Industry News

Winter is Coming: Specialty Retailers Say Enthusiasm and Retail Sales are Up in Most Regions

November 16, 2015 | 0 Comments

As the lifts start turning at many resorts and the holiday shopping season gets underway, reports from retailers across the country bode well for a great season ahead for snow sports sales. The August and September SIA Snow Sports Retail Data produced by The NPD Group will be released very soon, but in the meantime, a quick check in with retailers in various regions offers an encouraging look at how specialty shops are doing so far this season.

The huge response we got from our recent El Niño blog post gave us a glimpse into the high level of excitement for the season to come, and that is bearing out in strong early season sales at retailers across the country. As expected, areas that had great snow last season are experiencing the best sales. But pent up demand and excitement for a great season ahead is definitely playing a role in areas that experienced drought conditions and unseasonable warmth last year.

Paige Strine at the Ski Barn in Paramus, NJ, has been in the business for 40 years, so she knows a thing or two about how the cycle goes. “We are seeing the same cycle as we always have coming off a strong winter,” she said. “We are having a very strong early season.  Sales are up for this period and enthusiasm is up as well.  We are off to a good start….bring on a snowy winter!”

Reports from New England, which had an epic 14/15 season, are also glowing. “Vermont had a killer year for big snow and powder last season which has definitely translated into all of our customers being fired up for the season ahead. That absolutely translates into strong early sales.  Our winter season kicks off in late August and our business has been very strong ever since – in fact we’ve had the highest level of early sales in our 52 year history,” said Andy Kingston, owner of the Alpine Shop in Burlington, VT.

In the Intermountain region, last season was variable at best, but that doesn’t seem to have had as bad an effect on early season sales for some shops as it has in years past. “Last season’s snow fall made me anticipate slower sales this fall, but we are actually on track with last fall at this point,” said Jeff Lewerenz of Greenwood’s Ski Haus in Boise, ID. “In fact I would say that people are more excited about skiing this fall than they were last winter and spring!”

In the Rockies a good consistent season last year added up to a consistent early season at Carvers in Breckenridge. Owner Thad Eldredge said, “There’s definitely a strong interest in product right now and excitement for the season, but as a resort retailer we don’t typically get noticeably busy until Christmas. I’d say it’s been a pretty typical year. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and this is what I’d expect after a solid season like last year. We’re just about even with where we were last year at this time. Things are on the upswing now, and we’re seeing nice incremental increases.”

In the western region, although the season last year was obviously not good, the mood  is extremely positive. Casey Glaubman, Marketing & Event Coordinator at Granite Chief in Truckee, CA, said, “If anything, at least in the Tahoe area, I think there is a large feeling of optimism and expectations for a great season. We’ve all heard about the impending “Godzilla” El Nino year, and people are definitely psyched. People do seem to be coming in at a slightly higher rate than would be normal for this time of year.”

In the Pacific Northwest, sales got off to a slow start because of the dismal season last year. Last month, we checked in with Bryce Phillips of evo in Portland, OR, who commented, “The northwest is definitely hungover. Comps in Washington State in particular both in store and web are tough. Given the essentially non-existent winter last season, people need to be reminded how big of anomaly that was and snow hitting the ground is what’s needed to prove it.”

But now that snow has hit the ground in many regions, Phillips’ colleague Brian Limoges updated evo’s status to a very positive one: “Indeed snow sports sales are on an upswing! Since the first resorts opened on the east coast we have seen a dramatic uptick in demand for snow-centric product. In fact, I was just looking at our regional online sales last week for our business and the PNW is continuously gaining market share relative to the rest of the country. Prior to this recent trend, we’ve seen our strongest growth and demand coming out of CA and CO – no doubt due to the great season CO had last year as well as the abundant resorts open in both states currently in addition to the pent up demand in CA after four consecutively tough years. All signs are pointing in the right direction as we gear up for our busiest time of the year for evo!”

Stay tuned for the August and September SIA Snow Sports Retail Data produced by The NPD Group, which should be released any day. Meantime, check out the research that’s currently available at Snowsports.org/research, and be sure to view the State of the Industry Video Series for a great overview of the 2014/15 season’s retail sales, trends, consumer behavior and participation.

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