Evogear Q&A: Alpine e-tailer talks about brick & mortar success

Evogear founder Bryce Phillips has made a name for himself in the ski industry as a sponsored skier and an e-tail innovator, as well as for his downtown Seattle brick-and-mortar specialty store that is also a performance space. Here, he tells SNEWS what's selling...and what's next.

When Bryce Phillips announced that he was going to open a 10,000-square-foot specialty snow and skate retail space in Seattle in 2005, complete with an art gallery and big screen to premiere ski and snowboard films, many people had the same question: “What’s the point?”

Phillips, 28 at the time, was a sponsored skier, with big brands like K2, Scott USA and Helly Hansen regularly sending him off to Chile, Utah and deep into the B.C. powder fields on photo shoots. More importantly, Evogear.com, his e-tail business was already doing $5 million a year in annual sales, mostly in closeouts, discounted items and end-of-the-season demo fleets bought from the many ski areas around the Pacific Northwest.

So why bet on brick and mortar just when other retailers were getting out? Because, Phillips said, he wanted to actually meet his customers, and also create a space where he could promote not just the equipment, but also the culture of boardsports.

“The store is central to the Evogear brand,” Phillips said in an interview this week. “It’s essential to establishing the kind of energy that we want to promote. And with the art shows, fundraisers, films and music that we host, we have strived to make this a hub for everyone to meet.”

The past two years of economic turmoil certainly added to the tough start-up environment. And for Phillips, it was also a time of intense personal and professional growth. Under the “company” button on the Evogear website, and also on the phone, he talks about the loss of a close friend and the difficulty of opening a new distribution center for online sales all in the same breath.

“This time would test us as well as the fabric that we had worked so hard to weave from growing from two employees to 80 over the previous nine years,” Phillips wrote.

But now, with a new wife, a steady growth in topline ski, snowboard and skate sales to his existing steady deep discount business and a powerful La Niña phenomena forecast for the Pacific Northwest, Phillips is increasingly upbeat. SNEWS caught up with him in his Seattle offices before the snow gets too deep.

SNEWS: What’s your fastest growing category?

The increase in sales of topline product at full price has been really interesting to watch. Our core competencies have always been in hardgoods, and right now people are paying for the top new stuff. Compared to any other retailer, we have a highly disproportionate amount of high-end hardgoods in our product mix. Overall, hardgoods are 70 percent of our inventory, even though our softgoods business is growing now at a fast pace. I think what’s driving the hardgoods sales is the emergence of technology in rocker that’s relevant to everybody now, even in some cases to beginners and intermediates.

SNEWS: What's so unique about your concept of what a retail experience should be?

The biggest difference I see is that we’re truly engaging the customer, and not just trying to sell people stuff. We’re trying to create an experience and an environment where people want to hang out -- even after work. When we started doing premieres and parties and fundraisers, we did it because we really liked doing it. I think it’s important that there’s more of that, of sharing your passion about the sport.

SNEWS: What are the similarities between your online and your brick-and-mortar businesses?

We’re always talking about what we can do that’s exciting for the customer, either online or in the store. We want to have something that’s exciting online, or that’s different, that sends a message about how involved we are with all these sports. Physically, when customers are getting that 3D experience in the store, we want to give them reasons to come back. One thing that shines through is having people who really know the product. A lot of people call in and spend half an hour on the phone discussing the best ski or snowboard for them before they buy it. That genuine desire to want to make sure the customer gets the best thing for them is what works. There is no silver bullet or crazy secret sauce for that.

SNEWS: What are your annual sales now, and is it heavily weighted to e-tail?

Sales this year will be north of $20 million. We’re actually growing a fair amount in the store itself. The store will be 12 to 13 percent of that.

SNEWS: What’s next?

We are definitely having active discussions about where the next store will be. We would like to open one in a major metropolitan area outside of the state, both in terms of a brand statement and because we feel there are some important markets that are being underserved right now. We are looking at places that have a lot of the same elements as Seattle. For right now, I’ll leave it at that.

--Peter Kray

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 pkray@snewsnet.com. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!



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