The downtown financial district in one of Canada’s largest cities isn’t a typical location for a snowboard store, but then again there’s nothing really typical about Nitro Snwoboards Canada’s flagship retail store in Manulife Place, Edmonton, AB. The store is stocked with all of the latest Nitro gear, but it also has numerous interactive elements which encourage the customer to come in, hang out and talk snowboarding with other snowboarders. We sat down with Nitro’s Ryan Willisko to get the scoop on what the store is all about.

What’s the goal in opening a store like this?
When we relaunched Nitro with more of a direct model a few years ago, we always have stood true to our retailers, but you couldn’t go into any single retailer across Canada and see our entire line, front to back. We were getting demand from the consumer to see all the products we offer. We wanted to find a way to build confidence in our retailers that we actually make one of the best boots on the market, our binding program is as deep as anyone else’s and our board program probably has the most SKU’s out of anyone on the market. This store is a way to show our retailers how Nitro is being received and the demand for it. A prime example of this is our bag program: we’ve never really officially launched our bag program to retailers in North America and we’re using this store as platform to show that it’s a really great product the consumer gets to see in person.

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So this is almost a head-to-toe, one stop shop experience?
Totally. We’re super sensitive on how this makes our brand image appear in the consumer’s eyes because our model isn’t to be working with massive, big chain outlets, but to work with independent snowboard retailers around the country. We’re trying to drive customers back into brick and mortar shops, which is great for retailers and snowboarding as a whole.

The space has a few different interactive elements to it. Are you encouraging people to come hang out there?
Definitely. We have a 120” projector screen with seating playing our movies at all times, we have a foosball table, and a stocked fridge. We’re also planning a bunch of instore events throughout the fall. Our biggest goal is to spend time with our customer and getting to understand who we are as a brand. For so many years there was a disconnect because we were so big in Europe and didn’t have much of a presence in North America. We want to talk snowboarding to our customers whether it’s product or share stories about the best day they had on the hill last winter or what trips they’ve got planned for this winter. We feel that type of experience is missing for the consumer when it comes to retail. And we didn’t hire just any staff for this store, all the people from our head office here, including myself, are taking split shifts in the store so when someone comes in they’re speaking with an expert who knows everything about our brand and someone who truly loves snowboarding.

It’s also been a great experience to learn where our brand strengths and weaknesses are. That knowledge is something we’ve been able to pass along to our other independent retailers.

If this store is really successful, do you see it growing into other markets across Canada in the future?
This is a full on experiment. It’s been a great opportunity for us on so many levels. It’s been great to see firsthand how our brand is being received in the market, the areas we can improve upon and how we can continue to help snowboarding grow. To be honest, I don’t know if we will expand this project, but honestly it’s gone really well and we’ve received a lot of attention already. It’s working out almost exactly as we hoped which is really encouraging.

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Being right in the middle of Edmonton’s financial district, what kind of customer are you getting in the store?
So far, around 75% of our customers are snowboarders or would at least identify themselves as snowboarders. Whether they go to the mountains once a year and rent all their gear, or they snowboarded years ago and are looking to get back into it or they’re the diehard 30-40 days a year riders, the majority of people we’re interacting with are snowboarders. Just last week, we had a couple from Nelson, BC go out of their way to check out the store. They were in town for a concert, but they heard about the store and wanted to check it out. We’ve also had a group of lawyers who work upstairs come down and play foosball for an hour and a half on their lunch break. They’re all snowboarders and they were talking about trip to Japan they’ve got planned for this winter. I think most of them have ridden way cooler places then I ever have. It’s not our intention to just cater to the high-income professionals, but it was cool to talk to them just about snowboarding.

As I mentioned previously, our goal isn’t to open up and compete around against retailers, our goal is to help them grow then in turn they want to embrace us more. We’re trying to help drive traffic back into our independent retailers and in turn our hope is that it helps to create a better consumer experience at those shops.

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