The Commission, snowboarding’s core shop coalition, is now entering its third season, and many of its members are feeling very optimistic about the future. With its first member meeting at the 2013 SIA Snow Show, The Commission began as a group of the country’s core snowboard retailers realized they were experiencing similar issues and felt they could work together more effectively to address them. The Commission has grown to a group of 16 core shops across the country. As a group, they have collaborated with manufacturers to bring segmented product into their shops and have also opened the lines of communication with all of their vendors to help build the strength of the specialty retailers.
“You’re talking about the heart and soul of snowboarding,” said Bill Langlands, owner of Darkside Snowboards in Killington, VT. “We’re 16 shops nationwide, rider-owned and operated, and we have a passion for the sport. I started my shop 25 years ago in 1989, and we live it every day; my wife and I are out on the mountain riding every day. We have our customers here and the kids are here riding in our parks all season long, because people want to connect to this, the heart and soul of the sport. It’s a great life, and we try to spread our enthusiasm for it. The core shop is where you find that, so the reason we got the Commission together is that we’re all like-minded people, all core shops in different parts of the country, and we’re working together to make our businesses better and make the industry better, and keep the specialty retailer alive.”
Langlands said that at this point, the main way the Commission functions to make the industry better is through open lines of communication. “We want to learn from each other within the group, and we’re also partners with our vendors; we want to work with them and we know they want to work with us.”
One unique way that the Commission has opened communication is in its collaboration with manufacturers on exclusive product lines. Another Commission member, Mike Pettit, owner of The Youth Shelter Supply in St. Cloud, MN, explained, “The cool thing about the segmented product is the fact that instead of another brand coming to us and saying, ‘here’s our idea for an exclusive line,’ this is something we’re initiating. This is us deciding what’s selling best in our shops and saying, ‘we need this liner in this boot or that highback on that binding,’ and they’re listening to us.”
Langlands said in the Commission’s first year, they worked with brands they felt represented their vision and their passion for the sport. “That first year we had one boot from Burton, the Super.rampant, one binding from Union, the Super.force, and our board was from Lib-tech, the Super.banana. All of them had upgraded features and extra jazz at a better price point. Last year, we expanded to two boots and two bindings, and this year we’ll do the same. It’s been very well received. This year we’re getting a boot from Burton, a $200-$250 platform boot, but it will have the liner from a higher end $400 boot, and we’ll sell it for about $270. The binding has upgraded straps and highback and our own color way. ThirtyTwo is also making us a boot, Union is doing a binding, and Lib-tech is making our board. It’s a win-win for our customers, for us, and for the manufacturers. It’s absolutely helped bring people into the store – our core customer is all over the Commission product. These are people in the know; they know they’re getting a good deal. You put them in that boot with the high-end lining and they know the difference. They can see the value.”
But exclusive product is not all that the Commission is about. In fact, after speaking with many of the Commission shop owners, it becomes clear that this exclusive product is sort of a physical representation of the philosophy of the group. It’s a symbol of the communication, the fact that the manufacturers are listening to their core shops, and that they’re interested in working with these shops to keep the passion for the sport alive.
According to Commission member JG Mazzotta, co-owner of Satellite Board Shop in Boulder, CO, the Commission product and the group itself has helped raise awareness of issues facing the industry. “A big thing for us was to organize something that would bring awareness to both the brands and the customers,” he said. “The average consumer doesn’t think about who they’re supporting, and we want them to think about the reason why they shop at our stores instead of at the big box. The Commission raises that awareness, that we’re the core retailer, we have the expertise, the customer service, the best products for the best price, and that the money goes back into snowboard and skate. And the manufacturers’ enthusiasm and willingness to be a part of it shows that people are paying attention. Brands are pounding at the door to make product for us because they want to be associated with what we represent— the core of snowboarding.”
The next level of communication and awareness is what the group has been working on recently, as they meet with their vendors to discuss the most difficult issues facing the industry. The main issues the group has been addressing include the no-questions-asked return policies practiced by many big box and internet retailers. “It’s very important to bring awareness to these problems because it’s not a level playing field anymore,” said Commission member Dennis Nazari, owner of Salty Peaks in Salt Lake City, UT. “The overproduction of goods and the no questions asked return policies are the biggest threats to specialty retailers, and unless these things change, it’s only a matter of time before all the specialty retailers will have to close their doors. That would be a terrible thing for the industry, because every time you lose a specialty retailer you lose a brain trust and a passion for the sport that can’t be replaced by a big box or by the internet.”
But progress has been made and there is a lot of reason to feel that the Commission has been a great success in its first two seasons. Ben Pellegrino, owner of Milosport in Orem, UT, and one of the first Commission members, said, “Collectively we have a stronger voice and it’s definitely having an impact. We’ve had lengthy discussions about the no-questions-asked return policies with our vendors and explained to them how bad it was for us, and we were integral in getting some of the worst ones changed. I believe that having the collective voice and bringing that energy to the table really made a difference.”
Next up, Pellegrino said the Commission is working to tackle issues like MAP pricing, pro deal policies and accessory package changes, as well as the more global issue of overproduction. “All these things, both big and small, have been eating away at sales,” he said. “Our big goal is to work with manufacturers on getting back to the scarcity model. Every brand needs to run out of stuff by March so there’s excitement for next year’s offering. Basically, these are the things we’re talking to our vendors about and we feel like if we bring three items to the table and they take on one, that’s a victory. Then we bring the other ones back next time and we’ll get there. It’s such a passionate sport and there’s so much culture involved, the manufacturers know that the specialty shop is where people come to connect with that culture, so we know they want to work with us to keep that passion alive.”
In January, The Commission will hold its annual meeting at the 2015 SIA Snow Show, and members will be looking forward to a chance to sit in the same room and collaborate on what’s happened in the season and look forward to the future. “We just keep looking forward and believing we can make a difference,” said Mazzotta. “For our group, positivity is the only thing that’s going to help us.” Back at Darkside, Langlands and his general manager Evan Ricker agreed: “We don’t want to say that the core shop is the only thing that’s good for snowboarding, but we do know that by keeping them going, and working with the Commission to do that, it’s the best way to remind people to buy local, buy core, and stay rad.”