Retail Profiles: Exit Real World, Oregon

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Salem, OR 97301

(503) 585-3948

www.exitrealworld.com

EXIT Real World was founded in Salem, Oregon in 1993 by Missy Samiee and her then good friend Jake Hauswirth. Since then, the two have expanded their retail space by opening three additional locations in Portland, Tigard and Government Camp – and they’ve also expanded their family; a few years after opening the flagship store, Samiee and Hauswirth were married and now have two children, with one on the way.

EXIT has about 30 employees, which varies seasonally, and with the launch of its online store in 2004, the couple has their hands full managing each branch of the store and sales via the website, according to Samiee. Hauswirth heads up the entire online charge, while Samiee spends her days traveling to each location to spend time on the sales floor or managing operations out of the store’s main office and warehouse in Salem.

“From the beginning, it's always been my goal to have EXIT looking super clean – almost boutique like, but not so much that it scares away the skateboarders,” Samiee says.

TransWorld Business had a chance to catch up with Samiee recently, and find out a little more about how things have been going at EXIT.

Missy Samiee

You must stay pretty busy between the four store locations and managing the website. Do you lean on your employees a lot for help?

Luckily, these days we now have the world's best merchandiser, Anna Riegels who goes from store to store and carries out my mission. Her official job is merchandising and window displays, but as one of the most hardworking people on our staff, she's really involved with a bit of everything at EXIT.

We feel that our stores are in great hands and really want the store managers to run the shops like it was their own. "Letting go" has been a bit of a challenge for Jake and I as we are the type of people who if we want something done, we'll tend to just do it ourselves. Given the multiple locations of today's EXIT, I've come to terms with this just not being possible. I'm starting to be pretty good at delegating, checking progress and giving feedback/change requests as necessary. This approach has really helped me to be able to spend time with our family and still have EXIT!

How big are the stores?
Most of our stores are around 3,000 square feet.

How did you end up owning your own store?
My family has a small chain of camera stores. My brothers and I were always expected to help out after school and on school breaks. I'm not sure how much of a "help" we were, but it definitely got us in the working mode from an early age. With his years of experience, my dad has been a big help to me with EXIT – he's always there with a bit of advice, even nearly 16 years later.

What's the significance of the name?
EXIT real world means getting out there, enjoying life, and not letting day to day craziness get in the way.  I'm always reminded of what the name means when I'm snowboarding and looking from the top of the mountain out over our beautiful world.  It's this sense of pure bliss, that Jake and I hope we can share with EXIT's customers!

What percentage of your business is online vs. brick and mortar?
We treat the online store just as we do the shops…  It has a separate manager, Gabe Davis, it's own staff, etc.  At this point, the numbers are fairly equal to the other shops.  We are hoping to continue growing our web business rather than opening additional stores.

What products are currently your top performers online?
This is a pretty tough question due to the cost differences of these items.  Because snow product is generally so much more expensive than skate product, our budget is about 3 times larger for snow, than it is for skate.  However, if you go into our shops, you'll see a big wall of decks, and the customers will most likely look like skate boarders. On a day to day level, the skate guys keep us going (especially in Salem) with their small purchases, and the snow guys help our cash flow with their bigger (though less frequent) buys.

What are the top three most profitable product categories?
EXIT clothing and accessories
Snow clothing
Men's clothing
Top three best selling brands from each category?
Snow: Holden, Airblaster, Burton,
Men's: Matix, RVCA, Volcom

Who are the top three sales reps that service your store, and why?

Jak Green of (Bonfire/Salomon/Skullcandy. He always follows through with our requests whether it's getting a credit for an over-priced freight shipment, changing out a slow moving product or providing help for a sale.  He's definitely "reps" the companies he works for, and keeps us wanting to increase our business with him!

Anne and Ken Everaert of Podium. They are always very supportive of our special events and provide team riders and promo product whenever they can.  I also really appreciate that they personally take time out of their schedules to visit our stores, and help at our sales and events.

Dustin Anderson (Burton) because he helps us in so many ways, from making sales (when he's at the shops) to providing fixtures for sidewalk sales. Whatever we need, he's always willing to provide an extra set of hands.  Dustin is the small business owner's dream rep!

What has been the single best-selling brand over the past six months?
Holden

What's your overall description of the local market over the past six months?
The last 6 months have been an eye opening experience!   Going into 2009, we purchased pretty heavily.  Feeling that this was a mistake, we made a handful of early cuts to our winter orders.  Although certain brands didn't like this, these changes really saved us, as we quickly found out that winter would be full of challenges.  First, we had no snow, then we had a week of frozen-snow-city-ice like you would not believe – and of course this all hit the weeks before and after Christmas!  To top it off, the national economy situation hit us pretty hard, too.  All in all, the last few months have forced us into understanding our business more clearly than we have in the recent past.   Words like scheduling, budget, and expense cuts are familiar to our staff now.  Such words before were really only things that Jake and I, as owners were left to deal with.  Thru this, I think that our current staff is willing and able to do their part to support EXIT.

What do you see, in a macro sense, as far as the retail landscape? Is it still tough, getting tougher, or is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
It's still tough, but I think we are prepared to weather the storm.

Have you altered the way you buy for 09? If so, how?
Yes, we have reduced our pre-book orders and built in a budget for "at once orders" – something we've really never done before. If we sell through our stock, we will then tap into this extra budget and chase product that is working for us. If we don't sell through the pre-book product, we will hopefully at least have less inventory to pay for than we did this year.

Are you working closer with any particular brands?
More than ever, we are paying attention to brands that are lending us a helping hand. Those that have been willing to provide mark down dollars, exchange slow moving products for faster selling ones, and help us through this slow period by extending terms are our new favorite vendors. And, like an elephant, we never forget. So, these companies are definitely forming a special place in our heart right now.

What are some things brands are doing to work with your shop (demos, SMU's, Colorways, etc.?)
We definitely are into working with our vendors on demos. EXIT has a new marketing manager, Eric Wall (formerly Tum Yeto team and marketing manager) that is really helping us spread the skate word.
We love doing special product collaborations with our key vendors.  In the past we have done such work with Oakley, Volcom, Burton, Airblaster, and Pendleton.  This is a fun extension, as it allows us to put EXIT's name on something that we would not be able to manage (production, minimums, etc.) on our own.

You advertise a lot of deals and sales on the site—"No sales tax and free shipping over $100," "50 hours, 50% Off"—how important to your business are the sales and deals, and has that level of importance increased lately?

We've definitely increased our "sales" events this year.  This for sure has been in response to economic issues. In a normal year, we do more traditional sales: Anniversary, Thanksgiving weekend, Memorial weekend, etc.  With the market issues forcing us to be more creative, we have found success with some of these new events.   Hopefully, the future will be a little mix of both our old and new promos!

What's the level of importance placed on the team? I see you have some "names" on there, how do you use them in your shop's marketing, advertising, etc?
Over the years, we've made friends with some talented people who are nice enough to let us call them EXIT team members.  Both our skate and snow teams are a mix of the top local riders/skaters with a few "names" sprinkled in there recognizable to those outside of our own circle.  We feel that our team is really just an extension of our EXIT family… when they are in town, they visit our shops and consider EXIT their home.  When they are out doing their thing, we feel really lucky that they spread the EXIT word by wearing our product and putting our stickers on their boards!

On your site I see you have a "staff page," which I think is a great idea—what are the ways the shop benefits from that?
At EXIT, we feel our staff is our number one asset. Many of our staff have been with us for years – Rob Aragon, EXIT's main buyer, for instance has been with EXIT for 12 years now. The staff page on our site really gives our staff a chance to tell the world a little bit about themselves.  They are able to say a few words, post pictures, videos, etc.  They can also pick their favorite products and actually promote stuff that they wear/ride.

It's kind of funny, sometimes when people call the stores, they'll ask who they are talking to, and then they'll look the person up on our site.  It really helps to be able to picture who you are talking with!  We want our online shoppers to be able to have as personalized attention as our in-store customers and this is one way we try to make this happen.
The staff page was part of a major website upgrade that came to fruition about a year ago.  It's definitely a work in progress, but we are excited to have this new tool.

I noticed ERW holds a lot of events, such as the school skate tour. How often does the shop hold something like that? What's the return you see on it? What kinds of events do you have planned for the rest of the year?
We LOVE to do events!  The EXIT Skate Tour is new, and so far has been a great success.  Our main hope from this event series is to promote skateboarding as a positive after school activity.  Coming up for summer, we have plans for a few Mt. Hood events featuring our snow team at our Government Camp store.  We also will have one of our favorite events, the fun and very grass roots style, EXIT Skate Classic (#6), in August.   In the fall, we have our Anniversary snowboard parties (this year we are turning 16!).  At our birthday party, we rent a theater, invite our reps, team riders, pros, etc., show some new films and give a ton of product away.  This is the biggest event we do each year, and luckily it usually draws a crowd.  At the end of the night it seems everyone leaves excited for the upcoming snow season.

Measuring the return on events is always a bit tough to do.  Mostly, we do events purely for the sake of promoting the things we love – skate and snowboarding.   Planning, managing, setting up and pulling off an event is never easy, but just seeing
how stoked the kids get at our parties/events make it all worth while!!

With more than just one store these days, we rely so heavily on our staff to carry out EXIT's original mission – to provide a cool but super friendly environment, showcasing the best in snow, skate and style!  We have a handful of key people that we'd like to thank for making this happen:
Rob Aragon (Main buyer)
Gabe Davis (Web manager)
Josh Bond (Portland store manager)
Kevin Nimick (Bridgeport Village store manager)
Sheena Darling (Salem store manager)
Chris Metcalf (Government Camp store manager)
Colin Brownsberger (Inventory and accounting)
Chelsea O'Connor (Office manager)
Eric Wall (Marketing manager)
Anna Riegels (Merchandising)

With their help, we hope to take EXIT into the next decade prepared for the future, but still holding true to what originally got us into this business –  pure love for skate and snowboarding!