Demand for sports equipment and home gyms booms as Canadians prepare for pandemic winter
Sports retailers see early rush on skis, snowshoes, exercise gear as people plan for ways to stay active
Canadians in need of sports equipment and fitness gear to stay healthy and have fun during a pandemic winter have learned a valuable lesson: Shop early to avoid disappointment.
"People saw what happened with kiddie pools and fitness equipment in the spring," said Gillian Montgomery, who co-owns Skiis and Biikes, a sporting goods chain with three locations in southern Ontario. Her stores are already unusually busy.
"Normally we don't have interest in winter products until we see the snow and even until Christmas, but this year we've had maybe 30 calls just since September about getting cross-country skiing equipment."
At Calgary's Abom Ski & Board, owner Randy Ahl already has a "big, long" waiting list for entry-level cross-country ski packages that haven't even arrived at the store yet.
Wait lists already growing
"Whether it's a couple or a family, they're saying, 'We want a phone call when those things come in,'" said Ahl, who has already outfitted entire families with boots, poles and skis that he does have in stock. "I consider over $2,000 to be a fairly big purchase, and that's happened already more than a dozen times."
People who plan to exercise indoors are prepping as well.
Drew Berner has installed a home gym in his Toronto garage.
I fully intend to be out there all winter long," said the father of three-year-old twins. "My garage is detached, but it is insulated, and I'm going to get a little space heater."
Early in the pandemic with gyms locked down, health-conscious Canadians made alternate arrangements, following along with exercise instructors on YouTube, joining classes held in parks, or buying exercise gear to use at home.
But many retailers were unable to satisfy demand for sporting goods and fitness equipment. Canadian Tire experienced triple-digit growth in the category.
"Consumer demand far exceeded both historical demand and available inventory," the company said in a statement to CBC News.
A sense of urgency
When Berner tried to find a set of weights, an exercise bike and a rowing machine for his garage gym, he found most were already sold out. Only by persisting was he able to get what he needed. He spent $3,000 on a mix of new and second-hand equipment.
"That involved everything from having alerts set on Kijiji ... to having email alerts from stores so I would be notified as soon as they had things I wanted in stock," said Berner, noting that he had to act fast before another buyer scooped them up.
Now, as cases of COVID-19 surge across Canada, national fitness chains such as GoodLife Fitness and F45 Training remain open — with limited capacity. Even so, some gym members are unwilling to return to an environment where people breathe heavily and sweat. And the market for used goods is again red hot.
The most popular search terms on online seller Kijiji are still dumbbells, ellipticals and exercise bikes, said company's manager of community relations, Kent Sikstrom.
Second-hand Peloton Bikes have more than doubled since this time last year, while inquiries about elliptical machines are up 39 per cent and treadmills inquiries are up 15 per cent.
"Probably in the next couple of weeks we may see snow shoes, cross-country skis, sleds, and snowboard begin to create a new trend for the season," said Sikstrom.
eBay Canada, which sells both new and used goods, is also reporting significant increases. Stair machines are up 230 per cent from this time last year, while treadmills sales are up 280 per cent, according to the head of the Canadian operation, Rob Bigler.
Gear not essential
"We've been super busy," said Bigler. "It's a great time to sell that treadmill that's been sitting in your basement, maybe being used to hang up laundry."
But Samantha Monpetit-Huynh, a fitness coach and trainer in Toronto, pointed out that a lot of gear isn't essential to stay active and healthy.
"People forget your body is probably the best piece of equipment you've got," she said. "You don't need all this stuff — you just need to move and you need to do it regularly. More than once a week."
Monpetit-Huynh said it's possible to use laundry detergent bottles or soup cans as weights, and go for walks or runs. However, she recently invested $3,000 in a brand-new Peloton exercise bicycle that allows her to join spinning classes remotely.
"I love going to the gym, but I thought, 'You know what? I should get something because if we get a second wave I want to be prepared.'"
Berner said for him, there's more to it than fitness.
"Exercise is crucial for my mental health," he said. "I notice even if I go for a couple of days without exercise my mood starts to drop."
Other Canadians who feel the same and haven't yet made a plan would be well advised to start considering their options — or risk getting left out in the cold during a long pandemic winter.