The early October opening of a Snowboard Asylum outlet in London's famous Kensington High Street further strengthened the chain's position as the dominant United Kingdom snowboard retailer.
As in many of its ten locations, Snowboard Asylum shares the 25,000-square-foot store with its specialty outdoor retailer parent company, Ellis Brigham.
However, with the Snowboard Asylum's retail concession at Tamworth (the U.K.'s highly successful indoor snow dome), a deal signed for the concession at the far-larger indoor slope scheduled to be built at Milton Keynes next year, plus a store at Aviemore (the largest U.K. ski area,) and stores now open in two of London's most famous shopping districts, Snowboard Asylum has little fear of being overshadowed by its parent.
In fact the Snowboard-Asylum controlled potion of the new High Street store is located at the rear of the space with a minimum of signage or atmosphere to indicate a large snowboard retailer.
“We don't want to intimidate the average customer, so we cater to them without alienating the extremes,” says Chief Buyer Jeremy Sladon. “Even within London there are very different markets. Our key business at this location will be the local residents of a large and very affluent area of the city. We expect our customers to be older than the average snowboard buyer. The families and the financial industry types who live around here think nothing of flying to Switzerland for the weekend and dropping 1,500 dollars on a new setup before they go.”
In comparison, the chain's Covent Garden store, located in a glitzy retail-as-tourism environment, attracts kids from all over London as well as from the densely populated south of England. Meanwhile, the group's Manchester store, with its loud music and videos, is instantly recognizable as a local 'core store.
“Despite the lack of visuals in the High Street location, the way the store is merchandised draws people back toward the snowboard section,” explains Sladon, who points to the softgoods racks.
“We only have two small displays of dedicated skiwear, which point customers straight into snowboard apparel,” he says. “Skiwear is ugly and expensive, and so even skiers quickly move past it to the snowboard section. We sell equal amounts of snowboard clothing to snowboarders and skiers. We also sell a lot of snowboard apparel as streetwear.”
Despite its dominant position in the U.K., with only the BoardWise chain offering any real competition, Snowboard Asylum takes pains to encourage the overall market.
“We try to reach out to smaller stores and establish good relationships,” says Sladon. “It helps the entire U.K. industry if we're cooperative. For example, many small stores use our catalog.”
Otherwise sales realities in the U.K. are similar to the rest of the world.
“We're in a position where the margins on softgoods provide our profits,” Sladon says, “but we rely on our knowledge of hardgoods to differentiate the store from our competitors.”
While Snowboard Asylum sells a range of major brands, Sladon mentions that Sims looks as if it will be selling well in the coming season. He adds that Silence remains a strong U.K. brand due to its high-profile U.K. team, and that Forum is poised to replicate the success it's found in the United States.
“Peter Line walked into our Covent Garden store yesterday completely unannounced,” says Sladon. “He talked to the staff and signed some boards. We sold all those boards by the end of the day.”
The next step for the Snowboard Asylum is to extend its marketing tie-in with American Skiing Company by launching its own travel agency service. Log on to www.snowboarding-online.com for more information.