Don’t Fear The Dot.Com

Forty industry leaders heard the latest on e-commerce, e-tailering and how the Internet will affect the snowsports industry during the first of four SIA Leadership Forums, in Bellevue, Washington in early September.

The primary message was this: the Internet is coming–if it isn’t already here–but there’s nothing to fear because it presents tremendous opportunities for all sectors in the industry.

"The Internet offers the best opportunity in a long time for a level playing field," says Jim Spring of Leisure Trends Group. Spring was the featured speaker at the forum and suggested ways retailers and manufacturers can become proactive and use the Internet to their advantage.

At least one anonymous retailer in attendance agreed with Spring. "We look at the Internet as an augmentation to our sales," he says. "It’s a way to move our products. It has not had a negative impact on our sales."

Spring offered three strategies to cope with the Internet and e-commerce. First, embrace what’s coming. Second, don’t rush into anything, because the Internet and e-commerce are still evolving at a fantastic pace. Finally, even if you don’t get involved now, make sure to watch it like a hawk.

Industry consultant Greg Reilly pointed out that the Internet should be viewed as a complementary extension of "brick and mortar" shops. "It’s another channel for sales, marketing, and branding," Reilly says. "If used wisely, the Internet means new life for brick and mortar stores."

Reilly insists there will always be a place for brick and mortar retailers because they provide such things as easy return policies, ability for consumers to try on products, personal contact, and servicing gear and apparel. "Prices don’t count for everything," said Reilly. "Research tells us that 80 percent of customers don’t compare price, and they like reliable, well-known merchants."

So was the forum valuable for attendees? Apparently so. "I think the Leadership Forum was especially helpful on the topic of e-commerce," says K2 Snowboards Marketing Manager Heidi McCory. "Jim Spring had some very enlightening thoughts. What I brought away was that e-commerce is on the edge of everybody’s plate, and we have to ask, ‘What’s next? And how do we handle it?’"

Bill Asplund, owner of Asplund’s Outdoor Sports, in Wenatchee, Washington drove 150 miles to attend the forum. "It was helpful and well worth the money and time," he said. "I found out a lot of things and a lot of my suspicions were confirmed. I don’t feel like I’m the Lone Ranger out there. What I learned about direct mail helped me already. I canceled an ad I was going to have in our local newspaper, and instead I’m going to do a direct mailing to our customers."

In addition to discussions of e-commerce, the forum featured a review of this winter’s SIA market development programs. SIA Director of Marketing Communications Mary Jo Tarallo demonstrated how retailers and manufacturers could get involved in the programs and help grow winter sports.

Tarallo cited four reasons why the SIA market development programs make sense for retailers and members alike: They increase participation, move product, and increase awareness; they are turn-key packaged programs; SIA or the organizing group does most of the work; and they are great publicity vehicles.

Finally, SIA President David Ingemie presented statistics that gave an overview of the industry. One of his observations was the use by consumers of used and rental equipment. He cited surveys that showed twelve percent of equipment on the slopes was used (up from five percent a decade ago) and 25 percent was rented (up from ten percent ten years ago).

At the end of the meeting, one retailer brought up the issue of the lack of training afforded shop salespeople. Responses from attendees ranged from the possibility of a training program established on a national basis, to how shop owners view staff training. All agreed that it was an issue that needed further discussion.