Benefiting from Recent Industry Initiatives; It’s Up to Each of You

By now, you should all have seen SIA’s study “Growing the Snow Sports Industry” and NSAA’s growth model for the resort business. They don’t claim that any industry initiative by a trade association is the salvation of the winter sports industry’s issues of participation and profitability. They say, if not exactly this way, “It’s up to each of you.”

From the 20,000 foot level, where the oxygen is thin, here’s what they said, how you can use their work, (whether you’re a brand, a retailer, or a resort) and why it’s such a hard thing to do well.
Industry Initiatives
SIA commissioned Growing the Snow Sports Industry: Marketing Analysis and Strategy for Breaking Down the Barriers. NSAA created a growth model for the snow resort industry based at least in part the conclusions of the SIA study, which you should also make sure you see.
SIA and NSAA did not position their studies as “industry initiatives.” They didn’t make any claims that their programs offered industry wide solutions. They acknowledged that previous industry initiatives hadn’t worked, or hadn’t had the funding and support to be implemented consistently over a long enough time frame.
They said, and this is the most important thing they said, here are some facts and ideas-It’s all up to you. We can’t fix the industry’s problems, but we hope we can give you some guidance and support as you do it.   They are exactly right.
I think that industry initiatives only work, or appear to work, when you don’t need them. When there is lots of growth, lots of money and less competitive pressure, everything seems to be working. In fact what’s going on is that consumer demand and cash flow can cover up a lot of shortcomings in a company’s strategic position.    When that changes, focus often becomes internal and understandably a bit more selfish. Support for industry initiatives, both in terms of time and money, is harder to come by.
In any event, in a consolidating or mature industry there is no rising tide to lift all boats. It’s up to each company to find their market position and respond to the particular needs of their carefully identified customers. The individual companies in addressing their particular circumstances can almost certainly put the resources that might be committed to an industry initiative to better use. That’s just business- in any industry.
What They Said
NSAA proposed focusing on two things; getting a 6% annual increase in beginners and increasing the conversion rate of beginners from 15 to 25 percent with the goal of increasing skier [their word] visits from 52 million to 67.2 million by in 2015. In their words, “The success of this formula for growth…lies not in any national campaign, but rather in the dedicated efforts of individual area operators consistently implementing achievable trial and conversion goals that make sense for their resorts.”
They go on to say that, “…this was developed with input parameters that reflect the national environment. At the regional level and at the level of the individual resort, the underlying dynamics of the Model change and, therefore, the specific goals also change…The great strength of NSAA’s approach toward growing the industry over the next 15 years is that it encourages individual self-gain and entrepreneurial spirit to achieve collective benefits” (Quoted from the September 2000 issue of SAM magazine, page 10. NSAA’s Model for Growth: What It Is, and What It Is Not. By Nolan Rosall, RRC Associates and Michael Berry, President, National Ski Areas Association).
Good strategy is the process of defining where you are, envisioning where you want to be and when, and filling in the time in between with appropriate tactics.   That’s what NSAA is suggesting to each of its individual members.
The SIA study recommends that each member company take steps appropriate to its specific circumstances and opportunities. Like NSAA, the SIA study is meant to support its members, not kick off any national campaign.
It starts by stating that “We must:”
  • Develop a unified understanding of the marketing problems and opportunities
  • Identify the market segments that hold the greatest “acceleration potential”
  • Focus our marketing resources on those productive audience segments
  • Apply those resources in an integrated, efficient manner
All true. For any business in any industry any time and I wouldn’t expect anybody to be even slightly surprised by that. The devil, as usual, is in the details.
They went on to “explode the industry myths that bind us to the obsolete remedies of the past.” Simplified, the five myths are:
  • That participants aspire to be “extreme.” They don’t. They are in it for the wholesome, lifestyle activities.
  • That the dominant barrier to increased participation is increased cost. It’s more complex than that and involves time, quality of experience and proficiency.
  • That we have a big opportunity with underserved populations who have never been on the hill. Maybe not. They have to be lured to the slopes, sold on winter vacations and cold weather activities, and convinced to adopt an activity their peers don’t participate in.
  • There’s a single advertising message that will work for the whole industry. There isn’t. The consumer base is too diverse.
  • That awareness of various “make it easier” technologies like shaped skis and of the technology’s benefits are high. Nope. Most are unaware of its existence or benefits.
After that we’ve got six key findings.
  • There is a strong relationship between proficiency, enthusiasm, participation and sales.
  • The industry is bleeding new triers and participants of low proficiency.
  • The biggest opportunity is in reactivating lapsed participants and upgrading light and moderate users.
  • New technology can produce marketing leverage.
  • Children can be a barrier or a motivator to increased participation.
  • Introducing consumers to skiing/boarding young and keeping their loyalty can have an exponential impact on revenue.
Based on this, they suggested a “new” approach to the market that included:
·         Looking at snow market as the sum of many segments- not as a mass market.
·         Communicating the brand snow sports in terms relevant to each of these customer segments.
·         Allocating marketing resources based on the potential value of each segment.
They go on to suggest more specific strategies and tactics for retailers, suppliers and resorts.
I’m sure most of us recognize that this “new” approach is old. It represents a pretty traditional market strategy that is new to winter sports only because it was, historically, unnecessary for success or, more recently, resisted. Why is that?
Déjà vu All Over Again
It doesn’t matter what industry we talk about. In periods of difficult transitions, all companies tend to react the same way. Specifically,
·         They do what they perceive to be in their own (short term?) best interest. They don’t ask, “How can we help the industry?” when they are dealing with gut renching issues of change and survival.
·         They resist change and tend to do “more of the same.” Change is uncomfortable and most of us dislike stepping out of our comfort zones.
·         They have a hard time just recognizing the new environment they are operating in and frequently don’t until they are slapped upside the head.
·         They focus on tactics that are responsive to short term pressures rather than identifying and reacting to critical strategic issues.
·         Typically, an outside change agent (the bank, big customers, a consultant or new CEO) is required to motivate the change process.
Before I’d ever heard of a snowboard, I’d worked with companies in banking, pharmaceuticals, light manufacturing and retail where this was the case. I can assure you it’s true in snowboarding and in all of winter sports as well.
Many of the people making skis and running resorts have been doing what they do for a long time. There’s a tremendous amount of inertia and continuity in the industry. With such long histories, established relationships, and common perceptions firmly entrenched in a comfort zone, it can be difficult to make the kinds of changes the industry required.
Those of us who got into action sports through snowboarding have the same issues, though perhaps not to such an extreme if only because we haven’t been involved as long. Like skiing in another era, snowboarding could rely in its early years on the enthusiasm of its youthful participants to overcome issues of expense, poor facilities, lousy equipment and inconvenience. If, as an industry, we didn’t handle our consolidation as well as we might have, we can plead that it happened too quickly to react to, and we’d be partly right.
Now, we’re getting older (which is fine given the alternative). Larger corporations, most of who are also in the ski business, dominate snowboarding. The snowboard, ski and resort industries increasingly have common issues, interests, and relationships.
What You Can Do
One of those common interests is making money, which has been a hard thing to do for a lot of organizations. I know we’re also interested in the lifestyle, and the product, and the experience, and supporting the sport, but if there isn’t enough money made, we won’t be here to do that. Everybody reading this knows somebody who’s committed to snowboarding, use to be in the business, and isn’t anymore as a result of financial issues.
SIA and NSAA have now provided their members with a justification and a framework, rigorously validated through actual data, for changing the way they do business in response to new competitive conditions. But they can’t (and have learned they can only get in trouble if they try to) do it for you.
That’s all they can do. A basic blue print is in your hands.   Adapt it for your organization and go and do it. You can’t “fix” the industry anymore than SIA and NSAA can. But you can sure take a shot at fixing your piece of it. Bottom line? Marketing, and customer identification and segmentation, not discounted season passes, longer terms for retailers, and discounting at retail that starts in November are the answer if we have the patience and longer-term perspective to do it consistently. Step out of your comfort zone.