Snow Show highlights huge year as industry aims for $3 billion in sales

A perfect storm of fantastic early season sell-through and incredible innovations in ski and ski boot technology await attendees at the SIA Snow Show as the industry looks likely to hit $3 billion in total sales.
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It seems like the SIA Snow Show can’t come soon enough for snowsports retailers who are rapidly running out of product to sell, and manufacturers who are ready to unleash some of the biggest technological advancements in years. Bucking economic trends, and capitalizing on early season snowfall, ski and snowboard sales are currently on pace for a potential record year.

“We’re almost back to 2007/08, when the industry went over $3 billion for the first time,” says SnowSports Industries America (SIA) research director Kelly Davis. “We’ll likely get close to that this year.”

SIA’s latest data, released January 6, 2011, shows that specialty store sales grew 36 percent in the month of November, and that sell-through is so strong that retailers are literally running out of gear.

“If sales continue at this pace, some of our members could be out of stock on key models before President’s weekend,” says Steve Rogers, president of the Sports Specialists Ltd., buying group. “It’s good to be sold out, but bad to miss out on a sale.”

Stricter control of the over-production issues that have plagued the industry in the past, as well as cautious pre-season ordering by retailers last spring, have led to inventory shortages that began appearing early at the stores.

“We recognized in September what was going on,” says Jim Schaffner of The Start Haus in Truckee, Calif. “When we started re-ordering there was stock. Thirty days later there wasn’t.”

Rogers says that the current trend means that his retail members will hit the Snow Show, scheduled to run from Jan. 27th to the 30th, 2011 in Denver, with some of the biggest open-to-buy budgets they’ve ever enjoyed -- which is certainly good news for suppliers.

With radical new concepts in rocker, sidecut and manufacturing techniques being introduced at the Show, ski manufacturers are unveiling one of the most inspired and technologically exciting new classes of ski design ever. The fact that all the new technology is hitting retailers with empty shelves is creating the perfect storm of sales cycles.

“Rocker has changed everything -- again,” says Bryce Phillips, owner of Seattle-based Evo Gear. “There’s some sort of rocker in almost every ski that we are buying. Even entry level and intermediate skiers are benefitting from rocker. We are especially focused on skis between 100mm and 130mm underfoot, and all of the brands small and big continue to push the envelope testing the relation between width/sidecut and different rocker patterns.”

Ski boot brands are also introducing new concepts in fit, custom-molding, and buckle patterns, with brands such as Fischer, Lange, Nordica, Rossignol and Salomon bringing new technology to the Show. Unlike next season’s skis, which in all likelihood will begin appearing on the slopes this spring as manufacturers attempt to capitalize on low inventories, boot production requires significantly more lead time on sales orders. That means that retailers and manufacturers will have to find some common ground on pre-season orders and re-order inventory if they don’t want to run out of product next year.

‘The lead time to source, produce and ship across the ocean is pretty much a single cycle process,” says Mike Aicher, Salomon alpine category manager. “Boots are the most complex because of the number of sizes and manual labor that goes into the product. And by early December we need to switch over to produce next year’s sample needs.”

But inventory is a bad word in snowsports these days, and if retailers continue to order cautiously, the market can expect to be under-supplied in the coming years. On the flip side, only two seasons removed from a glut of over-production -- at least in skis -- there remains concern over betting too hard on the current market, and being left again with warehouses filled with unwanted gear.

“The robust re-order business that we, and some other manufacturers have enjoyed, suggests to us that the retail channel was considerably under bought in its pre-season orders,” says Rossignol & Dynastar Vice President of Marketing Tait Wardlaw. “Looking forward to next year, we’ll work even more closely with our dealers to identify appropriate up-front purchase plans.”

It’s a good problem to have heading into the Show, and there is currently a sense of optimism in the snowsports industry that has not present for nearly a decade now. That doesn’t mean anyone is relaxing, though. Having been burned by weather, the economy, and even international incidents in the past, some of the savviest snowsports veterans are already finding new issues to worry about for next year.

“The fact that the industry is so much healthier now is good timing,” says Alan Davis, owner of Princeton Sports in Maryland, as he prepares for the Show. “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.”

--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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