According to Eastern retailers, the competition to sell snowboards and related equipment has increased considerably.
“There is definitely more competition,” says Dan Wahba, owner of New Skool in Sayville, New York. “Everybody’s got product.”Wahba says the introduction of big-box retailers like Costco and Sports Authority, plus the availability of snowboard products via the Internet and catalogs, is driving prices down. From his perspective, price is the number-one issue.
“For many snowboard customers, there’s no perceived value,” he says. “Some shoppers are into brand names, but that’s not middle America.” Wahba isn’t particularly optimistic for the future: “It’s going to be like ski-there’s no money in it. You hope they come in and buy a jacket. That’s where you make your money.”
Pricing is also an issue for Anthony Pallotto, owner of Eastern Pulse in Milford, Connecticut: “A lot of people are starting to go to ski shops because of price.”
One of the things that used to set snowboard shops apart was their involvement with events at the local mountains. “But ski shops are starting to do that, too,” he adds.
On the plus side, Pallotto says ‘core shops like Eastern Pulse can get certain products-like Burton-that’re unavailable to ski shops.
Brand awareness is one of the things that sets Mountain Visions at Killington, Vermont apart, says Owner Nancy John. She mentions Santa Cruz Snowboards in particular. “We have people who swear by the board,” she says.
John agrees competition is getting stiffer: “Just about every ski shop now carries a full line of boards.” Mountain Visions, in fact, started as a ski shop and has been selling snowboards for about five years. It’s the first shop on the Killington access road, which John notes is an advantage. Mountain Visions also has rentals, free demos, special discounts, and Web sites that refer to the shop. It even has espresso bar, which really sets it apart from many of its competitors.
According to Co-owner Matt Roman, staying true to the sport’s roots is what sets Coliseum in Melrose, Massachusetts apart. That, along with personal service, are two things chain stores don’t offer. “They sell everything from wakeboards to skis to camping equipment,” he adds. “The chain stores’ snowboard lines don’t have much depth either. They have more of a department-store feel.”
Coliseum is also threatened by ski shops who have started offering snowboards. The bigger stores can traditionally sell boards at prices below what the small shops offer and Roman says this affects him. “But many of the people who work there aren’t really into the sport, and the customer will see that,” he adds. “As a ‘core shop, we stay true to what everybody here does. If we don’t believe in it, we won’t bring it in.”
First Flakes at Sports Concept in Winston Salem, North Carolina started as a ski and tennis shop, but is now heavily involved in snowboarding, according to Owner Steve Hurley.
“All the ski shops in this area and up to the mountains used to compete with skis-now we’re all competing with snowboards,” Hurley says. “The competition is the same, it’s just a different mix of products.”
The arrival of Sports Authority in the area has raised some concern. “It could offer some competition, but to what degree, we don’t know yet,” he says.
While there’s more competition, “there are so few snowboard specialty shops left,” says John Jealous, owner of Alliance Snowboard Shop in North Conway, New Hampshire. He sees customers who want that kind of expertise and service the specialty retailers offer.
“The big ski shops spend a lot more money than us, but they end up buying the wrong stuff,” Jealous says. “They don’t have the staff to sell against us.”
He adds that many of his customers look around in shops in metropolitan areas where they live, “then come to a shop like mine and spend money. The people who come here in the wintertime want to buy.”