Spending

2020 was the year of indoor hobbies — here are 6 surprisingly popular ones people spent money to try

"Acoustic guitars have been incredibly popular and selling heavily all year."

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The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting shelter-in-place mandates undoubtedly altered Americans' spending habits. Instead of spending on travel or experiences, people started investing in hobbies they could do at home, often indoors.

Some products that experienced sales spikes were already gaining favor with consumers pre-pandemic, and Covid-19 just served as a catalyst to higher sales that were bound to happen anyway.

Peloton exercise bikes, for example, experienced a 66% jump in sales during the first quarter. But without the pandemic, the company was likely to have a good year anyway, Robbie Kellman Baxter, a Peloton user and author of "The Forever Transaction" told Grow. With the pandemic, however, sales were just that much higher. "For enough people, it accelerates the [buying] process," she said. A stay-at-home order "was enough to push them over the edge."

But experts say other popular activities this year — including old-school ones like board games and baking — might not have gained such traction absent the pandemic. Here are six hobbies 2020 had us all spending money on.

Baking bread

Baking bread from scratch was one of the first activities to gain popularity after shelter-in-place mandates were issued. As of December 19, yeast sales were up 91% compared to last year, according to Nielsen data. Flour sales rose 33% and baking soda sales rose almost 17%.

The holiday season is usually when baking supply sellers see their biggest uptick in sales, says King Arthur Flour co-CEO Karen Colberg. But this year, sales started climbing in March.

"By the end of March we were selling four or five times our typical volumes," Colberg says. Bread flour sales, specifically, grew approximately 100% compared to last year.

By the end of March we were selling four or five times our typical volumes.
Karen Colberg
Co-CEO of King Arthur Flour

Colberg attributes this to the pandemic creating an influx of new bakers, many of whom called the King Arthur baking hotline, she says. "Maybe they can't be with a family member to learn from," she says, so they are calling the hotline and asking basic questions about bread-baking. King Arthur's sourdough recipe page has gotten over 5 million views since the pandemic, Colberg says. "People are exploring trying new things."

Tie-dying clothing

Like the scrunchie and biker shorts, tie-dye is one of many '90s trends reappearing at retailers. It is also a cost-effective hobby that you can do without leaving your house. An 8-ounce bottle of Rit Dye is $3 and available at most major retailers, including Target.

Rit, a 100-year-old dye brand, experienced 53% sales growth over last year, according to Jonathan Spagat, creative director and part-owner of the company.

"I think it's something people may have been intimidated by but is so incredibly easy," Spagat says. "It's one of those activities that brings joy to people during this weird time."

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Cooling off in kiddie pools

To make up for canceled vacations, public pool closures, and an overall disappointing summer, many Americans reallocated money toward improving their own outdoor spaces. By the end of July, pool construction permits were up 32.2% over the first seven months of 2019, according to data from the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance

But many Americans were turning to more affordable options, like inflatable pools, which also experienced a surge in sales.

Minnidip, which sells Instagrammable kiddie pools in a variety of sizes, sold out of its entire inventory multiple times throughout the year, says company founder Emily Vaca. Their biggest retailer is Target, but Minnidip pools can also be found at Bloomingdale's and Anthropologie. Most patterns sell for between $45 and $80.

"Typically our sales start to take off at the end of May, but this year it was in March that we started to see a lot more traffic to our site and a lot more sales," Vaca says. "Mid-April is actually when we sold out of our first wave of inventory."

Mid-April is actually when we sold out of our first wave of inventory.
Emily Vaca
founder of Minnidip

On its peak sales day of 2020, which was in August, Minnidip sold 3,700% more than during its peak sales day of 2019. Even with purchasing three times the amount of inventory the company usually does, pools were selling out within minutes of being restocked, Vaca says. "We were looking back at the year like, 'Oh, my God, what happened?'" she says.

Playing chess

Games and puzzle sales from January to March were already up 55% compared to last year, according to data from the NPD Group. But after the popular Netflix show "The Queen's Gambit" came out in October, chess set sales soared.

During the first three weeks following the show's release, chess set sales jumped 87% and chess book sales rose 603%, NPD found.

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Keeping fish tanks

Many aquatic retailers have experienced a growth in sales in their fish departments, according to PetProductNews.com.

Sales increased at Preuss Pets in Lansing, Michigan, with "little to no effort" on the store's part, says owner Rick Preuss, a member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council's aquatics committee. Sales in Preuss' fish department increased between 15% and 20% from last year, he says.

"Across the board, there is demand on all sizes of fish tanks," he says. "Lots of individuals are getting into the hobby, which is always a good thing for us. And people who already have aquariums in their basement or garage are setting them back up."

Learning guitar

Electric guitar sales were plummeting pre-pandemic, but 2020 resparked interest in the instrument. Guitar Center sales of both acoustic and electric guitars increased, according to Michael Doyle, senior vice president of guitars and tech merchandising at the retailer.

First-time players are likely driving the sales as "beginner instruments at entry price points" have been selling out over the holidays, Doyle says, along with acoustic guitars. "Acoustic guitars have been incredibly popular and selling heavily all year as people can buy an acoustic, and, with no other gear, comfortably play or learn to play," he says.

Guitar maker Fender saw 92% sales growth from March to October on models under $500, according to reporting by CNBC. Most sales were also acoustic, beginner guitars.

The demographic where Doyle saw the biggest sales growth was "women and young players," he says. And lesson sales have increased for those between ages 11 and 15, and those over 40.

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In a year when Americans couldn't seek experiences outside the home, indoor hobbies served as an important avenue to help us cope and keep us entertained.

"There is so much evidence out there that leisure and hobbies are positive to our well-being," Thomas Fletcher, chair of the Leisure Studies Association, previously told Grow. "Doing things we enjoy — essentially being happy — however temporary, is never a waste of time."

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