Get Out of the Office! It’s Amazing What You Can Learn

Yesterday, I had occasion to meet up with Jaimeson Keegan, who’s the President/Floor Sweeper (according to his business card) of SUPERHEROES Management. It offers athlete and entertainment talent representation combined with social media strategies and some other stuff that I thought was a very sensible aggregation. Anyway, we’re both up here in the Northwest and just thought we should get together and meet each other. Not being from Southern California, we get lonely and don’t have that many people to talk to.

And since we both knew where it was and there was a great coffee place down the street, we met at The Snowboard Connection in downtown Seattle. Owners John Logic and Adam Gerken weren’t there. John, it seems was over at the storage unit at their old location finally cleaning the thing out. They are apparently putting a wrecking ball to that old building, so there was just no way to put off cleaning it out any longer. Adam was off on his first vacation in three years. I took that as a sign the business was doing well.

I saw the Skullcandy display in the store. The sales person was raving about some new, customized display Skull was going to give them that would wrap around the post, or something. I asked if they carried any other headphones and the only thing they had was one pair of Nixon headphones in the case with the other Nixon product.
 
It made for an interesting comparison. Nixon started out in watches and has diversified their product line rather dramatically. Skullcandy has quite a line of tees, sweats, and beanies, but the focus is clearly on buds and headphones. We’ll see if that changes. One reason it might not change is because of different distribution strategies. Skull’s two biggest customers are Target and Best Buy. I’ve seen their product in Fred Meyers and, well, kind of all over the place. Their challenge, as I’ve written before, is to be cool even in wide and widening distribution. I’m prepared to believe you might manage that with headphones (ignoring, for the moment, the issue of inevitable competition). Not with apparel or other products.
 
I didn’t look for Nixon in Fred Meyers and don’t expect to see them there. But I’d expect their brand strength would allow them to sell a broader range of products than Skull but in a more limited distribution. Think of it like this. Skull has broader distribution in a narrower product line. Nixon has narrower distribution with a broader product line.
 
As long as I was downtown and had time on the parking meter, I thought I’d walk across to REI and see what was going on there. The first thing I noticed was that there wasn’t all that much merchandise in the store. I don’t mean it was poorly merchandised or looked bad. I just mean the store could have held a lot more product and not have been even close to cluttered. I’d chalk that up to the economy. As a member of the industry, I say, “Great!” Carefully managed inventory means fewer markdowns, less investment, and consumers anxious to buy. As you know, I think you can sometimes earn more selling less.
 
The ski and snowboard hard goods were right next to each other, more or less forming one section of the store. I really liked the snowboard racks. Ever shopped for area rugs? You know how they hang from a rack and move them from side to side like turning the pages of the book so you get a good look at them? That’s how these racks worked. Great idea.
 
I also noticed that the racks weren’t full. Hope that’s due to good inventory management rather than late shipments.
 
The winter apparel was nowhere in sight. I had to go upstairs to find it. It was pretty much all together with no ski/snowboard differentiation. Patagonia with Marmot with Burton with Nike with Betty Rides and some others. I’ve known Betty Rides owner Janet Freeman for more years than I’m prepared to admit. I don’t think this is the brand’s first year in REI, but it was great to see. Janet, you’ll be glad to know that your brand was as well represented as much larger brands, though it was a bit in the corner. It was interesting, in fact, to notice that no brand had all that much more space than any other. I was also told that REI does no private label.
 
So anyway, that’s what I learned just because I got my ass out of my office chair. I should do it more often.
6 replies
  1. John Dubock
    John Dubock says:

    Too bad REI embraces the fakie economy. Female CEO May 2010 says “two things will sell this summer, balance beams and STANDUP PADDLING boards….so she puts boards in 13 out of 113 total stores. If a customer can’t touch a brand new sport, and it costs $1200 sorry, no sale and its bogus “to go on our Internet site”. In our SLC, UT store they don’t even RENT sup boards and admit they get “4 calls a day to rent”. REI is slow to the mark, but fakes out the stockholders, nice try! Even ONE board on the floor would make a difference.

    I’m a devoted REI member too, they don’t listen to customers and morale isn’t all that great for their employees…

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi John,
      Wonder how she picked those 13 stores? They aren’t in the Seattle store as far as I noticed, but I did see the big presence on line. The damned things do take up a lot of room, but they really are a product that would seem to make for REI’s customer base.

      Thanks,
      J.

  2. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    Jeff, good to hear some reporting from out in the trenches.

    Albeit a lame attempt on REI’s part, SUP is a tough category. Inventory and shipping costs are extreme. Designs are still shaking out so you don’t know how long that inventory will be valuable (all the first designs were long surfboards. Now they look more like racing skulls). The boards are difficult to transport for the consumer. Most participants will use them once or twice a year, so the replacement market will slow down quickly. Add to that, not unlike snowboards in the 90’s, there is already a boom in brands and retail outlets leading to discounting. I heard that there were 70 brands showing SUP at Surf Expo. I heard OR was equally overloaded. Waaaaay too much inventory for the market at this point.
    Hope SUP doesn’t go the way of Windsurfing.
    Glenn

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Glenn,
      SUP doesn’t need wind, so it should not have windsurfing’s problem. Also it can be and, as far as I know, is done by a much wider range of people. Having said that, I agree with you that there’s not going to be much incentive to replace your product. I think I already mentioned to you that you can get a board at Costco for four hundred and something dollars.

      Thanks,
      J.

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