Zumiez Founder Speaks To Snow Industry

The TransWorld SNOW Industry Summit in Copper Mountain, Colorado got started on the evening of Thursday, April 1, 2004. After a long cocktail hour and dinner, Zumiez’s Cofounder and Chairman Tom Campion kicked off the four-day summit with his speech on the ever-growing retail chain.

“After 26 years in this business, I’m honored to be here,” he said. Since opening his first store (originally called “Above The Belt”) in 1978 Campion has been hard at it. Thriving in mall-based locations across the United States, Zumiez has expanded to include 119 locations in 16 states. The stores are doing well; each averaging roughly 500 dollars a square foot. In contrast, Zumiez’s closest competitor Pac-Sun averages only 370 dollars per square foot.

Zumiez’s success comes from a number of areas, but according to Campion there is a simple formula: “To be a great retailer you always have to reinvent yourself and your products.” Campion points to the store’s early success with Gotcha and its fishman logo as a good example. Then came Quiksilver, which has been one of the store’s top vendors for the last fifteen years due to what Campion terms: “Bob McKnight’s constant ability for reinventing the brand.”

For the first ten years Zumiez sold only softgoods. Then in the late 80’s, success with Vision Streetwear lead the chain into its next big categoryhardgoods. At the time, Campion had about twelve stores on the West Coast and his customers began asking for Sims snowboards. Campion explained that the rep didn’t want to sell to Zumiez because they weren’t what he termed ‘core, but the rep lost that battle. “We got into snowboarding because it was hot,” says Campion. “We stayed because the brands were not those typically available in malls.”

Campion stressed that it’s not only the store’s product lines that have kept them in business over the yearsit’s their employees. “We didn’t become great retailers through great products,” he says. “We have been teaching great retailers for over two decades. The more power I have given awaythe better this company has become.”

No where is Zumiez’s ability to hire kids who are over-zealous about the products they sell more evident than at the company’s annual 100K party. Started in 1986 as a reward for six employees who sold over 100,000 dollars worth of products, the 2004 100k party included 350 of it’s more than 2000 employees.

The numbers are staggering, and Campion’s speech was often interrupted with gasps and murmurs from the audience. After a round of questions, Campion ended his keynote explaining how the company’s success has allowed him, as Chairman of the Board, to pursue other interests. “I never would have conceived it (Zumiez) to be this big” he said. “I spend half of my time working on environmental issues in the Arctic Refuge and will give about 500,000 to 700,000 dollars to environmental causes this year.”

After a round of applause, conference goers drifted out to enjoy some of Copper Mountain Village’s nightlife. With two full days of speakers and as many late nights on the horizon, some went back to their rooms to adjust to the altitude.

Look for more coverage from TransWorld’s SNOW Industry Summit to follow.