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Matt PattonSIA recently caught up with Matt Patton, co-owner of Tactics in Eugene, OR to get some insight into the specialty retailer world.

When Matt’s family moved to Denver in the late 70’s he convinced his parents to take him to Keystone and he was hooked! He spent a few winters on the Eskimo Ski Train. Years later he became an attorney living in San Francisco, CA and then Eugene, OR.

In 1999, Matt was working at a law firm in Eugene and playing on a soccer team with Bob Chandler. Bob and a few friends invited him to join them in starting a side business selling snowboard equipment online. Within about a year of launching, his partner, Bob Chandler, and himself had both quit their jobs and were the only ones still with the business. They opened a shop, expanded into skate and surf and have been going strong now for over 10 years now both in-store and online.

SIA: What is your position and what does a regular day look like to you?
Matt: When you start a small business from scratch, you wear a lot of hats. At this point, my main role is to work with our buyers and manage the inventory. Bob works more on the financial and administrative sides of the business.

Matt and family at Bachelor.SIA: What are some of the biggest challenges retailers are facing and what can they do about them?
Matt: We’ve only been around since 1999 but I think most specialty retailers in our industry would agree that the amount of change we’ve experienced in the last decade is pretty unprecedented. From the emergence of the internet and social media, to more open distribution, to over production, to brands becoming competing retailers, to the ongoing Great Financial Crisis, there’s no shortage of challenges. The world is entering a slow growth era and our industry is increasingly driven by publicly-owned companies that won’t tolerate slower growth, at least not yet. Something has to give and I think it’s safe to assume the challenges will continue.

What we try to do is continually ask ourselves if we matter and why. Those can be sobering questions but they force you to focus internally on things you can control and that build better relationships with your customers. Ultimately, a retailer doesn’t matter unless it matters to its customers. There is no one size fits all answer. Every retailer has distinct qualities and strengths it can play to. Simply carrying the right brands and products isn’t enough anymore. Most customers will not stick with you simply because you were there first. If you’re not making them feel good or special in some way, you’re in trouble.

SIA: How can the industry as a whole attract more snow sports participants?
Matt: Industry folks far smarter than me have struggled with that one and right now I would like to just keep the participants we have. It does seem like the industry must first want to act “as a whole” to improve participation and I’m not sure that’s really been the case. Again, what we do is focus internally. We started this business for the fun of it. We sell fun. We want to share the fun of sliding sideways on a mountain. There’s no better feeling than having a customer connect us with the stoke he or she feels on the mountain.

Tactics, Eugene, ORSIA: With a record-breaking 2010/11 season, what do you predict for the 2011/12 season?
Matt: 2010/11 was bittersweet because, you know, the sequel can’t be as good. To be honest, that’s probably a good thing because my greatest fear is that 2010/11 may have caused some people in our industry to develop short memories and get ahead of themselves in terms of inventory. Scarcity is good, particularly in this economy.

SIA: What are the most important qualities to have as a retailer/shop?
Matt: Trustworthiness and a desire to share the stoke are qualities that come to mind. From grandma to the most core kid, our motto is to treat them all like rock stars.

SIA: What is your favorite product on the market right now?
Matt: Splitboards! I also had a great season on my Jones Flagship and can’t wait to get more days on next season’s Lib Tech La Nina.

SIA: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Matt: Building long term customer relationships and watching employees develop, bond, and feel ownership in Tactics.

SIA: What value do you see in SIA and the SIA Snow Show?
Matt: The market research is really valuable and there are some really smart folks working for SIA waiting to share their knowledge. Even though regional shows are growing in importance, there is no substitute for a single gathering of the entire industry.