To start with, it’s located in the back of a shoe store.
Then again, The Tannery isn’t your usual shoe store.
Located in the heart of Harvard Square in Boston, Massachusetts, just a few doors down from “The Coop” and less than a block from Harvard Yard, The Tannery is also a Cambridge institution. Ever since Tarek Hassan took over the family business approximately fifteen years ago, The Tannery has been frequented by everyone from students to international travelers-partly because of its large selection of shoes for an active, outdoor customer base, but also because of its unique layout.
Each company, from Mephisto shoes to Ecco shoes to Coach handbags-among many others-has its own area of the store, where manufacturers can arrange their own displays and point-of-purchase advertising. Timberland, for example, displays not only its shoes, but outerwear and bags in its own special section.
In retailing terminology, this is known as a “concept” store, and The Tannery was one of the first in the country to use it, Hassan says. The idea is carried over into The Tannery’s newest project.
Concepts carries only five snowboard lines-Salomon, Oxygen, Morrow, Nitro, and Original Sin-and each company has its own share of the store’s 1,500-square-foot space.
Boards are displayed in custom-designed racks while boots and bindings sit on hanging shelves that divide the floor space. Clothing is displayed along the walls. At the back of the shop, under the green, neon glow of a Concepts sign, is a window, behind which a Grindrite tuner will do its work during the winter.
“We give each manufacturer a section to work with,” says Concepts partner Robert “Bobby” Riley. “They have their own walls and can do their own POP. It’s a custom approach.”
Riley, 23, and fellow partner Jon Roy, 24, have done much of the design work themselves. A glass case that resembles a slightly downsized phone booth holds a snowboard and sits outside in good weather, but since it’s rigged with speakers it doesn’t fare so well when it rains.
And on a rainy day, it’s possible to walk right past The Tannery and not realize Concepts is there. Unless, of course, you’re a local snowboarder or skateboarder. The store has gained quite a reputation in the year or so it’s been around, in large part because of the promotional efforts of its snowboard and skateboard teams.
The snowboard team is composed mostly of regional riders, Roy says, and their skateboard team is led by Vinny Ponte, who has been featured on the cover of national magazines. It isn’t easy gaining credibility as a ‘core shop when you’re located in a shoe store, Riley notes. Snowboarders-and to an even larger degree-skateboarders, “are the most stubborn, image-conscious people around.”
But the teams have brought a lot of business their way. “The hearsay is huge,” says Roy. “Kids know.”
It’s not just kids that find this unusual snowboard shop appealing. “The Tannery has a huge international customer base,” Hassan says, and Concepts is finding that it’s attracting the attention of this older, more sophisticated crossover market.
“Everybody who walks by is a potential customer. It’s a good crowd to cater to,” says Dan Sullivan, sales manager at Original Sin Snowboards.
“The nice thing-particularly for a smaller company-is they have a dedicated space for each individual brand. It allows a really nice presentation for our product line. It’s done at some level in a lot of stores, but they’ve taken it to the next level. I’m completely thumbs-up on what they’re doing.”
Both Riley and Roy previously worked at another large Boston snowboard shop, but found that their input was often ignored. Hassan had already expanded his store to include in-line skates, but was looking to move to a new level. Through a mutual friend, Riley and Hassan got together and Concepts was born.
It wasn’t an easy sell in the beginning. At their first ski show in Las Vegas in 1997, manufacturers “thought we were crazzy,” Riley says. Last spring, he says, they were getting in line to sign up for the shop.
They attribute that to a number of factors. Before they opened the store, they did extensive market research on the area. That, plus product knowledge and top-notch customer service added up to an extremely successful first year, Riley and Roy add.
They had 95-percent sell-through on hardgoods and 99-percent on softgoods. “I would have been happy with 40 percent,” Hassan says, noting that of their softgoods, only one jacket remained at the end of the season.
Concepts sold about 200 snowboards last season, and has upped their order to around 300 for the coming season.
“Three-hundred snowboards isn’t bad for a shoe store,” Hassan says with a grin.
Although turning the back of the store over to Concepts required a major commitment of space in a business that requires a lot of inventory, Hassan is delighted with his decision to make that commitment.
Besides, says Hassan, who tried snowboarding for the first time last winter, “It’s fun, and I needed to have fun.”