Words and photos by Lynn Seldon
Thanks to the early Las Vegas dates, as well as the fickle weather and economy, Southeast retailers were more eager than ever to actually try the gear they’d be ordering and selling for next season. Though opinions were mixed about the Vegas dates, the on-snow demo February 11¿12 at West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain offered the ideal opportunity to ride, revel, and maybe even place some orders.
Mary Kalis, executive director of the Southeastern Winter Reps Association, reported record attendance at Snowshoe Mountain, where the on-snow demo received reviews for the fourth straight year. “We had 262 people here this year, which was basically twice as many as last year and definitely a record. Snowshoe showed their typical Southern hospitality, helping us set up in some serious wind which later brought in tons of snowfall for the demos.” Final numbers included 75 attending shops and 30 exhibiting reps.
Mirroring the thoughts of many reps and retailers, Kalis felt SIA turned into a great kickoff show. “It was an opportunity for the manufacturers to strut their stuff early. Then many retailers will write their orders at the regional shows.”
Snowboard reps seemed to agree. “SIA turned out to be a preview show, the regional shows, and on-slope demos are where the business is getting done,” says Bernie Wheeler, a reps for Drake, Northwave, Bakoda, Quiksilver, and Globe.
Many retailers at Snowshoe also concurred with this assessment and strategy. Burton Davis, the merchandising VP for Alpine Ski Center’s six locations (Banner Elk, Raleigh, and Charlotte in North Carolina; Knoxville and Johnson City, Tennessee; and Greenville, South Carolina), attended SIA with two other Alpine Ski Center buyers. “It was a great preview show and gave us a chance to see all the products,” he says. “However, at that time of year, we don’t have a good feel for what our ending inventories will be.”
While at Snowshoe, Davis really enjoyed testing the new products. “Everything looks great and, in particular, the cosmetics are really impressive,” he says. “All of the companies have gone out of the way to put some great cosmetics on the boards. On the softgoods front, I really like the brighter colors.” Davis adds his open-to-buy would probably be very similar to last year and liked the looks of Rossignol, K2, and Burton (no surprise from a guy named Burton).
Craig Herring from Ski Chalet in Richmond, Virginia rode and liked the Salomon Mandate (“a good freeriding pricepoint board”), the K2 Ambush (“the built-in riser pads helps big-footed riders ride a narrower board”), and was stoked on the Palmer Power Plates (“good for getting guys with wider feet on narrower boards and helps with toe and heel response”).
Sepp Kober Jr., owner of Freestyle shops in Charlottesville and Wintergreen Resort, Virginia, also thought the timing of SIA was difficult on some levels, but better as well. “With some of the smaller shops, where the owner is also a staff member, it’s difficult to get out of the shop during the busiest time of the season. However, we’re part of the Ski Merchandising Corporation buying group, so we were able to attend our group show in Vegas before SIA, saving on expenses and seeing a ton of products firsthand.”
Gary Scharf, manager at Pinnacle Sports in Reading, Pennsylvania, says some companies wanted orders too early, before buyers had a chance to ride the new offerings. Scharf liked what he rode (and heard) at Snowshoe, commenting, “One of the things that’s great at these booths is that everyone knows a lot about their products. We particularly liked Rossignol’s graphics and K2’s new riser boards.” He also echoed Kober’s comments about the dates of SIA: “It takes more people out of our store in the really busy season and that hurts us as a retailer.”
Dennis Hack, who reps Vans, Never Summer, and Pro-Tec, felt SIA was way too early this year for the same reason. “The biggest probllem is that retailers are in the middle of the selling season and trying to pull them out of their shops isn’t going to happen,” he laments. “I think everything is going to have to be done at the regional shows now.”
At the Rossignol booth, snowboard sales associate Jon Kameen says he thought SIA went well, though he felt it was too early for many retailers to have a good idea of what had sold through and what they’d need for next year. “Except for Vegas and Stratton being so close together, I thought the new schedule went pretty well,” he says. Kameen was getting an especially strong response to the company’s new board graphics.
In the K2 tent, Michael King was moonlighting from his sales and tech job at Ski Country Sports in Banner Elk. He’s worked many shows for K2 and knows the line well. “We’re finding the regional shows are now busier than ever, and we’re getting a ton of interest in our new built-in risers, so riders with big feet don’t necessarily need wider boards.”
The always-bustling Burton booth had regional rep Buck Rowlee and lots of other staff talking the talk and sending out boards, bindings, and boots for demos. Rowlee says the new SIA dates worked well for Burton because they were able to get orders on the books earlier than ever, which could greatly improve delivery. In between loaning out demo boards, Rowlee had a chance to speculate on the state of the market: “Burton is looking for twenty-percent growth across the board. Snowboarding is growing in popularity every year and, though the weather and economy are part of the mix, we feel retailers are consolidating their snowboard buy and going more with tried and true names.”
Whatever the weather or economic conditions, retailers and reps were obviously stoked to be at Snowshoe, riding the new goods, and looking forward to next season¿when the hard work of SIA, regional shows, and on-snow demos will pay dividends.