Jake Burton Outlines Efforts To “Support Local Snowboarding” Shops

Jake enjoying the fruits of his labor. Photo: Curtes

Jake enjoying the fruits of his labor. Photo: Curtes

In the November issue of TransWorld Business, we featured an in-depth look at Burton Snowboards’ new “Support Local Snowboarding” initiative, a program designed to drive sales to local, core retailers that includes a number of progressive initiatives. Here’s the full interview with Burton Founder & CEO Jake Burton outlining what the new program consists of and his thoughts on collectively growing the sport:

I've talked to a number of retailers that are excited to see your push to Support Local Snowboarding. Tell me a little about why you decided to make this a focus for '10/11.

When I got my old job back this spring, one of my first observations was that we (Burton) needed to put more energy into our specialty base of retailers.  Admittedly, I felt that way because specialty retailers are who helped create this sport, but beyond that the entire sport and all levels of distribution benefit from a strong specialty network where there's a direct connection to core riders around the world. The integrity of snowboarding starts and stops here at the core shop, and it is imperative that we work more closely with this distribution to help protect the long-term health of the sport.

Was it something you saw as necessary from a business standpoint, or just time to realign your strategy with the leadership change there?

It was something I've been pushing for a while and something that was definitely starting to happen here, but once I took over things started to happen faster.

You mentioned that this is just the beginning of your plan to support local shops. What plans do you have to expand this support throughout the season and further down the road?

We just mailed out 115,000 catalogs directly to snowboarders in North America and we found a way to print the names of local shops on the envelope of every catalog we mailed.  Exposing riders to the names of local dealers and our Dealer Locator  (shoplocal.burton.com) before they've even opened the catalog felt like a bold, but effective move.  The catalog itself promotes local shops with testimonials from team riders and clear company support.  This is something we haven't done in a long time.

We've also seriously ramped up our in-store visual merchandising programs by making a significant investment in windows, fixtures and point of purchase displays, specifically for our specialty retailers.  This was a big initiative for us, and dealers seem to be happy with the merchandising aides that are showing up.

We're also running a major sales contest for shop staff with thousands of prizes like snow-guns, a season's worth of mountain transit gas-money, custom boots and tons of other cool stuff.  And the grand prize is an all-expense paid trip for 16 winners to attend the opening of Burton's new Jackson Hole Stash this February.  That is going to be a fun trip.

We have also completely re-engineered our super clinic program.  We'll be bringing shop staff from specialty retailers across North America to super clinic events this fall to have fun and learn about the product and brand.  We're also investing in getting staff out of the store and onto the mountain this season for spontaneous riding day trips with Dave Downing and other pros.

Further, we are bringing the noise right to the dealers by launching a 30-stop tour to take place at 30 specialty shops rather than at an off-site venue.  During these events, riders can come and hang, see the new shred videos and interact with team riders at their neighborhood snowboard shop.  Our goal with all of this is to connect local riders with local shops and help build those relationships.

Burton's new online dealer locator

Burton's new online dealer locator

We'll also keep pushing snowboarding through the Global Open Series and innovative riding experiences such as Stash runs (our newest one at Jackson Hole opening this season) and programs like Chill, the Demo Tour, Go Snowboarding and Learn to Ride Centers.  The health of our sport depends on new participants, and I feel confident in claiming that we're doing more than any brand in this effort.  Personally, I teach 20-plus people a year how to snowboard, and Donna teaches many more through her leadership of the Stowe Elementary School Friday snowboarding program. We're involved.

Something we also just implemented is the ability for our e-comm site to fulfill dealers' special orders for product that a rider wants at their store, which is not available through re-order inventory but is available on our e-comm site.  The purpose of our e-comm site is to service riders and if that means shipping a specific rider's order to a dealer (at wholesale) or directly to the rider (while invoicing the dealer) then we should do whatever it takes to make that possible. I have been told that this is a huge benefit to our dealers while only improving our service to riders.

Lastly, we are carefully managing our production planning to ensure we do not over produce. We are building the right amount of product to meet demand needs in the market, no more.  Over supply in the market drives discounting and margin erosion for the dealer. Scarcity increases our dealer’s profitability while driving a rider's awareness that he/she needs to get it now before it’s gone from the rack, rather than waiting for it to go on sale.  This is a critical initiative that we have been exercising for the past couple of seasons, and without going into specifics I can say we are already seeing a significant improvement in stabilizing inventory levels across all channels.

And of course, we'll continue to offer the best product line in the industry backed by the best team of pro-riders, including segmented product for specialty.

I've heard from some retailers that they think this is just lip service to smooth damaged relationships and nothing is really changing as far as your distribution. How would you respond to that?

Hopefully, people can take me at my word and see what's happening, but if not, so be it. If I let haters hold me down Burton probably never would have happened.

Are you planning to scale back or do away with any direct sales?

In North America, we have four flagship retail stores, two outlets and one e-comm site.  When I look at the companies we're competing against it seems that our retail footprint is pretty small.  In addition, we have just made the decision to take our e-comm site to a full-priced model only, with no discounting or sales.  As I mentioned above, we view our e-commerce platform as primarily a service to riders; however with this move to maintain price, we feel we are also better servicing our dealers by not getting into the price game with them as the season progresses.

We don't have any immediate plans to do away with any direct sales nor do we have any plans to expand our direct sales programs.  But I think that what we've got does a good job of giving the brand some presence around the country and servicing riders.

What response have you been getting from retailers that you sent that letter to?

Early response has been great.  I think there is a collective support out there, not only for our retail efforts but also for the organizational changes that we've made in general.  I hope that the hands-on presence of Donna and myself back at the helm demonstrates our commitment to re-connecting the brand with its core foundation.   And it's not just us; the company as a whole is re-energized and more focused than ever on helping build the sport and the business, through initiatives like the ones we've discussed today.

Having said that nothing beats the experience of visiting a shop and so, along with riding 100 days, I'm going to visit 100 shops over the next year.  I've never done anything like that, and who knows if I can pull it, but just trying is going to make us better at what we do.

Just 1% of Burton's days on the hill last year. Photo: Curtes

Just 1% of Burton's days on the hill last year. Photo: Curtes

Will this focus on supporting core retailers and distribution philosophies play a major role in your executive search for your new CEO? Any news on that front?

Damn, I get asked that question so much I'm starting to feel like Brett Favre, minus the skills.  There's no news on the CEO front other than the fact that you're stuck with me for the foreseeable future.  Eventually we'll be recruiting a new CEO and when that time comes I will be sure that whoever assumes my role shares my same philosophy about the importance of core distribution.

Do you know what kind of traffic the dealer search page has been getting?

Based on the latest report, traffic to our new Dealer Locator is up more than 50% compared to the same time last year.  We're still refining the functionality, but the activity is there and hopefully the retailers are feeling it.  Ultimately we want to get to the point where riders can pull up their local shop on their phone and call them with a single click.  That's where it should be at.

Are there any other messages you'd like to share with your core accounts?

Never stop riding and support the companies who give back to the sport.

If you could go back and talk to Jake Burton circa '77 for 30 seconds and give him one business tip, what would it be?

Let's see.  I would probably tell myself to sell out in 2005.  Invest all the cash in Google.  Take five years off and then buy Burton back.

But hindsight is 20/20 and while I have made every mistake in the book, I would remind myself to follow my heart, which is pretty much what I've done.