The first decade of the 21st century is rapidly coming to a close, with high hopes for the next decade building in the wintersports industry on a hardgoods re-order rush that is sweeping across the country, as well as some epic early season snowfall. But with the economy still riding a roller coaster of recovery, and a few softgoods brands still making up time from Asia’s late delivery cycle, there remain some immediate hurdles.
To help close out 2010, SNEWS sat down with SnowSports Industries America (SIA) President David Ingemie to talk about the highlights -- and lowlights -- of the year, as well as what he sees for the future.
SNEWS: As you take a moment to reflect on 2010, what do you see as the highlights of this year?
David Ingemie: Right now, business is crazy busy in a very positive way, and there is a sense of relief across the industry. I would not necessarily call it optimism, because everyone is still moving forward in a cautious manner, but they are definitely able to take a deep breath and feel good about where they are right now. In particular, that is because the 09/10 recession has bottomed out, and retailers and suppliers have cleared out old inventory.
The upper demographics of the snowsports industry are beginning to buy more, and we are certainly seeing that on the equipment side of the business especially. The other aspect of that is that both retailers and suppliers were cautious in orders and in manufacturing, so the rate of sell-through is such that we will be leaving sales on the table. I think that has worked for the past two years as we clear out old inventory, but probably not for three years in a row. As a result, I think there will be more open-to-buy than last year. I am hoping we see reserved, but not cautious ordering this year, because that would mean the industry is underbought for the third year in a row.
SNEWS: And what about the lowlights?
Ingemie: I think those were based more on people’s attitudes and how the economic crisis was portrayed in the media. The media made it seem as if people shouldn’t spend any money at all -- it was almost as if it was bad to spend money -- and I think that attitude hurt us more than it should have. In a general sense, for a lot of our demographic, the recession was more a wealth issue than an income issue, and the media kept making it seem like no one should be spending money, which only complicated our message when it came to sales.
But as I said before, as an industry we have turned this into an opportunity to clean up our older inventory. And one of the only real lingering aspects right now is the lack of credit availability even for those retailers and suppliers that have been paying their bills all along. And, of course, the continued uncertainty in the economy.
SNEWS: With re-order booming on the hardgoods side, and the late softgoods deliveries that occurred with products being manufactured in Asia, it seems as if we are undergoing significant changes to the ordering, inventory and delivery protocol. How do you see this recent activity affecting the snowsports industry in the future?
Ingemie: We have always had re-order, but the process has undergone significant changes in the past three years. I think that old formula of 60/20/20, where retailers would get 60 percent of their inventory on early order, 20 percent on late order, and have 20 percent available for re-order has disappeared. And I think the main reason for that is that no one wants to take a risk on inventory anymore. You won’t see any of the big public companies taking a risk on inventory unless they own their own stores. In hardgoods especially, inventory is a bad word, and that is creating an obstacle for the business cycle. In softgoods, orders from the supplier side will have to be placed even earlier, so the retailer will also be asked to place orders earlier.
But I think the most difficult obstacle facing specialty sales right now is marketing and communicating to the customer. Just 10 years ago, you could buy a newspaper ad and an ad in SKI Magazine, and you were covered. Now, all of the other industries that are approaching our demographic -- whether it is car companies, the food industry or Amazon -- are communicating with our customers on a much more sophisticated level than we are. They have mastered the idea that a sale is not just a transaction, but a relationship with a customer. And with e-mail reminders, targeted marketing and regular communication with those customers, they can generate more sales. For instance, I bought a dozen copies of the book, "Henry Hikes to Fitchburg," for my family because that’s where I am from, and now Amazon sends me a reminder anytime Henry hikes or climbs anywhere. That’s the market we are competing in now.
SNEWS: From kids’ equipment sales to the ongoing explosion in the implementation of rocker ski and snowboard technology, what other trends are you most interested in right now?
Ingemie: All of the developments in technology are turning me on. Mostly in hardgoods, because it is the most descriptive, and there is an ability to really fit an individual’s exact needs with the technology we have. With rocker, I like the excitement it is generating and to hear people talking about it and watching them utilizing it on the hill. But I also wonder how we can communicate the technology without making it confusing to someone who is not reading our magazines and maybe just walked into a shop without knowing exactly what they are looking for. I think we have to continue to make sure we communicate the ease of use, and the benefits of the new features in a way that makes sense to the entire market, and not just the aficionado.
SNEWS: The Snow Show is just around the corner, with lots of new events, from the Civic Center Big Air to the Ski Channel’s film festival being added to enhance the action on the show floor. Honestly, did you think the move to Denver would snowball this quickly? And where do you think it can actually go from here?
Ingemie: We think it will keep expanding and be more of a complete gathering of the snowsports industry, not just retailers, suppliers and reps. We see more of an international influence and presence this year. And we feel that if we had more time and had we not had the economic issues of last year, this would all have happened even faster.
One of the reasons we moved is we felt it was time to get the industry together again. By being in Denver, we have the opportunity to bring in the resorts and many more retailers. We need those sides of the business to come in so that we can all have this conversation together, and we need more events and activities there that bring them in, but that don’t at the same time take away from the buy/sell aspect of the show. Just for all of the shop managers in the region, I really like the idea that now they have a chance to come and see the show for themselves, and get a sense of all of the excitement in the industry, which in turn should make it more exciting for them to stay in the industry as well.
SNEWS: We certainly can’t wrap up one year without looking forward to another. So what forecasts and predictions do you have for 2011?
Ingemie: I think it will be a good year, with better margins for retailers and suppliers, an increase in participation due to snowfall and pent-up demand, and especially the chance to get more kids involved.
I feel the transition from too much inventory to just the right size is going to stay, our ability to communicate will improve, and all of the initiatives to get kids outdoors will help us, too. Whether it is Learn to Ski and Snowboard month, the NFL or Michelle Obama pushing for kids to be active, or the kid’s clubs or the Boy Scouts, everyone is pushing more activity for our kids right now, and that can only help.
On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the start of the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at email@example.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!