Story and photos by Liz Randall

Sometimes in this industry it’s hard to tell the difference between business transactions and personal diversions. Then again, in this business, often times there isn’t really a difference.

On February 12-14, the WWRSA held it annual Southern California On-Snow Demo at Mammoth Mountain. The lot at Chair 2 (Stump Alley Express) was sealed off, the company vans were parked askew, the tents were set up and it was business as usual. Unlike the past few years, the weather was unusually cooperative, and the conditions were conducive to testing as much product as possible for the 2002/2003 season.

This year’s event featured 84 booths with 336 people working in them, and 340 buyers from 86 shops trying new gear out. The attendance was up slightly from last year.

While the overall vibe of the demo was decidedly mellow, all the vendors were busy with a steady flow of product leaving the booths and hitting the snow. The major concern this year that has affected both retailers and vendors was the rescheduling and bumping up of the trade shows.

In past years, the retailer demo took place previous to SIA, giving buyers a chance to make a few last-minute edits before having to write their pre-book orders. This year, with the on-snow demos happening after SIA and with earlier order deadlines, retailers were getting acquainted with the product that in a lot of cases they’ve already written orders for. While some retailers were feeling understandably pressured by the earlier deadlines, others were taking it in stride.

Marc Loreau, hardgoods buyer for Surfride Boardshops in Oceanside and Solana Beach, California, says, “We felt confident about writing our orders early. We are starting our snow sales now, and can judge by the current sell through what works.” Loreau says his order will stay consistent with the products Surfride carried for this season.

While many vendors pushed up their deadlines with the earlier trade shows, others were giving retailers a little more breathing room. Brad Scheuffele, sales and marketing manager for M3 and Chorus, says his company wants to work with retailers and give them the ability to “buy comfortably.” By having solid product and being flexible with buyers, the brands hope to expand sales in wake of the deadline crunch.

Vendors were also using the demo as an outlet to create more momentum in the competitive Southern California market by building brand awareness with key retailers. Colorado-based Never Summer had a new rep for Southern California, and was getting new growth and support through retailers such as ZJ’s Boarding House and Val Surf.

Newcomers from Vermont, Rome Snowboards, had such a strong response both at the demo and at SIA, that So Cal rep Will Baumfalk says he may skip the regional Santa Ana show. “Retailers are definitely voicing the pressure that they are feeling from the stacking of all the shows. But, we’re doing well in spite of everyone being a little burnt out this year.”

As for all of this serious negotiating and industry racket, there was nothing a few tapped kegs, whiffle ball games, and a night of discoing at Whiskey Creek couldn’t cure. Oh, and all that riding for “business reasons” probably didn’t hurt anyone’s attitude too much either.