Over the past few weeks I've taken a quick look at how to avoid shopping hell during the holiday season. The first three parts took a quick look at buying direct from a large brand, buying from a smaller branded online store and buying from an e-commerce machine. The final piece of these blogs will be what I consider to be the most important. Specifically I am talking about buying from your local skate-snow-surf-bike shop or to use a little action sports industry speak: the core shop. What's funny is in the industry reps will look at you and say: "oh that shop isn't core enough to carry my line". So the "industry" has its own version of what core is. But, considering how small the industry is in comparison to other titans of commerce I'll leave it at this simple definition: core is any shop who isn't also selling golf clubs, patio furniture, ski-doos or lawnmowers. That's a simplification but one you'll just have to suffer.
So, as I detailed in parts 1, 2 and 3, yes you can get exclusive products or insane discounts by shopping online. But, with 20+ years of skating and 17 years of snowboarding under my belt I firmly believe that local shops remain key to skating, snowboarding or whatever is your vice of choice. Despite recent economic fluctuations a good shop will persevere and take care of its customers. However to answer the big questions "why are core shops useful if I can find it cheaper elsewhere?" To fully answer that I'll speak from a combination of anecdotal experience and economic theory.
In full disclosure I used to be an employee of the shop I am about to talk about. I still remain friends with the owners. They support my endeavors from time to time with discounts, etc. But, in my opinion, they remain the model of a good shop and one that continues to put customer service at the front of all their efforts. This shop is Alpine Ski Shop in Sterling VA. Pretty much Alpine is a Mom and Pop operation now run by the two sons of the Mom and Pop. Chris and Tyler Bunch are the second generation of the Bunch family to operate Alpine. When I began working with them in 1996 it was during their transition from the parents to Chris and Tyler.
Then and now Alpine employees focused on the customers need vs. the strong sale. Working on the sales floor there was a sense of comfort that we could put a snowboarder or a skier in what was right versus what would have generated the most money. This built a loyalty between sales associates and customers. Occasionally I would end up riding a local chairlift with a customer who was happy to be out snowboarding in gear that suited their needs. OK, maybe it was the fresh snow but regardless it made us smile every time a regular would come back in. This built a bond and served the very simple theory that it's easier to keep a customer than generate a new one. But, Alpine's customer service model allowed us to generate and retain at once.
In short the shop to rider-consumer relationship is a bond of trust. You have to figure our sports, activities, passions whatever you want to call them aren't cheap. You rely on that shop to treat you well and with respect. The return for them is often word of mouth advertising for a brief window and the hope you return next year to see them even if you don't buy anything. Back to 1996, I visited six shops in the DC area before heading to Alpine at their original location. On that afternoon Chris was hyped about snowboarding and 12 years later he and Tyler still have that passion. You won't find that online, you won't find it discounted. What you find is a shop where they will amplify your desire to skate and ride. They are the reminders of how much fun it all is. There are lots of great shops around and I'm sure there's a Chris and Tyler Bunch in your town. Go down, support your shop and become part of the scene. Support local shops, skate parks, ski & snowboard hills. They are the foundation of which much of what we do rests upon. You support them because you're not just getting a product or exchanging cash. You are investing in skating, snowboarding or whatever, and it's worth every penny.