hotcore Outdoor Products got a call from an outdoor store inquiring about ordering up some six-person tents, planning for a run on family camping. Randy explains, “I said, I have twenty. And he said, ‘I’ll take them all.’”
Campbell, who is located near Vancouver in British Columbia, says what is happening is a first for him, and he spent years working for a major outdoor brand before Hotcore.
“I haven’t seen anything like this. Not to the scale of having this many products in demand” he says. “If we introduce something new like when we had two new sleeping bags last year, all of a sudden they’re sold out halfway through the year, and we didn't have any for the next 10 months.”
Although the current boom in camping is a pleasant surprise, it hasn’t exactly trickled down to all the individual retail stores, at least not at the same level. Many people are buying online as a result of pandemic-induced store closures, and some stores had a hard time adjusting when various lockdowns first bit into business last spring, Campbell says.
Hotcore Outdoor Products Randy Campbell
“Their sales would be up if two things were happening. One, they could get product, and two, if they adapted to shutdown rules. Many of the Ontario stores are doing curbside pickup, so their sales would be better,” he explains. “But the stores are still taking their deliveries from us, because they know they will eventually open up completely, and the demand will be there.”
Early last year, stores cancelled orders en masse when COVID-19 first hit and the country closed up shop. But the demand exploded as we came out of lockdown, and people took to the outdoors and camping since it was all that was available. And although many stores tried to reorder, it was too late.
Hotcore has been in the market since 2008, establishing itself as a brand that can be relied upon for affordability and quality.
Before Hotcore, Campbell was working for a Canadian outdoor equipment brand as the Western Canada account manager. When the brand was sold to a big box retailer, Campbell decided to venture out on his own.
“One of the products the brand was making was these small, lightweight sleeping bags. And I knew that the independent stores in Canada were not going to be able to get them anymore,” he says. “So I thought, you know what, I'm going to develop something to sell to the independent outdoor stores. And I presented them with the idea of Hotcore. And they said yes.”
The products began to evolve as Campbell added now-signature Hotcore technologies.
“We used the Hotcore construction, which is what we now call critical layer construction…the extra layer of insulation in the core body area,” he explains. “Nobody was doing it at our price point. You would usually only see it in the more expensive bags. So we kind of brought that idea down to a lower price point. Because of my retail contacts, I was able to place the product in a good number of stores in the first few years. And we just grew from there.”
Originally, Hotcore concentrated on lightweight and compact sleeping bags at an affordable price. Product offerings have expanded to include hiking and family tents, packs, duffle bags, tarps, and dry bags.
Hotcore products are now available in more than 80 retail locations across the country, and although the company has grown, the philosophy remains the same.
“We want to make sure that our product is better, everything from construction, insulation, and customer service” Campbell says.
Hotcore can keep prices down compared to similar quality products because the construction method is not the same as some of the higher-end brands, some fabrics might be similar but just different enough to impact costs.
“We can differentiate from some of our competitors by, for example, using a brushed polyester ripstop instead of a regular flat ripstop, so it gives it a softer feel,” Campbell says.
In sleeping bags, Hotcore uses good quality microfibre insulation, but it isn’t brand-name insulation.
“So in that way, we don’t have to pay for the brand’s advertising and marketing budget,” Campbell says. “It works fantastic. And it helps differentiate us because it makes our bags more compact and lightweight than what our competitors are trying to do in our category.”
Campbell says he makes sure to think things through and gets feedback from a wide array of people across the country that test out his products.
“We're always looking for ways to improve our products without a price increase,” he says. “And it's amazing if you spend enough time looking and working with something, how often you can do that. You can actually find a way to improve something and it doesn't cost you any more, like the cut of a bag to make the zippers run better. It is part of our Adventure Reimagined philosophy”.
Campbell says the niche Hotcore has established is in lightweight and compact rectangular sleeping bags. Turns out, not everyone wants a tapered or mummy-style sleeping bag.
“With Hotcore, people saw how small a rectangular bag could be, and they just purchased that over the tapered bag,” he says. “I think some people, especially if you're doing a multi-day trip or you're carrying your gear, get into the tapered bag because it is lighter weight and it takes up less space, even though it might not be their preferred shape. But now they can get a rectangular bag that's nice and small.”
Another recent success story is the Hotcore line of Wingman tarps that now come in four different sizes.
“Five years ago we introduced our Wingman tarps which have done phenomenally well; again, a product line where we did something a bit different with the design without impacting the price” Campbell says.
The once-in-a-lifetime pandemic changes things.
These are unprecedented times, not just for Hotcore, or camping, but the economy and society in general. Campbell says a lot of the talk with retailers involves what happens next. Will the camping boom continue? What about the supply chain and prices?
“You can't forecast accurately because you just don't know. I mean, a year ago, we were in complete lockdown. You're not selling a thing and wondering, okay, I'm going to survive,” he says. “But how long do I have to wait until we can start selling product again? Is it going to be three months? Is it going to be a year? Is the economy is going to be in the toilet? Well, not so much. Demand went through the roof.”
“Everybody has their source of information and their thoughts about what's going on. And I just tell them well, if people are still only traveling domestically next year, then it's likely going to continue. Campbell says he’s advising stores to keep an eye on international travel and see what that’s going to look like going forward. And the flip side of that is the availability of the product with all the supply chain issues of the past 18 months.
“Factories are operating at lower worker capacity because of Covid, and it goes all the way up the supply chain, to fabrics, zippers, insulations. Tent poles are a big one for us right now,” Campbell says. “So a product that used to take four or five months to receive is now taking nine to twelve months.”
Shipping is more expensive and subject to many unheard-of delays and issues arising from the pandemic.
So, Campbell is trying to do what he can, and order as much as possible. And he’s far from alone. Hotcore expects to be at a good inventory level at the start of July.
“We are crossing our fingers. But everyone, from what I hear, everyone's in the same situation,” he says. “And then to top it off, the price increases. Especially for next year.”
And that isn’t just camping equipment or bicycles, it’s everything.
“I mean, a friend of ours wanted to order a hot tub for their backyard. They were told next December for delivery,” Campbell says.
On the consumer side of things, Campbell recommends that now is not the time to delay and shop around.
“My comment to consumers, if you see something you want, just buy it. Don't wait,” he says. “Don't look around and see if you can save $10, just buy it. Tomorrow it could be sold out."
To check out Get Out There's reviews of Hotcore products, go to our gear channel.