Twenty years ago, Bryce Phillips started his business by buying used skis from local shops in Whistler, British Columbia and then selling them on eBay. This was the humble beginning to what is now the multi-store snow and adventure sports retailer, evo.
A few weeks ago, the brand came full circle as they bought five shops from one of Phillips’ first clients, Dave Milley – owner of Whistler Village Sports and four other well-known shops in the area.
Both brands are excited to learn from each other and explore the opportunities to come.
TransWorld Business reached out the evo founder and CEO Phillips to hear how this deal came to be.
How long have these talks between you and Dave been happening to make this partnership a reality?
A year and a half ago, I reached out to him to see if a storm that was developing in Whistler was worth chasing. Once there, we sat down for breakfast and within a few minutes, started talking about putting this deal together. Our friendship goes way back to when I used to live in Whistler …
Back in the late ’90s, I bought Dave’s entire demo fleet of used skis at the end of the season and sold them on eBay. That was right around when I started selling skis and snowboards online – which in 2001, turned into evo. I would have never imagined it would come full circle like this.
Now that evo owns these locations, what will management look like moving forward?
The entire Whistler team has joined us and all are remaining on. There are five store managers and each store has its own brand, under the Whistler Village Sports umbrella. The other stores include Excess Backcountry, Mountain Riders, Sportstop and Excess Ski and Sport.
We’ll be working with them in the months to come as we put together the long-term plan but we aren’t in a rush. We need to get it right and know that it will only be a success when we collaborate closely with the new members of our team. They’ve built great businesses and we have a lot to learn.
Will the the stores be rebranded as evo stores or will they remain under their current shop names?
The evo brand will definitely be represented but we do not yet know exactly what that will look like. As I mentioned, we have some planning, research and a lot of collaboration ahead in order to land on the integration plan.
Can you explain how the business strategy will evolve and how you will be working with Dave and his teams to streamline and improve the businesses?
They have been running a successful business in the mountains, a resort market for over 30 years. Needless to say, this is a lot different than running stores in the city.
We have an approach to community building, merchandising etc. that we know applies – but want to make sure that we take our time to integrate.
We have a significant digital footprint that we can leverage to shine a light on our new locations in Whistler. This will drive incremental awareness and traffic into the stores which should yield a huge win. There are so many more opportunities. For example – providing service for our customers when they are traveling to Whistler, basing more evoTrip adventures in Whistler, the list goes on …
Moreover, we have an enormous opportunity to learn from what has made them successful, taking those learnings and applying them to our existing business. Not only are there wins to be had there, but it sets us up as we consider new locations both in North America and beyond.
evo has been expanding the last few years at a fairly consistent rate and investing in brick and mortar locations – Why do you feel this strategy makes sense right now, as a lot of independent retailers are feeling challenged to compete with online sales?
For us, it’s always been about the combination of the two. They are fundamentally different and have a high impact when leveraged the right way.
There is no replacement for in-person, real-life experiences, especially given our focus on building community, as well as technical, hands-on service. At the same time, the scale and reach of the web is incredible. Our stores and site drive each other all day long so it’s about being strategic when it comes to how to pull on the various levers that work to drive traffic and deliver the experiences that differentiate evo.
Where do you see the overall ski and snowboard market headed, and what – in your opinion – are some of the ways we can improve the health of the market moving into 2019 and beyond?
While not easy, I continue to believe that specialty brick and mortar retail will thrive into the future. That said, the stores that will do well need to deliver highly differentiated experiences. That can come to life in a number of ways but it’s become very clear in our industry and beyond that you can’t simply sell stuff anymore.
Focusing on service, compelling, unique assortments and bringing people together that share passions and values are just some of the ingredients that will ensure success moving forward. As has happened over the last few years, more distribution will go away, but it’s important to remember that those that deliver a special, inviting experience will sweep up demand left on the table by those that exit.
Given your focus on under-privileged youth, are there any non-profits based in the Sea-to-Sky corridor that you are planning to partner with?
We are really excited to have already started working with Zero Ceiling. It’s an amazing organization that focuses on youth homelessness, founded by an old friend from my Whistler days, Chris Winter. We’ve just started and look forward to investing both our hours and dollars into the community. Zero Ceiling is a great, first partner whose mission aligns with ours when it comes to giving back.
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