In 1995 I wrote a Market Watch column called “Getting in Deep Trouble.” For those of you who might have accidentally misplaced your copies it talked, as the snowboard industry was starting its (first) consolidation, about what led companies to face survival issues and how they could save themselves. I started with the following:
Since last fall, as our new economic reality has evolved, I’ve had a few things to say about what to do. They’ve included building your balance sheet, controlling your inventory and other expenses, focusing on the gross profit line, looking at gross margin dollars as well as percentages, and making good use of your management accounting system, which I consider a strategic tool in this environment.
The GMROII is the number of gross margin dollars generated for each dollar of inventory you had in that category over the period of a year. If you could plan your whole business around GMROII, obviously you’d get rid of everything but long completes and just sell them. But your customers probably wouldn’t go along with that.
As I said in the last issue of Boardsport Source, the way companies choose to compete in the action sports industry and, I suppose, in most industries, is largely responsible for the maturing and consolidation of fast growth industries. Ask the skate and snow people. People way smarter than I have acknowledged that surf’s time will come.
I can’t be the only one it’s occurred to that skateboarding seems to have dodged its historical cycle of disappearing and being reborn every ten years. I think that’s a good thing, though shrinking to nothing and more or less starting over had the advantage of letting everything be fresh and rediscovered.
- After a phenomenal period of growth, snowboarding consolidated down to the point where five or so large, multibrand companies sell most of the hard goods.
- Hard good prices have fallen and continue to fall. Everybody makes good product differentiable only by marketing and most of them make some of in China, or somewhere like China, as a competitive necessity.
- Sales of pro rider snowboards now account, I’m told, for only around five percent of total deck sales. It use to be more.
- Soft goods and accessories are an important- maybe the most important- source of income and potential growth for snowboard companies. Seeking opportunities for growth that hard goods won’t provide, some snowboard companies interested in moving into the much larger and more profitable fashion business. That means they are running into some heavy duty competitors with more resources and fashion industry knowledge.
- Distribution was allowed to expand dramatically. Looking for growth, or with the rationale of building market share, brands became available at more and more locations, causing some decline in the perceived value of the snowboard product in spite of the brands’ marketing campaigns.
- Snowboarding started as an outlaw sport, with some resort’s first action with regards to snowboarding being to ban it. In short order they embraced it and started building terrain parks all over the place.
- Snowboard shops became multiactivity action sports shops. Hard goods were no longer as profitable as soft goods but were critical to the shops market position. Sales of apparel, shoes, and accessories to non participants interested in the lifestyle, or just in the trendy clothing, because critical to shop success.
Ain’t business grand? You’ve got a choice of something over 100 snowboard brands to sell in your shop. ‘Course, 20 of them will be gone by the time the snow melts and next year there’ll be 35 new ones. Delivery, not to mention service, is uncertain. Some of those new companies will be only as real as the ad they managed to scrap up enough cash to run in Transworld.
In previous articles, going back to when skating was growing like the proverbial weed, I’ve talked about issues related to a downturn. Things like expense control, if you should sell your business, characteristics of a maturing market, cash flow management, the impact of a recession, and the potential impact of foreign competition. Given the continuing, current conditions in the skateboarding industry, it’s kind of time, and probably well past time, to bring it all together.
It doesn’t seem fair. Okay, after the 90s, some economic slow down was inevitable and most industries are having to deal with it. Skateboarding, after a few years of simply spectacular growth was due for a consolidation, and we’re getting it in spades. War, of course, isn’t good for already soft consumer spending- too many people staying home to watch the war on TV. And just to make things perfect, the weather hasn’t exactly cooperated. The East Coast has had its first real winter in a few years.
It’s 2002 and I think the five biggest snowboard companies, in alphabetical order, are Burton, Gen X, K2, Rossignol, and Salomon.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a retailer, distributor or manufacturer. It doesn’t even matter if you’re in the snowboard business. In every industry, companies get in trouble for the same basic reasons, and require the same things to recover
It was three or four months ago that I stopped getting the nearly weekly calls and emails from somebody who wanted to open a new skate shop. As weeks dragged on without the sound of enthusiastic voices eager to make their mark in skateboard retailing I wondered if that wasn’t a sign of a market top.
- They’ve all been around a while
- The owner is actively involved in management and is in touch with the customers.
- They have some kind of budget and cash flow awareness. They watch inventory and expenses.
- They can tell you, in a general sense, who their customers are. There is customer loyalty.
- They are involved with the community and the sport.
I enjoy hearing from you, even when you disagree. The exchange means that I learn something, too. Leave a comment on any of my posts to contact me directly.
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