Customers in the East range from very knowledgeable to clueless when it comes to what’s going on in the snowboard industry. And the more they know, the sharper shop employees need to be when dealing with them.
At Country Ski and Sports in Quincy, Massachusetts, few customers are aware of the inside machinations of the industry, according to Owner Ray Stenson. Only a small percentage are even tuned in to hot industry trends. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Stenson says. “If anything, it makes it a little easier to get them into the proper product.”
Just the opposite is true at Darkside snowboard shop in Killington, Vermont. “They’re really tuned into it. They know everything,” adds Manager Doug Letendre. “They absolutely know that K2 bought Ride. They’re really into the sport.”
The challenge for Darkside employees is to stay educated about the business, says Letendre. “We have to stay on our toes even that much more to be a step ahead of them.”
It’s not surprising that high-end product moves well at Darkside, since customers know it will be harder to find later in the year. “They know it will disappear quickly,” he says.
Jami Godfrey, owner of Cool Runnings in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, is also seeing customers who are tuned in to the industry. “The market has matured,” he says. “Kids know what’s going on.”
Godfrey says it’s tougher for shop owners these days because of consolidation. “Everyone is carrying similar product, and there’s oversaturation in clothing and shoes,” he says. “Shops are going narrower and focusing in, I think the customer base is also. That makes price one of the few ways to distinguish your shop from other shops. Ski and box stores are also taking over a bigger share of the snowboard market,” he says.
One effect of having knowledgeable customers is that most come into the shop knowing what they want, Godfrey says. He’s not seeing as many start-up customers as in the past. “The industry has built something great,” he says. “Let’s not lose it. We need to keep the energy going or we’ll end up sucking the same wind as the ski industry.”
Several shops say they feel it was part of their responsibility to keep their customers informed of industry happenings. At Fire on the Mountain in Dover, New Hampshire, customers know which companies are hot, according to Rich Casey, who co-manages the snowboard department. “They read the ads and hear word of mouth or they come in and ask us,” he says.
While a few customers knew about things like K2’s buyout of Ride and the Salomon step-in recall, often the shop employees are the ones to tell the customers, Casey says: “They show some interest, but they don’t take it like we do.”
Casey adds that he didn’t think customer knowledge of industry happenings would have much of an effect on the shop’s business, but adds, “it’s early yet.”
The Internet is one way customers keep up with what is happening, according to Rob West, manager of Gravity in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “A lot of times customers are finding out quicker than people in the industry,” he says.
“While most customers are pretty tuned in, shop employees also keep them posted,” West says. “We encourage them to become more consumer-conscious.”
West says that having customers who try to stay on top of everything gives the shop more credibility and results in increased sales.
At Ski Rack in East Aurora, New York, customers are in tune with trends but don’t really know what’s happening within the industry, according to Vice President Erik Schaefer. “They’re aware of brand names,” he says.
Many of his customers weree aware of Function, because the company was located nearby, but he says he doesn’t think customer awareness makes much difference to his business.