Midwest Report

Kyle Cabaya, manager of Alternative Bike and Board in Minneapolis, Minnesota says there’s been a lot of consolidation in his area. A large retailer with five stores recently went out of business. Even though there are still some smaller chain stores around Minneapolis, he says snowboard specialty shops are still strong: while ski shops are hurting from old inventory, low cash flow, and falling sales. There’s been no need to cut prices, he says, since discounters couldn’t last-they offered no service, no warranties, and the small board companies they carried went out of business.

Alternative Bike and Board carries brands such as Burton, Solomon, K2, Nitro, and Grind. It’s avoiding competitive mistakes by providing service with an in-house grinder, overnight tune-ups, and lifetime warranties. If a customer with a warranty has a blown edge or needs a tune-up, the shop only charges five dollars-something that also brings customers back.

Jocelyne Ninneman, assistant manager at Corky’s Surf Shop in Roseville, Michigan, also says customer service is an advantage for her shop. Corky’s opened two additional stores in high-traffic areas and there are only two other snowboard shops nearby. The closest chain competition is a ski store that added more snowboard inventory. Corky’s has addressed its situation with increased customer service. By adding mailing lists, company demos, shows, swap meets twice a year, and giveaways, Ninneman says, “We have more continuous business where the others get one or two visits a year.”

According to Beth Mackey, assistant manager of Flying Fish, in Madison, Wisconsin, competition has grown enormously in the last year in their area. This season alone a variety of non-snowboarding stores have started to carry snowboards. In addition, there has been an influx of large discount stores moving into the community. “Early sales are down,” says Mackey. “We’re in the stages of ‘gotta do something’.” There is also competition coming from low prices on the Internet, which is tough on Flying Fish’s meet-or-beat policy. Mackey says, “We’ve always been big on customers.” So the shop’s customer service includes a large mailing list, coupons, and swap meets.

“There’s no such thing as a specialty snowboard shop in this part of the world,” says Michael Boatwright, manager of St. Bernard Sports in Dallas, Texas. The stores in Boatwright’s area carry a variety of products because of their sunbelt location. The past few years have shown an increase in competition-however, if anything his prices have gone up. According to Boatwright, the big chain stores carry snowboards but try to sell them when they don’t know anything about them. With brands such as Burton, K2, and Lib Tech, Boatwright pays to have riders/technicians trained to know what they are talking about.

Amos Kolbo, the seventeen-year-old owner of Amos’ Fifth Board Shop, says his is the only specialty board shop in North Dakota. Some other stores carry boards, however, Kolbo feels his exclusivity puts a damper on everyone else. This has also given him an advantage in obtaining more brands. Kolbo’s prices are the lowest, and he says this has forced competition to drop their prices. His shop offers tune-ups, warranties, and repairs as part of their customer service.