Are Concept Stores The Future Of Retail?

Imagine walking into a snowboard shop where the products are beautifully displayed by brand. Burton snowboards are stacked neatly under a giant placard bearing the company logo. Westbeach apparel is hung with care on a rack topped by a giant maple leaf, with Morrow snowboards on an adjacent display accented by a motocross bike. Is this notion of organization and personality coupled with product presentation too far fetched for the snowboard industry? Think again.

The benefits of good merchandising are numerous and more retailers are catching on. “We’re out there pounding the merchandising drum,” says Clark Gundlach, national sales manager for Burton. “Merchandising and sell-through are brothers; they go hand in hand.”

Though the idea of bringing in manufacturer-designed displays sounds appealing, the high cost can still be a major deterrent for some retailers. Two stores on opposite coasts, however, have devised their own ways to bring in products and displays, without taking a huge financial risk.

At Showcase Snowboards in Whistler, B.C. manufacturers were offered floor space to display their product with their own company feel. “We buy and sell the product just like any other retail shop,” says Graham Turner, snowboard buyer for Showcase. “We merchandise it, but the manufacturers supply the fixtures.”

According to Bryan Johnston, national sales manager for Salomon, the decision to be in Showcase was obvious: “The Whistler/Blackcomb store was an easy partnership for Salomon because of the amount of business we do with them more than justifies us being in there. It’s a win-win situation.”

Concepts in Boston, Massachusetts has also taken the shop-in-shop format, featuring each brand individually. But instead of bringing in the manufacturers displays, the shop uses its own fixturing. John Eskow, United States sales manager for Nitro Snowboards says this store has also turned merchandising into profits: “When they started with this idea, they really highlighted the products. They’ve had 100-percent sell-through because they’ve done such a good job with presentation.”

The concept shop idea is nothing new. The North Face has been doing it for years with their Summit shops. The question is, is this something snowboard retailers can, and should, pull off?

Gundlach says yes: “At Showcase we get great merchandising and great sell-through. This is a store that has gone in and committed to merchandising and has done a great job.

“Dealers are becoming more focused on merchandising because they see it pays off,” Gundlach adds. “We spend an enormous amount of money on displays and POPs. We’ve made fixtures and signs available to all our dealers and much of what’s on display in the Whistler store is available to all our dealers.”

But the Whistler shop is a unique situation. Whistler/Blackcomb is a huge destination resort that sees traffic from across the globe. “We sell a lot of product to the world,” Turner says. “That’s why a lot of suppliers are keen on getting involved with us. We’re such a showpiece for the world. It’s probably a little different setting up a concept store in downtown Vancouver.”

Gundlach concurs that its international draw is an advantage to partnering with Showcase. “For a company to go in and commit to Showcase is different than committing to a store in another location that doesn’t have the high international travel,” Gundlach says. “The store attracts travelers from around the world and has impacts on many markets. We see it as an international investment rather than a typical retail situation.”

Salomon products are sold at both Showcase and Concepts, and Johnston notes that these stores are not the norm. “The Concepts store is in the heart of the foot traffic of downtown Boston, so we get firsthand input from people who aren’t our typical customer,” he says “We get first hand retail experience being in a shop like this.”

Johnston also notes that many retailers are becoming more savvy whhen it comes to properly displaying product: “I see a lot of retailers looking for ways to upgrade and personalize their shop. For us, the question is how do you plug the right POP and merchandising mix into that shop so it makes money. Nothing comes for free and POP is expensive.”

Burton outweighs the cost of the displays by the benefits they can have for the dealer. “We have huge merchandising packages that we put into all our dealers this year,” Gundlach says. “The bigger the order, the bigger the merchandising package. In some stores we’ve got huge merchandising areas.

“We’re definitely committed to merchandising-we’re making the commitment and moving forward.”

Another company that’s making strides in merchandising is Quiksilver. It’s created its own retail outlets with its Boardriders Clubs, and set up many shop-in-shop areas called Quik Vills. Gregg Solomon, director of Boardriders and retail concepts, says both of these work as marketing tools for Quiksilver. “With the Quik Vills we secure primary real estate within the shop and use it to present our image to the customer,” he says. “We’ve found that if you have good merchandising it increases your sell-through and turnover.”

In fact, Solomon went so far as to state that sales of Quiksilver product have been known to increase anywhere from 30 to 60 percent in a shop after a Quik Vill has been set up. Though each retail situation is different, he adds, the company works with individual dealers on a co-op basis, sharing the cost of building the fixtures.

The twelve Boardriders Clubs in the United States (and many more internationally) continue to perpetuate Quiksilver’s image by giving shoppers an opportunity to view all the products the company offers. “It’s a great marketing tool and creates more energy for our products,” Solomon says.

So are concept stores the future of snowboard retailing? Not without a major financial commitment. But read on to see how these two stores have made it work.