Words and Photos by Karuna Eberl
Ask the majority of sales reps at the WWSRA Rocky Mountain Winter Market in Denver how the event was going, and chances were they’d say, “Great.” Tell them they were lying and they’d lean closer, lower their voices and say, “OK, off the record, no one’s buying.”
That somber but optimistic atmosphere prevailed at the February 12–15 show. Some of the optimism came from blaming slow sales on the mixed-up trade show dates and the national events of the last six months.
“This season is so screwy with shows,” says World Industries Rockies sales rep Steve Norwood. “There’s a little bit of business here and a little bit of business there, but there’s no focal point. Luckily for me I have a product that people want regardles—World Industries just sells on graphics, being a kids’ product. But I have talked to some dealers and they’re a little sketch on this season.”
WWSRA estimates 1,236 buyers came to the show from 434 stores and more than 200 reps showed off hundreds more product lines. All in all, numbers were up slightly from last year, though many reps said the ones that counted—the sales numbers—were not.
Despite the apparent drop in sales, it seemed to be the dry spell in the weather that was really grating on everyone’s nerves. Dan Andres, buyer for Great Adventure Sports in Breckenridge, was shopping for split boards, which his backcountry shop uses for rentals. When asked about the state of the snowpack this year, he laughed: “The word on the street is Siberia is the shit; it has the deep powder this year.”
Heelside sales rep Gabe Serlen wished for the white, too. “I figured we were gonna have the show this week and it would dump in the mountains.”
And, finally, snowflakes did fall. The night before the show ended the resorts received half a foot, while Denver saw a dusting—and show attendees got something to smile about.
Several sales reps, including Serlen and Arbor’s Shane Kanderis, noted that while dollars were down, the number of accounts was up. “A lot of retailers are diversifying their lines,” Kanderis says, adding the trend would probably allow niche lines like Arbor to maintain its market.
While some booths spent hours without a soul in them—not even sales reps—the scene was 180 degree difference for others. Nidecker, Arc’teryx, Burton, Ride, and Never Summer were among the booths that maintained a steady stream of people throughout the show. And though some retailers were cutting back orders, others said business wasn’t bleak at all.
“Business is up from last year,” says Charles Chastain, a buyer for Aspen-based Alternative Edge. “After a new shop moved into town and with September 11 we were concerned—but so far it’s been great.”
Clothing and accessories, as usual, made up the majority of the booths. Some lines drawing attention included 686, Demon accessories and the new Gore adjustable insulation Airvantage system, being used in just a smattering of lines. Fog Off anti-fog product, a six-year-old Colorado-based company that made its show debut during the event, also drew positive comments.
Arc’teryx clothing, which fuses its technical mountaineering heritage with its snowboard-style garments, has enjoyed a particularly strong show season with Denver being no exception, says sales rep Michael Downing.
“It makes you want to take your clothes off,” says Steve Hyde, a buyer for Sangre de Cristo Mountain Works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Hyde was taking his own advice, hiding behind a clothing rack in the Arc’teryx booth, slipping on a few sample duds.
For hardgoods, P-tex sidewalls drew attention for their strength and ease to repair. Gear packages, especially pricepoint ones, boosted orders. And small, unusual innovations were a draw, like Burton’s foldout boot ice spikes and a number of companies’ accessory pockets for MP3 and CD players.
As for what’s going to sell, Chastain says, “Ride and Burton, of course. The big dogs are still looking tight. And Rossi, which I never thought I’d say.” He added that Rossi’s gained some clout with customers after placing in the X-Games earlier this year.
Todd Fellows, buyer for Ski House in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, had a different take on the subject. After spending an especially long time rifling through all of the pockets and features of the Burton backpack he demonstrates his ability to retain a sales pitch. “This is the Receiver, retail 110 dollars,” he said displaying the pack. “It’s got a removable man purse and so many components it’s really a back brief. I like it.”