Pa”Small stores versus the big-box chains is the story of the 90s,” says Berkeley Windsurf and Snowboard Owner Will Harper. The shop, located in Berkeley, California hasn’t seen much change with local specialty competition, but the chain stores are becoming more and more of a force. “Chains are becoming more powerful and buying bigger and better. All the major companies are selling to them now. They’re all whoreing out. It’s getting tougher for the small specialty stores to compete, because the chains are selling so hard on price-even mid season.”
Harper says his shop emphasizes service and knowledge about the sport in order to stay ahead of the pressures of chains. “I make sure my staff is better trained than theirs,” he says. “We also carry brands like Never Summer that don’t sell to chains. But it’s getting to be tough. The writing is definitely on the wall for the specialty retailer.”
Central Coast Surfboards in San Luis Obispo has been one of the fortunate few that hasn’t felt the pressures from chain stores. Local competition has remained fairly constant for the last few years. “A few shops in the area have expanded their shops and their presence in snowboarding,” says Manager Dan Swain. “But not much else has changed.”
At Helm of Sun Valley in San Jose, the competition has taken the opposite approach. “Some of the larger stores have gone to a more general outdoor sports format verses specialty,” says General Manager John Glover. “That gives us an advantage because our focus has stayed more specialty. In the winter we’re exclusively a ski and snowboard retailer.”
Eric Struhl, owner of High Tide in Lancaster says there’s always going to be competition, so he tries to keep his employees up-to-date and as trained as possible. “We try to stay ahead of the competition by ordering the right products and offering the right prices,” he adds.
Competition hasn’t changed drastically in the Lancaster area and Struhl says he really hasn’t felt too much pressure from chain stores either. “I did see snowboards in Costco this year,” he says. “I haven’t seen that before.”
Customer loyalty has helped 540 Boardshop in Solana Beach compete against a larger shop that recently moved in just a few doors down. “The customers who live in the area come here,” says Assistant Manager Bryan House. “They don’t appreciate the corporate atmosphere of a bigger shop like that.”
540 hasn’t had to change much to adjust to the new competition, says House. “We’ve always had good customer service,” he adds. “We also try to maintain a clean shop, because when the shop looks good, we look good.”