Outdoor heaters, skis and skates likely be fall's hot-ticket items during pandemic

TORONTO — Canadians preparing for their first pandemic fall and winter might want to pick up outdoor heaters, skis, skates and puzzles while they can.


Retail experts are predicting these items — and anything else that busts boredom or promotes time outdoors, where the odds of encountering COVID-19 are lower — will fly off shelves, if they aren't already.

Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at consulting firm J.C. Williams Group, and her team has spent the last few weeks brainstorming what products will soon be as hard to come by as toilet paper, sourdough starter, hair dye and bikes were months ago.

They think anything to do with leisure at home or outdoors but at a distance is sure to be popular.

"People are picking up new hobbies," Hutcheson said. "These women I follow have jumped on tie dye because it's a great outdoor activity … that business is booming."

She suspects people who have been enjoying patios will gravitate to the kitchen and start baking or cooking or think about how they can update their homes with fresh decor and better equipping living spaces for prolonged periods working at home.

She thinks those who were busy with outdoor workouts or summer sports will take their fitness activities indoors and snatch up weights, yoga mats and exercise machines.

Brodie Wallace, Mountain Equipment Co-op's director of hard goods, is expecting some customers to keep being active outdoors with activities like skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

"Those areas are seeing some decent growth year over year, but it's not like we're seeing hundreds and hundreds of units go out the door yet," he said.

"But what we are seeing is what we feel is going to be the trend going forward, because people are starting to shop for what they want to use to get outside and remain active in winter."

MEC left on display some of the winter products it would usually stow away during the warmer months because COVID-19-related closures made it more difficult to make the switch. In the end, the retailer found many of the items sold well even in the off-season.

At his Zoroast The Fireplace Store chain, Daniel Kimia said fireplaces, firepits and heaters are proving popular because customers want to give their indoor spaces a cosy feel and make their yards a bit more hospitable.

They're also an attractive option for restaurant and business owners trying to keep up operations outdoors as the temperature drops.

"It's hard to keep up with the demand because there are shortages of raw materials for manufacturers making products," he said.

Kimia estimated sales of such products are up by at least 20 per cent at his stores across the General Toronto Area.

Fireplaces, fire pits, fire tables and outdoor heaters are also in high demand at Home Depot Canada.

"Customers are creating multi-season backyards and balconies, so patio and garden products have maintained their popularity beyond the spring and summer months," said Carla Moreira, the company's trend and design manager, in an email.

Canadian Tire Corp. has likewise noticed many customers "looking for ways to extend the season," but it's anticipating some spikes in indoor products too.

"As we move indoors, home comfort and environment categories like space heaters and air purifiers will gain in importance, " said spokesperson Cathy Kurzbock in an email.

"Likewise, ensuring our environments are safe will be a top priority and we expect to see continued demand for cleaning products — including the introduction of UV sanitization."

Ping-Pong and pool tables for indoor game rooms and exercise equipment are also expected to be big ticket items for the retailer.

Walmart Canada, meanwhile, is seeing demand for safety, food and health products used in winter months such as cold medicine, vitamins, freezers, canned goods, heaters, candles and batteries.

People are also stocking up on gaming systems, skates, toboggans, renovation equipment like ladders and paint, decorations for Halloween or Christmas, craft supplies and work-from-home items like furniture and computer accessories, said spokesperson Adam Grachnik in an email to The Canadian Press.

Claire Hutchings, the owner of Dilly Dally Kids Store in Vancouver, has noticed educational toys becoming hot ticket items because some parents have decided to keep their kids home from school this year, but don't want to lose learning opportunities.

"A lot of people are thinking, 'OK, it's not summer anymore. If I'm not going to send my kid back to school I guess I need to start doing some more educational things','" said Hutchings.

They're scooping up books from that teach kids about topics such as animals, the human body or science.

Others are looking for toys that encourage the imagination or creative play.

Hutchings says one popular item is a wooden toy with multiple arches, that can be constructed into a rainbow or separated into bridges, car tunnels or animal houses while encouraging balancing and stacking. She says parents like it because it occupies kids for long periods of time.

She's also seeing continued demand for some COVID-19 favourites from March, particularly puzzles.

The higher the number of pieces the better, she said, because buyers want to put them together as a family or pick at them over several days.

"We probably sold 20 times more 1,000-piece puzzles this year than in all of last year and we haven't even hit Christmas yet," she said.

To ensure she has stock for the holiday crush, Hutchings has been ordering whatever she can get her hands on now.

"We've been thinking holiday shopping is going to start earlier and not be this big, crazy spike," she said.

"There will be a spike with online shopping, but I think people won't want to be going out when there are crowds."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX: CTC. A)

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

This article was from The Canadian Press and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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