Utah Tour, Shop 4: Blindside

TransWorld SNOWboarding Business hit the road this winter to visit shops and get a real sense of what’s going on in the marketplace. Utah was the first stop in mid March.

Salt Lake City has been a snowboarding hub for years, and there are many shops addressing the market. Most this year cited the lack of early snow, the opening of new shops, and the Olympics as problems in the market. Despite these downfalls, there are also some bright spots.

Here’s what one had to say:

Blindside Company, Salt Lake City, Utah

It’s not normal for snowboard shop owners to get ideas from retail giants like DKNY and Niketown stores, but that’s just what Tom Lee and Chad Nelson have done with Blindside Company, the four-store chain of skate and snowboard shops in Salt Lake, Ogdon, and Layton, Utah.

The newest store in a ritzy Salt Lake City shopping district, is next to retail giants Old Navy, Borders Books, and a Rubio’s taco shop. Sometimes location does make a difference. Nelson admits that the rent is high, but the built-in walk-through traffic makes up for it.

It’s a big step from six years ago, when Lee opened his first shop in a hole-in-the wall with a mere 15,000 dollars. But with retail smarts and a supreme sense for merchandising, the business has continued to expand through this year. Nelson was a manager in one of the first stores, then became a partner in the company’s expansion.

The newest Salt Lake City store itself is one of the most dynamically merchandised skateboard/snowboard shops in the nation. With a huge skate-shoe wall that would make Emilda Marcos envious wrapping around a DJ station in one corner, a mini skate ramp visible through a large glass wall at the other end, and huge fish tanks mounted behind the cash register area, the visual stimulation is all around customers.

Promotions are a big part of the shop’s success and Blindside holds one each month. One successful event was a boxing match, where the audience had to donate a can of food for charity to watch. “Charity work gets publicity,” says Nelson, point blank.

Other past promotions included a benefit for Tim Ostler, annual video premieres, and the famed blowing of 1,000 one-dollar bills from the roof with a leaf blower. The parking lot was packed for that one.

Although the shop is stocked full of snowboards, the focus is clear. “We’re a skateboard shop that sells snowboards,” says Nelson

Nelson says one of the keys to merchandising is the shop’s decision to only carry six snowboard brands per category. For snowboard hardgoods this includes Forum, M3, Lib Tech/Gnu, Burton, Ride, and Capita–because of the owner’s relationship with Jason Brown.

Softgood highlights include Foursquare, Special Blend, and Burton. The store also has a huge Volcom selection, with one of the largest metal Volcom Stone displays in the nation located in one corner of the store.

The shop also likes to support the rider-owned, team-driven brands, says Nelson. Technine Bindings is one of those. It doesn’t hurt that two of Technine’s main teamriders, J2 and Ali Goulet, also ride for the shop, and that Technine marketing and team managers live right up the street.

Although Nelson says 80 percent of his customers are male, the women’s market is growing in the store and the shop has a dedicated women’s clothing section.

Even though Blindside is thriving, Nelson still points out that the Utah area is saturated with snowboard shops making distribution a big issue with reps and lines. “Utah is like the Bloods and the Crips,” he says. “It’s very niche.” Because of this, there are definitely several lines Blindside can’t carry in the SLC store, although it could in its other locations.

He feels that the major issues in the industry right now include brands customer service to the shops. “There are enough good companies to pick and choose from, so go deep with six of them,” he recommends. But if someone isn’t providing adequate service, he won’t hesitate to drop them and pick up another brand.

“Retailers need to hold their ground on the companies,” says Nelson. He says kids will come into the shop to bitch about the products, and it’s nice to get the support from the brands to then back up his decisions.

One of the most important marketing venues for the shop is the team. The Blindside team includes some of the best local/national riders, including Ali Goulet, Bobby Meeks, J2, Tina Dixon, Jessica Dalpiaz, Katrina Voultianen, Neal Provo, James Roundy, Andy Forgash, and other young rippers.