The past year has seen a phase of reorganization and rebuilding—a time for the snow industry to put forth new, forward-thinking strategies.
With the closure and restructuring of major retailers like Sports Authority, the evolving role of specialty retail, and a generally challenged snow landscape, it’s no surprise that major brands in the space are re-evaluating the way they do things.
Burton is one of those brands who has made some serious changes. Namely, this year the Vermont-based company held its annual sales meeting in conjunction with its Fall Bash in September. This marked the first time the brand has had next season’s product ready to showcase to retailers two months earlier than years past.
It set the stage for Burton to gather specialty and national retail partners together with the company’s internal sales and marketing team to get first-hand, initial feedback on 2018 product—no small feat, especially considering everyone’s tight timelines and budgets as 2016 comes to a close.
We caught up with President John Lacy to better understand why Burton moved up its production and sales cycles, and what’s in store for the future.
Congrats on the success of your global sales meeting. What was the significance of holding it months earlier than traditional sales meetings?
Thanks. It was a massive undertaking for all involved, and we're really grateful to all the retailers who came out. For us internally, pulling off a Global Winter Sales Meeting two months early and during Fall Bash week was a huge accomplishment. But ultimately, we felt it was the best way to service our key retailers and our sales force. For many of our Burton Sales Reps and retail partners, the timing was convenient because they're already in Vermont in late September for the Fall Bash. The earlier timing also helps because when we hit the critical selling months of November and December, our sales force can focus on selling in their markets rather than attending sales meetings.
Logistically, what needed to change specifically with design, development and production to pull this off? Did you have to make major adjustments and/or work with different partners/factories at the manufacturing level?
Pulling this off months earlier had its challenges. From a product standpoint, our development timelines were able to accommodate the earlier meeting because we're set up to create sample sets by August for rider and product photos shoots. The biggest accomplishment was the tighter collaboration between our product, sales and marketing teams to create all the collateral for the meetings. For example, our marketing crew had to turn around photos and footage from our 2018 product shoot in New Zealand faster than ever so they could produce dealer catalogs and marketing videos in time for the meeting.
That said, the overall benefits of having an earlier sales meeting made the compressed schedule worth it. Now our product crew can focus on future line development instead of prepping for a November and December Winter Sales Meetings. Our sales force can focus on 2017 reorders and 2018 sell-in instead of leaving the field in late November/early December to attend a week-long meeting. And it also opens up Marketing's schedule to focus on supporting sell through of our 2017 line during the critical holiday season.
What does fast-tracking this product and sharing it with retailers earlier than ever say about the current tradeshow/retail model, and how do you see that evolving? What’s next?
We all know the buying cycle starts earlier than ever these days. Our top accounts start the ordering process in October, and the bulk of our future season orders are in by early January. The old model was having a sales meeting for our reps in late November/early December, then heading to tradeshows in late January. Both sales meetings and tradeshows require reps to be out of their home territories for a lot of valuable time during our most critical selling season. So the old model just wasn't working anymore. It made much more sense to share key highlights and samples of the line in late September so our sales force is ready to sell when our buyers are ready to buy in October, November and December.
In terms of tradeshows, we're taking a different approach this year. We won't be exhibiting at SIA in January – mainly because it just doesn't make sense for our brand anymore. Our line is so extensive, and we have so many compelling stories to tell, it's not possible to show a buyer our entire offering in a tradeshow environment. We've been evolving towards this for a couple years now. Two years ago, we moved off the SIA show floor to our own space in Denver at City Hall that allowed us to better serve our dealers and showcase our brand stories. And City Hall was really successful for us from a brand awareness standpoint.
Now we're moving the needle again. Instead of going to SIA, we plan to service our key retail partners throughout the sell-in season with innovative events like the Winter Sales Meeting we just hosted, bringing retailers to Burton HQ to see the line in our own backyard and also offering full-day showings of the entire 2018 line at our regional showrooms.
How do 2018 sales and marketing strategies depart from the past? What are you doing differently that you feel will have a positive effect on the business?
There are three main differences I want to highlight.
1. Increased Focus on Softgoods
One of our main company initiatives is growing our softgoods business. We've always dominated the snowboarding industry when it comes to softgoods, but this category has the breadth, design and tech features to expand beyond snowboarding and into the outdoor market. So for the 2018 sell-in season, Marketing really stepped up its efforts around showcasing our incredible styles and tech stories in the outerwear, apparel, fleece and accessories categories. One obvious difference for our sales force is that we consolidated the softgoods category into ONE dealer workbook. So we no longer have separate books for apparel, winter necessities, layering, gloves etc. This streamlines and simplifies both the selling process and our ability to tell succinct stories across the entire softgoods collection.
2. Deep dives into key tech features
We have so many exciting innovation and technology stories to tell across all of our categories. And Marketing really stepped it up for 2018 by highlighting our key tech stories with compelling visuals, videos, stories and imagery.
3. Elevated collateral design, imagery and storytelling
In order to better service our sales force and retailers, our marketing crew created compelling consumer-ready stories, imagery, videos and dealer workbooks for 2018 months ahead of our normal schedule. That's a big deal, because in past years, we created one marketing look for the sell-in cycle and another campaign for consumers when the product was in market. Now we're servicing our sell-in sales cycle with beautiful imagery, stories and videos that can easily transition into consumer-facing campaigns.
Why did you feel like it was important to break the traditional secrecy element and invite retailers into the mix this year? What was the outcome?
I'm a strong believer in transparency. And we're really proud of the strategic plans we have in place for 2018. So putting all of our cards out on the table before key retailers are making their buying decisions for next season made so much sense for us. The outcome was really positive. By hearing from the people behind the brand, our retailers came away with an in-depth look at what we have to offer the market for next winter. Everyone was really inspired by what we have coming for 2018.
Can you share with us some of the key accounts that were present to give constructive feedback?
We hosted specialty retailers and resort partners from around the world, including guests from Evo, Active, Paragon, Radio Board Shop the Board Room of Boise, Backcountry.com, Snowboard Jones, Eastern Boarder, Darkside, Ski Chalet, The House and more. Murasaki, one of our largest retail partners in Japan, also joined for the weekend. In total, over 100 sales reps and 50 retailers from six different countries joined us in Vermont for an advance showing of our 2018 line and to celebrate the start of the 2017 season at Jake & Donna's Fall Bash.
Can you share any details on the new product technologies for 2018: Step-On™, LIVING LINING™ and anon. goggle lenses by ZEISS. How long have these been in development and what specifically makes them stand out from the existing market?
We have so much to share on all three of these groundbreaking technologies. The industry will hear a lot more about the story behind Step-On™ early this winter, so stay tuned for that. LIVING LINING™ is our latest Thermo Regulating Technology for softgoods. To give everyone an early look, we've sent along our 2018 Softgoods Dealer Books to see what LIVING LINING is all about. For 2018, select anon. goggle styles will feature lenses by ZEISS, the world's leading manufacturer for precision optics. ZEISS lens technology enhances contrast for the best possible definition and terrain recognition.
I hear there was a Shark Tank re-enactment. Can you share any funny stories or details?
That was a highlight for sure. On the first day of the sales meeting, we surprised our reps with a mock episode of Shark Tank, with the sharks played by Donna Carpenter, myself, Anne-Marie Dacyshyn, Chris Cunningham and Andrew Burke. Four select rep groups were asked to get in the 'Shark Tank', give us their best sales pitches and answer a lot of tough questions. In the end, it challenged the shit out of the reps, but all four rep groups received "backing", with Josh Fisher from Utah crowned the ultimate winner.
What are your overall thoughts on the state of the snowboarding industry at this moment and moving into 2017?
I'm a snowboarder. There's a part of me that wishes that Burton as a brand could just rely on snow. But here's the thing. When I hear someone say, 'I hope it snows this winter', I think to myself, we're screwed. Hope is not a strategy. That's why we have a very detailed, solid strategy and plan for 2017 that we're openly sharing with our employees, stakeholders and retail partners around the world. We're not just relying on hope. In terms of the snowboard industry, it's challenged by a number of things that are out of our control like the weather, retailer consolidation, brand consolidation etc. One huge advantage for Burton is that we're a private company, especially in today's volatile environment. Being privately owned by Jake and Donna gives us the freedom to act on what's in the long-term best interest of our brand, the sport, the industry and our customers – not our shareholders.
Last but not least, share why you (or why Donna) think that this year’s Fall Bash was the best yet. Would love to hear a couple details (and if you can share photos that would be great too) since I am bummed to say I didn’t make it this year.
I think Donna said it best in a Directors meeting on the Monday following the Bash. She said in all the 30 plus years she's been hosting the Bash, she had the most fun ever because Jake is doing so much better.
Anything else you’d like to add John? Final words, or anything I missed?
I just want to thank all the retailers out there for their ongoing support of Burton. Good things are definitely ahead for 2018.