“It’s tough to stay open in a small town,” says Jon Tomashiro, owner of Extreme Boardshop in Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Tomashiro says smaller shops have come and gone, and the main competition comes from a mass-merchandise chain store across town. It hasn’t been easy-Tomashiro has had to work at two jobs just to keep his business alive. Things seem to be paying off, however, and he’s building capital with merchandise such as Burton, Lib Tech, Gnu, and Morrow. He views these companies, his excellent customer service, and extensive demos as key to his steady growth in sales.
Reuben Davis, owner of Low Down in Ashland, Oregon, says the increasing number of chain stores has all but forced the specialty retailer out of business. Price gouging took its toll on him when a chain moved into town and sold its entire stock of snowboard gear at wholesale. Now the chain’s prices are too high for the Ashland market, he says, but “you can only gouge too long before eating it.”
What sets Low Down apart from the chains is that it’s a family-run business anchored in the community. His television ads make it clear that store profits stay in the community-instead of being sent to another state like the chains. He also supported local riders by fighting to get a skatepark built in Ashland, and a local resort has included him in its development committee for future parks and lifts.
Things have changed a lot for Drew Hampton, manager of On Edge Snowboard Shop in Idaho Falls, Idaho. A big chain store in the mall, plus a couple of other shops have all moved into town-and carry many of the same brands found in On Edge. The shop features Burton, Lib Tech, Gnu, and Never Summer. Hampton is trying to compete with the use of promotions, excellent tune-ups, and rentals. The shop also sponsors a snowboard team, snowboard movies at a local theater, and a daily snow report on nearby resorts.
“The mall-style stores have had the biggest effect on local competition,” says Kyle Finn, owner of 35th Avenue Sales Limited, in Federal Way, Washington. While a few specialty stores have gone out of business in the area, the situation is fairly stable says Finn. “Big stores just take business because of their accessibility,” he says. He admits snowboard shops in malls are convenient for both parents and kids since they’re shopping in the mall already. Finn keeps the hardcore customers because he hires people who know what they’re doing and he carries brands not often found in the big stores. Part of his customer-service initiative includes always offering free labor-even if a board is bought somewhere else, Finn says his shop will mount bindings for free.
More shops equals more snowboarders and business for all says Candace Stime, owner of Extremely Board in Issaquah, Washington. According to Stime, smaller shops went out of business because they weren’t running it like a business. “Specialty matters,” says Stime. “Kids won’t go back to big stores that are in it to make a buck.” Customers will go into her store and ask if it’s rider-owned. That’s why Stime says she finds unique ways to show customers Extremely Board cares about the sport and its riders-whether it’s through the shop’s layaway program, consignments, or just spending time educating their customers.