Tell us a little bit about your background – who do you rep, what region are you in, and how did you get to this point in your career?
Nikki: It all started with a passion that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. My parents started me on skis when I was 2 ½!! I made the switch for snowboarding at 15 (in 1992) and I’ve never looked back – I would do all I could to be on my board and that was my whole life! Being a woman in a world that didn’t create products for me made me want to work towards making better product for women. I wanted to work in product development for snowboards/outerwear so I got a Textiles/Marketing/International Relations degree from UC Davis. While doing that I worked in a garment manufacturing factory learning the procurement of fabric, and production of garments. I started also working at a Quiksilver store that just opened in Sacramento. That truly changed my life. I had a few different roles at Quiksilver – retail, helped open a couple stores and train staff, was sent to the Olympics in Utah to work, etc. I also started to help the current Quiksilver/Mervin rep in my territory at that time. I moved on from Quiksilver to Zumiez and was a manager there. I continued to help the current rep for trade shows and really loved the environment and culture. I also love the family environment that Quiksilver and Mervin created.
I never made the move to my goal of product development because I couldn’t see myself living away from the mountains that I loved so much. I realized that my voice could still be heard working with designers of the brands I repped. When the opportunity arose to become a rep I took it! I absolutely love my job! Over the years I have made some changes with my arsenal of brands – my highest point I had 9 brands! Currently less is more in my eyes. I rep Mervin Manufacturing: Lib Tech, Gnu and Roxy hardgoods. I also rep One Ball Jay and Herschel Supply Co. I really want to work for people that have a similar life philosophy as me and these brands fit perfectly within that!
Nichole: I fell in love with snowboarding at the end of high school, quit my job and was hired in a local board shop. I got my start with the Airwalk rep- who was patient and let me learn by success and mistakes. I was hired with Quiksilver/Roxy, One Ball Jay, Mervin Manufacturing in the Rockies. I hit the road, slept in my truck, and couldn’t be happier with the relationships I have built and business I grew since I started 14 years ago. Since then adding Herschel Supply Co., Sun Bum & SP Gadgets to my agency.
Nikki Sternin and her son, Justice.
What are some of the general challenges you find in your work, and are there any specific challenges that come from being a woman hardgoods rep, which is a somewhat rare thing?
Nikki: This is an interesting question. I think that for me, I never thought of myself as being different than any of the other reps because of my gender until someone would bring it up! The reality is that we are all in it for the passion that we have for the lifestyle and culture. We all have this common thread of enjoyment when we are out there turning screws in a crazy blizzard, or riding incredible fluffy powder on the day our other friends are at their office jobs! And if you ask some of my rep friends they will attest to you that I have bigger balls than some of them J Also to note, in my territory I am grateful to have other women in my world daily that are also hardgoods reps: Kendra Langston (Ride), Krysta Depp (Solomon) and Kathy Karlovic Ruimerman (DC) These women ROCK!!!
Nichole: The challenges are probably the same in most work environments- logistics, communication, and product deliveries. I never thought being a woman in this job was challenging. In the earlier years, not everyone wanted to take you as seriously. But guess what- women are pretty serious.
What are some of your favorite things about your job, and on the other side of the coin from the previous question, are there any times in your work that you think being a woman in a male-dominated field is somehow a benefit?
Nikki: There are so many great things about my job! Being on the pulse of the consumer and doing demos on the mountain is probably one of my favorites! We get to introduce new product to consumers and truly change their experience. Another one is working with kids on the mountain – I have worked with Sierra at Tahoe personally sponsoring an event called Lil Weirdos (the first year was a Mervin event and I have carried it on since). Doing an event that is based on camaraderie and supporting each other at that level has been so fun to do!! The kids are a name, not a number, and usually the person that wins a board is the one who gave the most support for other people!! I think being a person with a HUGE passion for what I do is a benefit. I lead with passion and I feel that is my greatest key to success!!
Nichole: I love every day in my job. I do what I love, and work with amazing people from the companies I represent, including the shop relationships and friends I have made along the way. I also think I have the best territory with a great spread of areas and resorts- that doesn’t hurt. What I think about being in a male dominant environment is: A) that is changing every day. B) men are funny. The benefits come from hard work- no matter who you are. The opportunity to work with women I looked up to in riding is incredible – Barrett Christy, Torah Bright, Erin Comstock and Natalie Murphey are just a few to name. I also love that I get to share my passion for riding and help other women get into the sport. I hosted the first ever women’s-only snowboard camp in Colorado at Echo Mountain. I was really excited that 30 girls showed up! Since then I have hosted multiple camps for girls/women…the talent continues to impress me every year.
Left: Nichole Nemmers, cheers! Right: Nikki Sternin with husband Seth and son Justice.
How important is it to you to rep a company that offers women-specific gear?
Nikki: When I started snowboarding I had to wear Sorels and put cardboard in between the liner and my boot to stiffen them up! I rode a men’s board until 2001 because there really weren’t many options for women. I always wanted to find better women-specific products, and thank goodness we have evolved! Working for both Quiksilver/Roxy and Mervin Mfg. has given me the opportunity to work alongside some amazing women in this industry that have truly pioneered the world for us – women like Barrett Christy and Natalie Murphy Sullivan – they have not given up on making the best of the best for us and I am entirely grateful for that!!
Nichole: I think it is very important. Women shred, play, love, and laugh the same as guys do. As long as we continue to invite new consumers into the market, we should speak to ALL of them.
As a woman rider, do you feel that most companies are realizing that women-specific gear is an important thing to offer and that most women these days demand it?
Nikki: I feel like ten years ago the shift was very strong. There has been an evolution over those years, and I feel that now there is an amazing selection of products from many brands that are designed for women by women. This is fantastic!!
Nichole: Well, we have come a long way from only having one women’s boot on the boot wall, or an oversized junior board being called a women’s specific. Yes, the more fun you have and the less struggle = the more you are going to advance and get deeper into it. You can be ripping, looking good and have product that fits you!
Last question – Obviously in Northern California, Nikki, you saw some of the worst of the weather related impacts last year, and Nichole, conditions were variable in your region. What are your predictions, hopes or dreams for this season?
Nikki: All I want is a “normal” season!! It’s so sad to see shops closing because we didn’t get enough snow and they are not able to keep the doors open! When you work alongside people for so long, they become part of your family. You want them to succeed and you want to do anything you can to help. When their whole livelihood is revolved around weather and it doesn’t happen, it’s devastating. So let’s do a little snow dance for Tahoe and the whole West Coast of North America!!!!
Nichole: Powder days do and will exist a ton this year- there’s a prediction. I stopped playing weatherman a few years back (it’s a bad side job), but I have learned that you can have fun every day out there. Some of us have just become more picky about what we want to ride- Powder 🙂 Stop complaining. Do something.
Any last thoughts to add?
Nikki: I just want to say that I’m extremely grateful to be working alongside the BEST reps in the nation! Regardless of what brands we work for, we all truly enjoy working alongside each other and have worked really hard at making a great experience for our shops! I really honor the other reps in my territory!!
Nichole: Being outside is what matters. Wax your board, slap on your sunscreen, grab a backpack and go outside.
A big thanks to Nikki and Nichole for taking the time out to share their journeys as successful sales representatives, as well as women who are passionate about their sport and live it every day. Remember that reps at any stage of their career can find useful research, marketing and education resources at Snowsports.org/reps. And, as we get closer to January, make sure you stay on top of all the latest information about the upcoming 2016 SIA Snow Show by following #SIA16 on Facebook and Twitter.