World Boards, Bozeman, Montana
It’s Thursday, February 6, and the sign on the door at World Boards in Bozeman, Montana says, “We are closed today due to reasons of pow.” The “pow” in question is the latest storm dropping a total of five feet of fresh at nearby Bridger Bowl. In some towns this move might be retail suicide, but amongst the Bozeman demographic of parents who pull their kids out of school, doctors who write themselves sick notes, and Montana State University students and professors elbowing their way through the lift lines on powder days, it’s retail genius. Bozeman is a college town of 31,520, including 11,760 MSU students, with Bridger Bowl ski area just thirteen miles to the north and Big Sky Resort 30 miles to the south. And in these parts, the powder day closure just further signifies World Boards as a ‘core shop for snowboarders, by snowboarders.
Since Jay Moore and former partner Ian Ford first opened the shop in September of 1993, it has expanded from a one-room shop with four employees in a house on Main Street to a full-service specialty shop with 1,700 square feet of handcrafted retail space and thirteen employees. This past summer Moore and his staff renovated a 425-square-foot new room, which now houses snowboards, bindings, helmets, and packs. In addition to the main hat Moore wears as store owner, he also doubles as the store carpenter and electrician. His carpentry skills are evident throughout the shop from the delicate binding display to the custom-built helmet wall. Over the years he has gutted the Main Street house adding retail and storage space wherever he can find it. Seventy percent of World Boards’ business is in snowboards, rentals, and shop work, with skateboarding accounting for the rest.
In 1987, Moore and his wife Lori uprooted from his Los Angeles skateboarding roots to be in the snow. Moving to Montanta, Moore taught snowboarding at Bridger Bowl from 1989 to ’91. “I was their first instructor,” Moore laughs. “I talked the ski-school director into giving me a shot after convincing him that snowboarding was ‘gonna be big.’
“I was able to ride five or six days a week for three years while being an instructor,” he continues. “I rode so much my toes went numb and my toenails turned black. Experience using crappy old-school equipment really makes me appreciate the killer stuff we have today.” Moore was even responsible for originating the MSU snowboard class-probably the easiest credit any MSU grad ever earned.
Moore’s snowboard roots, however, spread further than his work as an instructor. Through a connection made with Greg Johnson at the first judging clinic in Vail in ’93 (the same year he was getting the shop off the ground), Moore got a taste of judging snowboard contests. “With my skating background I knew many of the tricks’ names and difficulties because I also rode a bunch,” he says. “I grew up in the era when many of the tricks were invented-the first ollie, the first McTwist, rocket airs, et cetera, so the transition to snow was really easy.”
Since then, Moore has judged several World Cups, the U.S. Open twice, a few National Championships, the X-Games, as well as being head judge of the Junior Worlds, the Nippon Open, Toyota Big Air, two U.S. Nationals, several Grand Prix, and two World Championships. Judging at these events has helped keep Moore abreast on “what’s up” in the snowboard industry-one of the biggest potential challenges of running a snowboard shop in this remote corner of Montana.
Rep visits are minimal here, and the industry epicenter is about 1,200 miles away, so Moore has to actively keep up on the latest in snowboarding. Attending trade shows, keeping up with industry contacts, and his large group of twenty or so teamriders, including Rob Kingwell, Justin Mooney, Mike Rosengren (2003 X-Games Boardercross bronze medalist), and Jason Schutz keeps him and his staff informed.
From the day he opened the shop, he signed local rippers onto the snowboard team: “I wanted a team for the grassroots, family aspect of the store. I firmly believe if you surround yourself with legit, honest, and creative people then you’ll benefit. Our team over the years has remained strong, and many of them aren’t very well known. I benefit from the good word put out by the team and the input they have on gear.”
Moore further promotes snowboarding locally as a major supporter of Bridger Bowl’s Shred O’ Fest, Big Sky’s Thrash-N-Bash, and Showdown Ski Area’s Montana Snowboard Championships, as well as hosting movie premieres, GNFAC Avalanche Center awareness fund-raisers, and supporting the Big Sky Youth Empowerment Program (BYEP) to get at-risk kids out on the slopes shredding. He also started pumping out stickers. No car in Bozeman (or within a two-hour radius) with a snowboard rack on it is without a World Boards sticker.Over the last ten years, the amount of product the shop carries has increased, but the number of brands represented has shrunk. Moore has made a point of weeding through it all and narrowing down the choices for his customers. World Boards carries Burton, Nitro, Palmer, Arbor, Option, Ride, Elevation, Santa Cruz, Never Summer, Lib Technologies, Gnu, and Supernatural snowboards; and Burton, Northwave, ThirtyTwo, and DC boots. The store also stocks Da Kine, Clive, Burton, and Arc’teryx technical packs as well as Red, 457 Backcountry, Ortovox, and DTS Tracker backcountry equipment. “We try to carry what’s the best of the best for the price and quality,” he says. World Boards’ high-end outerwear is Arc’teryx and Burton; for mid, it’s Burton, Sessions, and NFA; and the lower-end pricepoints are stocked with Burton, Sessions, and Volcom.
“The brands that continue to make quality product are the ones that continue to grace our shelves,” Moore says. “We feel that we carry the best product available in the industry. All of us in the store ride, and ride with passion. We test a lot of stuff. The shop team is usually out on new stuff, so we get a bunch of feedback from them. The rocky landscapes and the cold winters add up to lots of broken stuff. The stuff that performs well and is also fun to use is what we have on our shelves.
“I think the customers appreciate the fact that we’ve done our homework and know what we sell,” Moore adds. “That in itself seems to be lacking in most stores. It’s a shame that hype is predominant, not quality.”The World Boards staff knows what they sell as a result of thorough sales training clinics on the clock and after-hours listening to the reps’ clinics in the fall. During these clinics, the staff subsists on a strict diet of Mackenzie River pizza and La Parilla burritos while getting a breakdown on almost every brand of board, boot, and binding in the shop. Moore also brings the staff together for rental and boot-fit clinics.
The staff is further educated with clippings on teamriders, industry news, and customer feedback on the “Employee Read-Me Board” dangling below the punch-in clock. Jay’s devotion to customer service is evident in another haggard old clipping that looks like it has survived all ten years at World Boards. It’s from an SIA “Marketing Boot Camp” presentation by Arnold Sanow. The clipping lists ten ways to operate a successful business. Three are highlighted, circled, and look like they’ve been smudged from many finger-pointings.
1. Make sure that everyone in your shop knows everything about your product and services.
2. Under-promise and over-deliver.
3. It is six times more expensive to get new clients than to keep old ones.
These are the messages that the snowboard staff at World Boards have drilled into their heads every day and help explain the loyal following the shop has locally, not just among the snowboarders and skateboarders, but among their moms, dads, and grandparents.
Moore has learned some tough lessons as a shop owner, including a worst-case scenario in ’96 when a friend who opened a World Boards Big Sky location, bailed on his debts and left Moore holding the bills. “That real
ly messed me up,” he says. “We already had substantial relationships with most of the companies involved, and they knew I wasn’t trying to get out of anything for free. They believed me and worked with me so I got them paid off in time. It sure slowed our pace of growth, though. That hurt for a while.”
Through the experience, Moore learned to make sure to have concrete agreements on paper signed. “Even if you think you can trust a friend, you shouldn’t make handshake deals unless you’re prepared to gamble.” These days bills are on time. “This year’s been a tough one-having the worst snow in 22 years, we missed a lot of December sales, but we are always good for it. We have never not paid a bill.”
There are other ski/board shops to buy snowboards from in Bozeman, including the Roundhouse, Chalet Sports, and more recently, Zumiez. World Boards manages to stay ahead of the competition with its ‘core status, dedication to creating an informed staff, and tech shop services. World Boards offers wax-for-life certificates on all the boards it sells and also offers full tunes for 35 bucks with a hand wax. To further build the customer base, the shop offers ten-time rental packages for board, boots, and bindings for 100 dollars or five times for 50 dollars in a season.
The history of World Boards is all over its walls, which are covered with evidence of rider involvement in signed photos, ads, and contest bibs next to old Barfoot and Burton snowboards. The last ten years have had their ups and downs for Moore, but he sticks to his idealistic approach to the shop. “We care about the details and follow up with our customers,” he says. “This industry is small enough that you can and will hear a lot about the few who stand out. I am humbled to think we’re among those who sit high on the industry lists.
“I’d like to thank my employees and friends for their hard work and contributions over the years,” Moore continues. “I’d like to thank Lori, my wife, for believing in me and being such an incredible support over the years. I would like to thank God for being there for me through it all. I can honestly say that he’s the reason I can enjoy each and every day no matter what it brings. Any and all things that I have experienced, he has made possible. Remember to shred the gnar and have fun.”