Now that the holiday shopping season is underway, snow sports specialty retailers are increasingly finding themselves in the battle of “the bricks vs. the clicks.” But many savvy shop owners are finding ways to work within this new age of retailing, and are keeping their shops filled with loyal customers.
According to Accenture’s recent 2015 Holiday Shopping survey, Showrooming (visiting a store to review a product before purchasing it online) will even more be prevalent among U.S. shoppers this year, with 65 percent likely to Showroom before making an online purchase. Most of the snow sports retailers we’ve spoken with have said that they feel the pressure from showrooming, but they have found ways to work with this trend and focus on their store’s strengths to build their customer base and keep people staying in-store to purchase.
Themes for success we’ve heard repeated from snow sports retailers include:
- – Make sure your employees are highly trained to explain the latest technology and are experts in gear fitting
- – Sell the experience of snow sports in your shop with merchandising and story telling
- – Match prices whenever you can
- – Use social media to build a tribe around your shop and personalize the shopping experience
- – Get involved in your community with activities, events and charity work
- – Build a program that will encourage customers to return year after year (Junior Lease Program)
Over the next few weeks we’ll focus on a few of these topics in more depth, starting today with the last on the list – a tool that hits a lot of targets in the fight against showrooming: the Junior Lease Program.
Tyler and Chris Bunch, co-owners of the Alpine Ski Shop
The Junior Lease Program is a seasonal rental that parents can start when their kids are small. It’s a great low-cost way to be sure that they have the correct size and fit for their equipment each year as they grow. It is often not a money maker on its own, but shop owners say that it provides a great community service and pays dividends in customer loyalty. Other perks include additional sales while leasing kids’ equipment, and most of all, bringing people into your shop and showing them the benefits that good customer service can provide. In the battle against Showrooming, all of these benefits hit the mark.
At the Alpine Ski Shop in Sterling, VA, co-owner Tyler Bunch says his store’s junior lease and buy-back programs are great tools for building customer loyalty. “We’ve been doing our Junior lease and buy-back programs for at least 35-40 years – we’ve seen generations come through it,” said Bunch. “It’s the best way to keep costs down for the parents and they avoid the rental lines, so it’s great for them. When they’re in the store, then there are the extra purchases that get made – the socks, the helmet, and new gear for the parents as well. Once people have done the buy-back program and see how easy it makes everything, they tell their friends and it spreads through their neighborhood; it’s a great word of mouth way to build our customer base.”
“It’s definitely a great way to keep people coming back into the shop year after year,” he added. “So although we have been doing this since before the start of the internet, this turns out to be an excellent way to combat this new phenomenon of showrooming and to keep people coming to our store to buy their snow sports gear.”
Alpine Ski Shop customers Rick and Thomas Brown
“This program is absolutely the best thing for our family,” said Alpine Ski Shop customer Rick Brown, who was at the shop’s Fairfax, VA, location recently with his 9-year-old son, Thomas. “We have three kids, so it’s extremely economical and they all have what they need each year. Plus, I love to come into the shop. I feel at home here because it reminds me of the shop my parents used to take me to in my home town. We come in each year and make sure the kids have the right size gear, and my wife and I can also update our equipment with whatever we need at the same time. It’s a great way to get the season started – we have a big trip to Utah planned, so now we’re all set up and we’re excited.”
Customer education is another role a seasonal lease program can play in the ongoing fight against online sales. Scot Jardon, owner of Mountain View Sports in Keystone, CO, said he feels the best thing about his seasonal rental program is the level of service involved, because it shows customers that his employees’ expertise and knowledge base is something the internet can’t compete with.
Scot Jardon, owner, Mountain View Sports
“I don’t always make money on the first year of a seasonal lease, but I’ve been doing this for 25 years, so I know it’s worth it because it builds customer loyalty, knowledge and community. There’s a huge amount of service required for proper fitting, and it’s our job as the front door of the industry to communicate that to consumers. Once they see that we have that expertise, they keep coming back to our shop year after year.” Jardon said.
“I think the snow sports industry has a unique opportunity in that regard,” he added. “We have a better chance to keep our store fronts open than other industries because of the personalization and knowledge required to give people proper fit and function. Without that, our customers won’t be happy out on the mountain. So often, people buy something online and it’s not ideal for them because there was no service behind the sale. We need to communicate that to our customers, because if we don’t, we’ll lose participants– it’s a key part of our job here on the front lines.”
Alpine Shop, Burlington, VT
Andy Kingston, owner of the Alpine Shop in Burlington, VT, agreed that while his junior lease program is expensive for him to maintain, it is absolutely worth the investment he makes each year to keep it going. “Our lease program continues to grow each year,” Kingston said. “We are fortunate to have been doing this for nearly 20 years and have over $2M in lease equipment inventory. It’s very difficult to start a successful lease program today without a large capital outlay – and there’s a large annual investment as well to keep it going. But the beauty of it for us is that it’s a community service; it helps families participate in the sport and it’s good for the industry because it hooks families who may not have otherwise been able to get involved.”
“It definitely brings people into the store – we give kids a $20 credit each year they lease with us, so by the time they’ve stopped growing and they’re ready to purchase, they’ve got $200 towards their first pair of skis or snowboard. That certainly builds loyalty, which is always a benefit when you’re trying to combat the online stores,” Kingston concluded.
The Junior Lease Program is just one of many tools retailers are using these days to maintain customer loyalty and keep their shops thriving in the age of online sales. Stay tuned to Snow Source for more on Showrooming as we get into the thick of the holiday shopping season. Meantime, check out our previous Webrooming article and Showrooming article for more helpful tips and info. Also, be sure to visit the Rental World exhibit at the 2016 SIA Snow Show to see the latest trends and technology in rental gear. The seminars at Rental World are always helpful to shops who want to make the most of their rental services. Stay on top of the latest news about #SIA16 by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.