Amid the giddy optimism of unprecedented sell-through at ski shops across the country, some retailers are wondering whether there will be any close-out inventory for traditional off-price fall sales, which jump-start the masses for the season ahead and also ring cash registers.
“If there’s a problem, it’s where retailers will find equipment to sell at their preseason sales next fall, because all of that old stuff is gone,” says Alan Davis, owner of Princeton Sports in Maryland.
Many ski suppliers reported running out of re-order inventory before the New Year, and it’s a similar story in boots. “All the old stock that’s been floating around got flushed out last year,” says Scott Russo, VP of sales at Dalbello. “And retailers started the year light.”
Another major boot manufacturer reported in early January that it had “fewer than 100 non-rental boots remaining in stock,” less than 1/10th of 1 percent of annual unit sales.
The gear shortage is exacerbated by publicly traded ski companies keeping a tight rein on re-order inventory, as well as by strong sell-through in Europe, which in a slow season would have overstock to supply the U.S. market. The shortage could open big-picture discussions on the benefits of fall sales in general: Do they motivate the rank-and-file by wooing people onto affordable, discounted gear, or does the industry leave money on the table by not attempting to sell more newer models at higher prices and better margins?
Jean-Yves Couput, the global brand manager for Salomon, takes the discussion a step further. Couput understands the challenges Salomon faces as a publicly traded company operating in a system with internal fiscal checks and balances, but with a smile says his company must respond like a “nimble elephant” to market conditions. He proposes that the entire retail sales calendar for in-season models be flipped on its head.
“Why don’t we charge less early in the season, and then more later,” he asks. If the 2010-11 trend of early sell-outs in top models continues into next season, that question might get serious consideration.--Andy Bigford
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