Eric’s an American who has been kicking it over in France for a while now and slinging snowboard gear. As the Retail Manager of Carrel Sports in Les Deux Alpes he gets to ride some sick terrain and sell products to locals and tourists alike. Check out what his take is on the French scene, gear, and trends.
What difficulties are you experiencing with keeping your customers coming back to your store and not hunting around online?
I think that biggest problem we come up against is currency fluctuation. Last season the British pound took a dump and was worth the same as the Euro for a bit. Half of our customers are British, and trying to get them to spend 30% more on the same equipment is difficult. The market stabilized over the summer to reflect current exchange rates, with manufacturers compensating with price increases in the UK, but unfortunately the pound is once again in the toilet. We have a very good reputation around the resort for our boot-fitting and technical expertise, and luckily that translates directly into traffic from word of mouth.
How relevant is social media like Facebook, blogging, and twitter for engaging your customers?
For the sales side it hasn’t been very important. Most of our retail traffic is from season workers and holidaymakers. Referrals are a big part as well as we receive a good amount of business due to word of mouth, especially for the boot-fitting side. We have a separate site for our rental side, as Brits love pre-booking and can never be too organized.
We’re working on a Facebook page and a new website to keep people updated on our latest product and any specials we may be running.
If there was one brand you could bring in to your shop what would that be and why? Why haven’t you brought it in? How hard is it for a new brand to get itself into your shop?
I’ve been impressed with Never Summer, and trialed them last season on an order-only basis. It worked well, except that the distributor ran out of stock by January. I was ready to stock them this year, but there has been a massive price increase (almost 30%) for the European market due to currency fluctuations. The Evo now retails for 639 euros (that around $950!), and the likelihood of selling any non-Burton board at that price in Les Deux Alpes is pretty much non-existent.
We look at several things when considering new brands. The first is obviously the product. Is it any good, who’s going to buy it, how much is it, etc. The next thing we look at is the placement. How many shops in the resort are stocking said product? This is the reason we don’t stock Burton. There are around 12 shops in the resort that stock Burton, but only 3 that stock Nitro and ours is the only one that stocks K2. Placement is also important when it comes to competing products. If we already stock a similar product in terms of price and features, then it really has to have something special about it for it to make sense. The reps also plays a role. Good reps are honest reps and will tell you the bad as well as the good in a product and give you insight on ordering trends, whereas others will tell you their shit doesn’t stink, never has and never will and try to unload the gear no one else will take.
Trends come and go, right now which one has the hardest sell? Which one would you say is the easiest?
Many of the French are skeptical about reverse camber. We ordered a lot of zero camber boards and have more demos available this season to try and ease them into it. One of the easiest trends to sell is new goggle tech. Whether it’s the Smith’s I/O or their polarized lenses, or Scott’s new photochromatic lens, it seems we can never stock enough.
How relevant is “being core” whether its you, your shop, or a brand in the grand scheme of snowboarding? Is it just an over used marketing ploy?
I don’t really pay much attention to “core” when it comes to brands, as I evaluate product not rep. The shop isn’t what I’d call “core” either as a lot of our business comes from ski racing and boot-fitting, but that emphasis allowed us to achieve success in other areas such as snowboarding. There will always be that contingent that won’t buy from a shop that sells skis, or won’t look at so-called “ski brands”, but there are definitely less of those types about these days. The French aren’t as bothered about it as brands like Rossignol and Salomon are part of their culture.
Is reverse camber/ rocker the real deal or the greatest marketing ploy in the snowboard world?
Real deal. I love all the different cambers available and how they emphasize different aspects of snowboarding. The only traditionally cambered board I still ride regularly is a Dupraz which still can’t be beat for steep and burly trails.
What’s the biggest difference between the French snowboarding scene and the rest of the snowboarding world?
It isn’t as much an instant gratification society as one that’s happy with their lot. A lot of the people out here are more than happy to ride old or imperfect equipment and only upgrade when absolutely necessary. I can’t remember how many Erector Set looking bindings I repaired last season. This does mean we don’t sell a lot of full setups and the high-end stuff is rarely looked at, but in another sense it relates back to the spirit of snowboarding since they can have an absolute blast duct-taped to a plank. Thankfully the Brits buy like Americans.
What’s do you feel is the biggest aspect with getting and keeping people in snowboarding?
From a shop perspective it would be giving people open and honest advice. Selling kits that customers don’t need/want is just going to burn them and leave a bad taste in their mouth. If I do a good job selling the right products to the right people then they have one less thing to worry about on the mountain and can just have fun riding.
Which companies do you feel are really trying to get new riders to try snowboarding and keep them involved with their message/marketing?
K2 is doing a good job making new tech available to those just starting out. Catch-free rocker is a great idea and really does take a bit of the bite out of learning. They have a rockered hire board this year which is good for introducing casual riders. Some of the smaller companies, such as APO and Imperium, also contribute quite a bit with events and demo tours.