The Lesson to be Learned from SIA’s Sales Report

SIA recently reported that the snow sports market in February exceeded $3 billion. You probably get the same emails I get, but if not, you can see the announcement and analysis here. SIA expects the industry to set a record by the time the season ends. Through February, sales are up 13% in dollars and 8% in units. In February unit sales were down 2% and dollars sales 1.5% compared to February last year. But gross margins rose 8%.

With the usual cautionary note that we always do well when the snow gods favor us, let’s look briefly at the opportunities these results present us with.

I’m thrilled to see February sales down and margins up 8%. That happened because inventories were tight. For the whole season, sales are up more than units, also reflecting rising margins.
 
If dollar sales fell 1.5% in February but margins were up 8%, how did you do? I’d say you had more gross margin dollars than if sales had been a bit higher but margins lower. Those gross margin dollars, I may have argued a time or two, are what you use to pay your bills. But wait! There’s more!
 
You have less working capital tied up in inventory. You could have spent less money on advertising and promotion. Your customer is learning not to wait for a deal. Tons of closeout product isn’t showing up in places we really don’t want it (unless you’re one of those close out people, in which case you may not be too happy). There’s not a pile of left over product in your warehouse waiting to be cleared out before the start of the season next year.
 
Won’t it be fun when customers start coming in looking for cheap stuff and you can tell them that not only isn’t there any, but if they don’t get what they want now, they may not get it? You’ve already improved your gross margin by next year just by not having a bunch of inventory left and we’ve collectively improved our brands’ images.
 
As an industry, we go to conferences, hold trade shows, create learn to ski/ride programs, run all sorts of programs, do studies advertise and promote, and spend overall millions of dollars trying to get people to try riding/skiing and stick with it.
But I’d hypothesize that we could forgo a bunch of that if we just didn’t get so damned greedy and continued to control our inventories. Oh, and we- you, that is- could make more money with less risk.
 
Now, I’m the guy who’s always said every business is going to (and should) make the decisions that they perceive to be in their own best interest. That’s true. But it looks to me right now that what’s good for your business is probably good for the industry in at least this one instance. Everybody left standing in the ski/board industry has figured out, finally, that there’s no way to make money in winter sports if you’ve got a pile of left over inventory. And also you won’t be able to pay your bills.
 
I know we’re left with the not so simple issue of trying to match production and purchases with how much it’s going to snow and where. And I know that somebody, somewhere (probably more than one) is going to see the inventory shortage as an opportunity and crank up their factory and/or purchasing. But if most of us perceive that it’s in our interest to buy and sell a little less at higher margins, we can sleep better over the summer, have stronger balance sheets, make more money with less investment and help get more people on the mountain.
 
At least think about that before you say, “Shit, I could have sold more last year” and up your orders.