Mike Cox isn’t sure about the exact date he started repping for Burton. His daughter Carly, now 21 years old and a senior in college, was not yet born when he attended his very first sales meeting in Manchester, Vermont, with picnic tables pushed together in the Burton Barn, or what was—back then—a make-shift showroom for the company.
More than two decades later, Cox is still on board at Burton, holding down his Great Lakes, Michigan territory with pride for the brand and the sport. A long-time family friend of Jake and Donna, Cox is the epitome of a snowboard industry lifer and a reminder to all that loving every minute of your job can be a reality.
We caught up with Cox to gain some insight on how he has seen the industry evolve over his years on the job, what a typical day-in-the-life looks like, and tips for retailers and industry reps alike about building strong relationships.
What are some of the major ways you’ve seen the industry change and evolve since you’ve been involved in snowboarding?
I started selling Burton at Wind, Waves, and Wheels in Rockford, MI in the 80's when ski areas did not allow snowboarding. I saw many a check book slam shut when parents asked "where can they ride them?" and we answered "Golf courses, sledding hills, back yard, etc" We lobbied the local resorts and a bunch of my buddies from Michigan actually became Burton team riders. When I started repping the whole line was one board bag, one duffle bag with boots and bindings and one rolling rack of clothes. The order form was printed in triplicate and we would write it out by hand and give one copy to our dealer, keep a copy and send the other copy to Vermont. No cell phones and drive up pay phones were like a dream come true. People would ask what I do and I would say "I sell Burton snowboards" and they would respond, "Snowblowers? Never heard of Burton."
When things really took off, the SIA show in Vegas was literally a circus. I spent three seasons cutting dealers orders to keep them realistic. We had to turn dealers away for years while keeping up with the growth. The premise is still the same, we are selling a brand, a sport, and a lifestyle. The competition is much better and everyone knows what snowboarding is now.
What does your day-to-day schedule look like?
Well, when not on the road, I do my best work in my boxers from my home office between 8-11:00AM. I make a nice cup of English breakfast tea, work on emails, few phone calls to Bernard (NY Burton Rep), check Facebook and the Drudge Report, then I make a smoothie, take a quick shower and head to the showroom/office where I continue to work on the computer, make dealer calls, check on deliveries, work with my team, et cetera. There is usually a trip to the post office and our storage garage mixed in, as well.
Which retailers do you work with?
All the shops in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. I have a great crew, Levi Ryerson and Jillane Cook, and we split up responsibilities. It's a family affair at big shows and demos with Carly, Labeave, Liz, Stu, Ginga, Lucy, and dog Bernard helping as well.
What does a typical shop visit look like?
I usually roll in with stickers and POP, high five the sales crew, and head up to the owner or manager’s office for a drink and cigars. We reminisce about the good old days, pray for snow, and trade Burton gear for mountain bikes or golf equipment. Then off to the next shop.
You refurbished a 1962 Airstream and turned it into a Burton promo rig – what’s the scoop on that, and what kind of feedback have you been getting?
I was jealous of Bernie’s (NY Burton rep) party trailer and figured that I could out do him with an old Airstream. We found a 26' 1962 Airstream Overlander that was sitting in a field, and being used to dry fire wood. We completely restored it last fall/winter and turned it into a rolling Burton showroom/event rig. It turned out way better than anticipated. We have a killer heat system, fans, four TV monitors, seating, tunes, and more. We had it at The Frendly Gathering in Vermont this summer and it fit right in. We are also using it for Dealer sample sales, movie premieres, rail jams, and last week we had Doyle from Burton do his R and D presentation in it for a few dealers. The iconic airstream and Burton are a match made in Heaven. People flip out whether we are stopped for fuel or at the resort doing a demo, young or old people really like the Airstream. Check it out on Facebook.
Follow the jump to learn Cox’s top three tips for retailers on building relationships with reps, top sales lines of all time, and what has him most stoked for 2013.
What other types of interactions do you have with your accounts – educational sessions, working together on events, et cetera?
We do the traditional clinics, although we are looking at ways to make product education more meaningful and fun with an online component, prizes and shop visits. I feel that the traditional sales clinic has been the same since the ski guys started them 30 years ago. The sport has changed, retail has changed, consumer buying habits have changed, the technology is amazing, and we are still doing clinics the same way that we did them before car phones! We work very closely with our dealers on events ranging from Tent sales and rail jams to movie premiers and fashion shows. We just finished the "Burton 13" movie premiers with great success. October is full of clinics, merchandising visits, POP drops, fashion shows and rail jams. It's go time!
For you, what is the best part of working for Burton in your position?
Without getting sentimental, I would say raising my daughter in a fast paced, fun industry and see her mature into a beautiful, respectful young lady unaffected by me being on the road all the time with shows and parties and team riders and clinics and crazy hours. Snowboarding with your kids is the coolest thing in the world and seeing her steer towards Burton is really rad. She did an internship in Burton Marketing this summer and I am really proud. I was nervous the first year that she went to High Cascades, but I had a lot of friends in the industry looking out for her. Another great thing is being able to make a career out of a brand that I love. I have met my very best friends from repping Burton. Jake, Donna, and the boys, our dealers and current and former Burton people. The travel is also a wonderful thing. Between sales meetings, events and trade shows, I have been snowboarding all over the world with really cool people. I would also say it's the constant challenge, whether it’s the competition amongst other Burton reps or our business competitors, it is always exciting and satisfying! Being the top brand in the industry we are always pushing to improve and push the brand to the next level. With each season there are new challenges and really cool Burton stuff to sell and service. I am just as excited today as I was when I interviewed with Burton at the Blue Benn diner in Bennington, Vermont.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
Trying to be in three places at the same time, juggling trade show schedules, and trying to please everyone can be quite challenging. Calling people back when the answer is "no" is also a challenge, weather it’s regarding a discount or event sponsorship or program, I hate saying no. Obviously the weather can create the biggest challenge, whether it's travel delays, or worse yet, sell-thru problems. One of the best parts of the job can also create some challenges, the constant travel can definitely put a strain on relationships and family.
What are your top three tips for retailers to establish better working relationships with their reps?
1. I would say if a retailer trusts a rep and they have a good relationship, then take the personal feelings away from some of the buying experience and trust the reps suggestions. When a rep feels strongly about a style, color, or product, it will usually sell. The last thing a rep wants to see is a rack full of product that he or she suggested at the end of the season.
2. Returning emails and phone calls. This is a biggie for reps, retailers, and sales managers. With so many things in our lives vying for attention, it is great to know and profitable to take advantage of ,the opportunities that a rep and retailer can bring. A lot of people are quite "selective" when responding to calls and emails.
3. When a retailer has a question or comment, leave it in the message, many times we can fix the problem or have the question answered when we return the call.
As an industry vet in your role, what advice would you give to reps just starting out in order to get ahead and improve in their position?
Biggest things are building trust, listening to your dealers needs, calling people back, being timely, looking out for the shop, not overloading product to get a quick order, thinking long term, getting to know the sales peeps (they are your biggest ally), not driving past stores to go to your buddy accounts, loving what you sell, being sincere, not forgetting what it's like to work retail, taking it seriously, and enjoying the road. Your reputation is the only thing that you will always have. You may not rep the same brand forever, but if you have a good reputation you will always have opportunities.
Best sales lines of all time?
1. We will fix that in production.
2. Camo is the new black.
3. Cargo Pants will never sell.
4. Step-In bindings will take over the sport.
What are you most excited about in the upcoming year, and why?
I am really excited about about three new Riglet parks that we are doing with Cannonsburg, Boyne Mountain, and Boyne Highlands in Michigan this winter. These resorts are committed to teaching snowboarding at the youngest age and it will be really cool. Another big project we are working on is a Burton Partner store at Boyne Mountain. We have all hands on deck to get the store open by December 1. Another thing that I am excited about is picking up the momentum in this preseason where it fell off last December. It was tracking to be a huge year until Mother Nature let us down. We have the pedal to the metal and are committed to Burton and snowboarding this season and the early events and sales have been great!