Avoiding a Wipeout – the Internet vs the independent

Are independent retailers doomed to an existence of living in the shadow of big online retailers? Read this article by Katie Guthrie and have your say in the comments section below…

The demise of Forum Snowboards is just one example of a situation where the outcome could have been different had we, the consumer, recognised the issue and addressed it directly.

Words by Katie Guthrie

With Burton announcing the end of Forum there has been a lot of romanticised criticism flowing freely across the Internet. It doesn’t take much to stoke the Burton haters’ fire so this announcement was like a tank of gasoline dumped on already glowing embers. Jake Burton received a fair amount of criticism for making what was, at the end of the day, a critical business decision in the midst of a tough economical climate. Nobody in their right mind would keep pumping money into to a business that wasn’t making good and Forum was no exception.

Like it or hate it, snowboarding is a business, and in order for brands to survive they need to turn a profit. Perhaps if we had all gone out and bought a Destroyer or Spinster instead of any other boards then Forum would have continued. What the demise of Forum indicates is that a large chunk of us didn’t choose to do so. This logic is no different applied to our local shops, dryslopes, snowdomes and mountains. If we, the consumers, aren’t willing to support these businesses with our cash then they will reap the consequences.

Working in an independent snowboard store myself, I lose count on the amount of times people come in to seek advice from the staff or spend hours getting boots fitted, only to turn around and announce they’re going to buy them cheaper off eBay, or an American seller, or one of the large chain stores offering ridiculous discounts at peak season. If you are one of these people, just sit back and think about the impact this is having on small businesses that rely on their local customers.

There has never been a more critical point for you to support the UK’s independent shops

Those of you who do a lot of Internet shopping will probably also have noticed that some of snowboarding’s biggest brands have started selling directly online via their own websites. This might not seem like a particularly big a deal, but by doing this they are creating direct competition with the very stores that represent and stock their kit. Since official websites usually appear highest on Google searches, it makes buying directly from the big guys all too easy. This became abundantly clear last season when a well-known brand announced up to 50% off their online stock during peak season – something that traditional retailers would have never been allowed to do. Although it only lasted a day or two, these reductions had a massive impact on loyal shops stuck selling the brand at recommended retail price. And however unjust it might seem, such tactics will only spread as the industry evolves and (unlike brands) local stores find themselves unable to bite the hand that feeds them.

Taking all this into account, there has never been a more critical point in the industry’s history for you to support the UK’s independent shops. Instead of sitting on a computer browsing the endlessly contradictory reviews of product, call or head into your nearest indy who, for those extra few pounds, will give you hands-on service and honest opinions. Even if they can’t quite price match, I’m sure they would be happy to offer you a cheeky bit of discount in exchange for your loyalty. The one edge these places do still have over the big brands, whether online or in store, is the ability to give you impartial advice. They don’t want to just sell you one brand, they want to sell you what’s best for you.

Local shops are like a vital organ, pumping blood in to the UK snowboard scene. They hook you up with kit, sponsor events, bring you film premieres, sponsor riders and get folk amped on riding. They offer you a place to hang out, kick back and talk endlessly with like-minded individuals. Without them I don’t think the scene would entirely bleed out, but it would definitely miss a beat or two ­– and by then it might be too late to resuscitate what has been lost.

Katie Guthrie is the Assistant Manager at Boarderline, Aberdeen


Is the recent growth in the number of online retail options in snowboarding simply a reaction to a more general change in buying habits? Are small independent retailers integral to snowboarding and should we be doing more to help keep them in business or is it inevitable that they will, like many other (much bigger) retailers in this economic climate, eventually go the way of the dodo? Let us know what you think in the comments section below…

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