Snowboard Industry Conference-Day Two: Bad/Good Economic News

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Do you want the good news or the bad news first? That was the vibe during the second workshop at this year’s 12th Annual TransWorld Snowboarding Industry Conference (dubbed the Wilderness Survival Camp) held in Alyeska, Alaska.

Titled “Boom or Bust? An In-Depth Look At Snowboarding’s Economy,” the panel moderated by Burton National Sales Manager Clark Gundlach, touched on current snowboard participation numbers, sales figures from snowboard shops, and Wall Street’s opinion on the snowboarding industry.

Tim White, the education director for the National Ski Areas Association, kicked things off with an overview of the role of his organization, then talked about the current season. While 9-11 definitely had a negative impact on the travel industry and destination resort business, the larger impact will be on the insurance side, he says. 9-11 has turned out to be the most expensive event ever to effect the insurance industry, and unfortunately, those costs will be passed on to ski resorts, which rely heavily on insurance companies.

But the overall determiner of whether the ski year was good or bad always comes down to snow and this year wasn’t a good one for snowfall. “When there’s a slow start to the season, it’s hard to build momentum for the rest of the year,” he says. The organization is predicting that overall participation this year will be slightly less than the twenty-year average of 52-million skier visits. This will mean that the overall number will be down considerably from last year’s record year of 57.3-million visits.

While business appears to be down, White believes that current demographics in the United States favor continued growth in snowboarding, which now accounts for almost 30 percent of all skier visits. Additionally, the demand for snowboard lessons exceeds supply. Ski resorts have also seen huge increases in snow deck participation this year. At the pinnacle of the sport, Mountain High in Southern California recorded that its snowboard participation has reached 90 percent this year, due to its ability to attract the urban Los Angeles market and minorities to its slopes.

Jim Spring, owner of Bolder, Colorado based Leisure Trends which tconducts the annual SIA Retail Audits, discussed the current year’s sales figures. Through February, snowboard equipment sales at specialty shops are up fifteen percent in units and 7.2 percent in dollars. However, chain stores have seen sales go down eighteen percent in units and 25 percent in dollars. This isn’t that bad, considering that specialty stores still account for almost 70 percent of all snowboard sales. However, at both levels there’s been a huge drop in the average retail price of equipment.

Although snowboard equipment sales account for 29 percent of all winter-sports sales this year, Spring predicts that within five years, the snowboarding market could be half the winter market. He says while the snowboard industry has done great job of marketing to the youth, the ski industry is still marketing to the Baby Boomers and will continue to lose customers.

In a related survey conducted by Leisure Trends, Spring notes that 32 percent of the total U.S. population saw the Salt Lake Olympic Halfpipe competition. Of that percentage, 18.6-million people said they wanted to try snowboarding after viewing the Olympic event, which could be a huge growth opportunity for the sport.

James Palczynski, a principal from the investor relations and corporate consulting firm Integrated Corporate Relations, Inc., added some financial insight from outside the snowboard industry. He says Wall Street has a natural aversion to seasonal businesses such as ones found in snowboarding, but is looking for more seasonally diversified companies and brands that ccan stay core while growing to the mainstream.

Quiksilver, Columbia, Oakley, and Vans are all prime examples of companies that have been able to grow outside of the traditional action-sports markets, while still staying true to their core customers and shops.

He says the rebound in consumer markets has been very fast from the recession and 9-11. The main reason is because retailers acted quickly clearing inventory with heavy sales that helped increase manufacturers’ orders again. Manufacturers have also responded by changing the way they do business, and are carrying less inventory and building more merchandise for at-once orders.

He says Wall Street is still looking to back smart businesses in the action-sports market. These companies should have 30 to 40 percent of their sales in core shops. With the pace of globalization, there’s increasing opportunities to grow globally, and Wall Street is looking for companies that are willing to expand the lifestyle attraction of their businesses, not just focus on the sports themselves

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