According to the fourth annual SNOWboarding Business End-0f-Season Shop Owner/Manager Survey, business was good last season–but not quite as good as the year before.

Generally, the big are getting bigger and the small are smaller. Orders are slightly down from last year–as is sell through and margins. Inventories are slightly up, but they aren’t causing the type of concern they did in the ’96/97 survey.

Overall, however, the trend lines among the three most-recent surveys are remarkably steady, with few seismic changes in the retail landscape–despite the sometimes tumultuous consolidation the industry has gone through.

Retail Inventory Levels Generally GoodShops seemed to have sold through a similar amount of product as last year. Sixty-three percent of retailers reported inventory levels were about right or lower than expected at the end of the ’98/99 season, compared to 66 percent in ’97/98, and 47 percent at the end of ’96/97.

Just a bit more than half of the shops reported sell through as being better than 80 percent. Last year more shops (62 percent) reported this high level of sell through. During the ’96/97 season only 47 percent of shops had sell through better than 80 percent.

More retailers are ordering in-season, but the amount they are ordering remains the same.

Seventy-eight percent of retailers reported making in-season snowboard purchases last season, up from 72 percent in ’97/98 and 71 percent in ’96/97.

Anecdotal evidence says in-season reorders are helping to clear out some brand’s leftover inventory while simultaneously forcing these same brands to carry more inventory risk.

However, it appears as if retailers aren’t drastically increasing the amount they’re buying through at-once ordering. During the ’98/99 selling year, sixteen percent of total purchases were made in-season–a result similar to previous surveys.

Likewise, the result were similar when in regards to when retailers first mark down the price of their merchandise. Twenty percent offer sale prices before New Year’s Eve, 62 percent during January or February, and eighteen percent hold out until March or April.

When asked whether they sold more of their snowboard-related inventory at sale prices during the ’98/99 season compared to the season before, 35 percent said more (up six percentage points from the ’97/98 survey), 23 percent said less, and 29 percent said the same.

Throughout the industry’s consolidation, the number of brands retailers stock has remained remarkably stable. On average, retailers carry seven brands of snowboards, four brands of boots, four brands of bindings, and six brands of outerwear.

Shops Appear To Be Ordering LessSixty-eight percent of the shops say they’ve ordered fewer than 200 boards for next season, up from 55 percent in our ’97/98 survey (see chart). Half of the shops said that compared to last year, their snowboard orders were up (compared to 69 percent in the ’97/98 survey). Thirty percent said their orders were down (compared to seventeen percent in ’97/98).

Burton is the clear winner in all the categories we polled regarding top-three brands ordered and best-selling brands in the store–even nudging out Clicker and Switch as the best-selling step-in (see below).

When we asked retailers which brand they ordered the most product from, 55 percent listed Burton, with Ride trailing with thirteen percent, followed by Mervin Manufacturing with six percent, Salomon with five, and K2 and Never Summer tying with four percent each.

For the coming season, half of the responding retailers say they plan to order closeout boards (up slightly from 48 percent last year). The majority of retailers did not answer what the percentage of their total board purchase those closeout orders would b Once again, the primary brand mentioned for closeout orders was Burton, with Ride a distant second.

’98/99 Sales Information• SnowboardsForty-three percent of the shops sold fewer than 100 boards last season, up from 32 percent in the ’97/98 survey. However, sixteen percent reported selling more than 500 boards, which was up from eleven percent last year.

Half of the retailers said that compared to the ’97/98 season, their snowboard sales were up (compared to 69 percent in the ’97/98 survey). Thirty percent said sales were down (compared to 17 percent in ’97/98 survey), and twenty percent said sales were the same.

When we asked retailers to name their best-selling brand, 41 percent mentioned Burton, fifteen percent mentioned Ride, eight percent tapped Lib Tech (Gnu got three percent), and six percent gave the shout-out to Forum. Rossignol, Salomon, and Sims were each listed by five percent of the retailers as being the best seller.

“The name” was the number-one response when we asked retailers why Burton was their best-selling brand.• Strap BindingsForty percent of the retailers said their strap binding sales were up (in the’97/98 survey 51 percent said strap sales were up), and 28 percent said sales were down (compared to thirteen percent in the ’97/98 survey).

Forty-seven percent of retailers listed Burton as their best-selling strap binding, seventeen percent listed Ride, eleven percent said Drake, and six percent said Sims.• Step-in Bindings.Some in the industry insist that step-in sales are flat and strap bindings are killing it. For the most part, however, the retailers we surveyed don’t support those claims.

Sure, as volume goes, strap bindings rule. Forty-eight percent of retailers sold more than 100 strap bindings during the ’98/99 season. Only eleven percent did the same with step-ins.

Step-ins as a percentage of sales also stalled last season. In the ’96/97 survey, step-ins represented sixteen percent of binding sales. That number jumped to 23 percent during the ’97/98 season. However, step-in bindings’ percentage of sales dipped slightly to 21 percent this year. However, 64 percent of shops still listed step-in sales as being up compared to the previous season.

The Burton SI was listed by 33 percent of retailers as being the best-selling step-in, followed by Clicker with 26 percent, and Switch with 25 percent.• Boot SalesNot surprisingly, retailers said step-in boots accounted for 21 percent of sales. Fifty-four percent of retailers said boot sales were up compared to the previous season (69 percent said so in the ’97/98 survey). The majority of shops (52 percent) sold between 61 and 200 pairs of snowboard boots last season.

Betcha can’t guess which brand was the best-seller. Whoa, you’re good! Twenty-one percent of retailers listed Burton as the best-selling brand of boots, followed by Northwave (sixteen percent), 32 (nine percent), Heelside (nine percent), DC (eight percent), Vans (seven percent), Salomon (seven percent), Ride (seven percent), and Airwalk (five percent).

Who We PolledThe survey was sent out to more than 650 snowboard retailers across the country–almost all of whom are specialty retailers. The response rate was approximately fifteen percent.

Sixty-seven percent of responding shops operate a single retail operation–a nearly identical result as the previous three surveys.

Twenty-eight percent of the respondents were from the Pacific Northwest, 24 percent were from the Northeast, sixteen percent were Southwest stores, with the Midwest, Southeast, and Rocky Mountains accounting for thirteen, twelve, and seven-percent of respondents, respectively.

The average size of the shops responding inched up slightly this year. Last year, 60 percent of respondents operated a store smaller than 5,000 square feet. That number dropped to 47 percent this year. Last year, only one percent of respondents’ stores were larger than 10,000 square feet. That number jumped to ten percent this year.

Six percent of respondents listed themselves as snowboard-only shops. Forty-eight percent listed their shop as being a skate/snowboard/surf shop, and 24 percent said they were a ski/snowboard shop.

Of the shops responding, 79 percent also sold skateboards, 56 percent sold wakeboards, 28 percent sold Alpine skis, 27 percent sold surfboards, 26 percent sold in-line skates, 22 percent sold camping/hiking equipment, and twenty percent sold bicycles.pondents operated a store smaller than 5,000 square feet. That number dropped to 47 percent this year. Last year, only one percent of respondents’ stores were larger than 10,000 square feet. That number jumped to ten percent this year.

Six percent of respondents listed themselves as snowboard-only shops. Forty-eight percent listed their shop as being a skate/snowboard/surf shop, and 24 percent said they were a ski/snowboard shop.

Of the shops responding, 79 percent also sold skateboards, 56 percent sold wakeboards, 28 percent sold Alpine skis, 27 percent sold surfboards, 26 percent sold in-line skates, 22 percent sold camping/hiking equipment, and twenty percent sold bicycles.