One Retailer’s Opinion

By Joey Swindler, Owner, Liberty Board Shop, Brea, CA

Notice: The overview that you are about to read is my own interpretation of the snowboard industry after the SIA show. It is not meant to offend or poke fun at anyone. Well, maybe a couple of people, but just in good fun. I like to ride, and selling snowboards allows me to ride a lot more than the nine-to-fivers out there. The feeling I get snowboarding transcends most of the bullshit I encounter in the industry and reminds me of why I chose this lifestyle. I think everyone needs to lighten up and go riding¿after all, it’s only snowboarding.

The Show

The success of the snowboard industry was on display for everyone in attendance at the 1995 snowboard extravaganza in Las Vegas. The number of exhibitors tripled from a mere two years ago. The progression of snowboarding is inevitable, especially when a tremendous amount of growth is experienced in such a short period of time. The equipment and apparel previewed this year was nothing short of exceptional. Innovations in snowboard construction and binding advancements were obvious throughout the convention center. The apparel and boot companies also made their presence known, with several standouts among the newcomers. The changes this industry goes through at such a rapid pace often leaves room for error, and Vegas did have more than its fair share.

This year’s collection of product was probably overwhelming to most retailers. The vast amount of goods never seemed to stop. Now that snowboarding is a viable industry, everyone wants to hop on the fast track to success.

Stupid Caps

The influx of new companies emerging daily forced to become better than their competitors. This was apparent in snowboard construction variations and the theories behind each of these techniques. This season, we will once again see rim and cap construction, along with “stupid cap,” “sock,” and several other methods devised to build the better board. Weight is down, specs and flexes are improved, and durability will be tested as the boards hit the slopes.

Better Binders

Binding advancements are, and should be, one of the most important factors of our progression. Safety, performance, durability and weight are the keys to the binders of the future. While most companies chose to re-release existing designs that never worked, new faces emerged that will surely dictate the future of binding manufacturing. New materials, new manufacturing techniques, straps, lockers, and receptors were all drastically improved.

We sold several hundred pairs of binders this past season, and more than a few of those came back busted in ways never seen before. If you hate binding warranties as much as I do, I think we can all rest a little bit easier after the show. I saw a FEW bindings out there that looked as though real snowboarders designed them.

Along with several advances in the traditional base binding structure, several improvements on baseless bindings were evident. Now, as if your decision concerning the quantities of base or baseless bindings to order wasn’t perplexing enough, there is a new step-in boot-binding combination available. If several professional riders use this method and it works for them, then it is one more viable option for the general public. Only time and testing will tell with step-in binders.

Boots displayed the normal characteristics inherent in most snowboard footwear these days: Nice colors, clean designs, and overall good craftsmanship. Custom fitting, by using an inner liner baked in an oven, is a noticeable trend. Seems crazy, but I can tell you firsthand that it works extremely well.

Femme Fatale

How about all that women’s stuff? I saw more signature models, female clothing, and boots than I have seen in previous years of attending the show. Girls and women are quickly becoming a substantial percentage of snowboarders, and now they not only have a voice, but snowboards, boots, and clothing specifically designed by and for them. This is a huge asset to any shop that caters to all their customers, regardless of age, sex, etc.

Clothing Overview

Snowboard clothing became extremely technical and function-oriented this year. Most of the apparel had an emphasis on low-key outward fashion while maintaining utmost standards in the simplicity and operation of the garment. There really are several high-quality clothing and boot manufactures out there and choosing vendors in both categories for next season was one of the hardest tasks.

The Other Side of The Coin

Like most aspects of any large-scale production. The show did have some flaws, most of which can be rectified in the future with a little bit of foresight. One big problem is the physical amount of exhibitors. The snowboard industry can no longer be contained inside the ski industry. Back in the day, when there were only ten snowboard companies, we had to be involved with other Alpine activity trade fairs. Our association with the ski industry will only impede our progress. Besides, these people still think all snowboarders have goatees, tattoos, and earrings.

The snowboard industry is in a position to dictate its own future without the influence of others. The amount of physical labor and fatigue we could eliminate by being self-sufficient is immense. Less square footage, fewer booths, less people, less garbage, less walking, and more focus on the events at hand will all equal better business and higher profit margins. Sounds good, huh?

We are a highly focused and motivated industry that quite accurately understands and targets our consumer market without all the bells and whistles that have previously been associated with both snowboarding and skiing.

Lurkers

Let’s talk about lurkers. Usually the ASR show in San Diego is the freak show, and Vegas is the haven for people who want to do real business. Not so this season. Lurkers abounded at both shows and caused massive gridlock in the aisles. Just kidding, but there were way too many lurkers at the show. If you’re not either buying or selling product, and you’re only there for social reasons, (to be part of the “scene”) JUST GO HOME!!!

Las Vegas is a great town if you like to party, gamble, give dollars to naked people, and generally stay out way too late and get way too loaded. Is Las Vegas the right atmosphere for a trade show involving worldwide business on a massive scale? You tell me. I think that a change of venue might be a welcome relief for many retailers, myself included.

All in all, this year’s dog and pony show in Las Vegas was another great experience. The show consisted of a little business, some socializing with old and new friends, some parties and generally just having a good time. Most exhibitors involved out did themselves and displayed the professionalism that we, the retailers, have desperately needed.

Better Communication

On a serious note, the relationship that the retailer shares with the manufacturer is the backbone of this industry. It was nice to see most exhibitors address this issue in terms of major restructuring within the ranks of their customer-service departments. By opening up the doors of communication between the retailer and the manufacturer, and understanding each other’s capabilities, we can further strengthen our ties and provide better service to each other and the general public that we serve. By combining our efforts, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

One last thing. Before you start a snowboard-based company, BECOME A SNOWBOARDER!!! Not only will this save you countless amounts of time, money, and personal sanity, it might bring you a lot of enjoyment.