In an open letter to his trade members, particularly vendors, Brad Nelson, chairman of the National Ski & Snowboard Retailers Association (NSSRA), earlier this month said the snow sports specialty industry is at a "tipping point" with the disruption caused by discounted product now widely found across the internet.
He argues that in just the past five years, the snow sports specialty channel has lost 20 percent of its market share while causing equal damage to the equity of many of the industry's brands.
"Vendors that have attempted to create a compelling brand story for their current inline product are fighting a losing battle because consumers can find last year's version of that same product on the internet discounted for 40 percent to 50 percent off," he wrote on the eve of the industry's bi-annual SIA Snow Show held in Vegas.
The current advertising policies of the snow sports specialty industry, he argues, came of age at the beginning of the e-commerce boom before the consequences of selling into the new channel were understood.
"For better or worse, some industries, like books and music, were forever disrupted and will never be what they once were," he wrote. "Other industries were quick to see what impact e-commerce was having on their traditional channels of distribution and were quick to make the tough decisions to insure a sound future for their brands, their channels of distribution, and, most importantly, their customers."
His recommendations called for vendors to "build to order" to minimize the overproduction of inventory and establish MAP (minimum advertised price) policies for prior-season as well as current-season offerings. He also called for fairer terms for the "retailers that support and build snow sports brands" with a goal towards equal treatment of specialty and e-commerce retailers.
"The snow sports industry is at a fork in the road," he concluded. "One road leads to future growth, fair competition and even support for all channels of distribution. The other road leads to a disruption that will forever change the fortunes of brands, sales reps and specialty brick and mortar retailers, and will arguably ruin this industry that we all love so much."
Operators of running and outdoor stores have likewise complained of consumers coming into stores to not only to try merchandise but also to learn from their highly knowledgeable associates only to find a better deal online.
How important is it for vendors selling to specialty retailers to support them against competitors who take a more commodity view of the business?