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BC Surf & Sport
1600 28th St
Originally founded in Florida in 1977, BC Surf & Sport was one of the first core shops in Boulder when it opened its Crossroads Mall Store in 1989. The mall was eventually torn down in 2003, and with it, BC's foothold in this strong college market. BC worked tirelessly to get back in the area, waiting through legislative and development hurdles, until September 2008 when a 7,000-square-foot space on one of Boulder's main thoroughfares opened up, just a few blocks from the original locations and the town skate park.
We caught up with BC Surf & Sport President Bruce Cromartie to find out more about BC's Boulder shop and the local market.
Can you give me a quick background on BC?
We opened in '77 in Fort Lauderdale and in '86 we opened the first store out West in Littleton, Colorado. Fort Lauderdale was naturally very surf oriented and did surf and skate. That was a pretty well covered market in Florida so we grew very slowly, but when we opened in Colorado, we were there right at the beginning of snowboarding so there was a lot of growth. Most of our growth has been in mountain states like Colorado, Utah and Washington.
You must have been excited to get back into Boulder after the mall closed?
Yeah, exactly and to end up virtually in the same spot after a few years, it was funny that it all came together and we were very happy to get back into Boulder in as good of a location as that is. It gets a lot of exposure and it's a really nice store.
How would you describe the Boulder market? Who is your average customer?
It's definitely a combination. Certainly the college campus has a big impact on the mix. Boulder has always had a real strong skate scene. There's also a real good demographic in Boulder as far as income. It's a relatively well to do population. It's a pretty crowded market at retail these days, but it's definitely a real good mix of people.
Did the location of the skatepark and Satellite (a core snow/skate shop located just two blocks south) factor into choosing this space?
Our preference would be not to be as close to somebody that carries a lot of similar product. But the location was really based on the fact that we had been a tenant there for 15 years previously, and we had always wanted to go back in but hadn't been able to put together a deal that made sense until we got this one through. When Crossroads Mall closed we had been in negotiations for new space there. The city went back and forth with them for years about development and there was a lot of flux for a very long time. It took years for things to get approved.
How has this winter been for you guys?
I think like everybody, the economy has hurt. Snowboarding in particular is a high ticket, and it's a particularly easy thing to put off until next year – more than surfing and skating because they're more 12-month sports. If things are quiet for a couple months, they tend to make themselves up later. Where snowboarding, if somebody puts off buying a board until the middle of the season it becomes much easier for them to wait until next season.
What has been your strategy in Boulder to deal with the current situation?
Just trying to be cautious and conservative in our buy and make sure that we're giving people the best service and selection we can without putting ourselves into a bad spot inventory wise. We're definitely playing things a lot closer going into next season as far as inventory. You've always got a range that you can work within and we're sticking to the lean part of that range.
Have you switched some of your floor space and allocated it away from snow then?
No, honestly there's a lot of product left from this year so I think the lighter buy going into next year is going to be more than offset by product that is still in stock from this season.
Are you focusing on moving that online with deals?
We're definitely working on increasing our online business, but really our focus online is not going to be deals and discounts and blowouts, it's more to have product people are looking for and first line as opposed to clearance product. The clearance stuff we're wanting as much as possible to move in the locations that can do a lot of volume.
Makes sense, then you get people in there to see other product.
What are your strategies for moving clearance items?
As much as things have changed in the last six months it's pretty much on a case-by-case, week-by-week basis per store, per product area, the whole thing. You're just kind of constantly looking at what needs the most help and the most attention and then trying to work with that.
What percentage of your business is online these days?
It's minimal – less than five percent.
Is that by design?
No, we're late getting where we need to be online. We're working on a new site. The one we have up is an interim site and our permanent one will be done probably late summer.
What makes you unique in the Boulder market?
I think every store has its own personality and their own unique perspective. Ours has always been to give people the best selection we can and try to give them the best service we can and supply what they're asking for rather than tell them what they should want.
What does good customer service look like at BC?
Friendly and effective service. Taking care of a customer. Helping them get what they want with as little hassle as possible by having friendly people on the floor.
Do you have any programs in place for customer retention once they get in the door?
We have a lot of very long term people who have been at this for a long, long time with us so they tend to develop relationships with their customers over the years.
As far as product mix, what percentage of inventory is hardgoods versus softgoods?
It's pretty stable. There are seasonal changes. We're trying to keep our inventories a little bit lighter than in the past, but the ratios are pretty close to what they've been.
How much of softgoods is shoes?
It's pretty close to 30 percent.
How are shoes doing?
They're an important category for us. Like most categories, it has been affected by the economy. Skate shoes have gotten so broadly distributed with a lot of brands that the excitement is probably not as high currently as it has been in years past, but it's still a very important category for us.
What are the three best selling categories for you guys right now in Boulder?
I don't want to get too detailed, but in a broad sense, certainly in the way that I think of categories, I would say skate, snow and shoes. With softgoods, the subcategories to me are categories, so I think those three are at the top.
What brands have been doing well in those?
In shoes some standouts have been Vans, Lakai, and Nike.
With skate, Sector 9 is definitely a standout, but it's specific to longboards. As far as regular skate, Plan B, Element, and Girl are the three top brands.
How about DVD sales?
DVD sales have been solid, but they're definitely focused. When there's a hot DVD, you sell a lot, but it's not like it was in an earlier time of video and DVD sales where you'd sell a little bit of a lot of things, It's much more now that the hot new DVD that comes out that you sell all day long.
Any other observations on the market?
I think right now the focus for anybody in retail and in almost any kind of business is just trying to manage your way through a tough economic period and come out the other side healthy enough to make the most out of things when times are better.
You guys are just staying focused on what you do well until things pick up?
Exactly, just trying to keep the business solid and healthy and have a strong enough inventory to satisfy customers, but not so much of it that you have to worry about product getting stale. Right now, normal day-to-day business is requiring a lot more attention than it does in normal times. You have to put your focus on looking at a lot of little things that can be bypassed without causing a lot of trouble at other times – but they need attention these days.