This season we are launching a new editorial series featuring brick and mortar retailers, based on the heartfelt motto, "Stay Human, Shop Local." In an age of giant e-commerce corporations, price matching and overnight shipping, it is becoming harder and harder for small, local stores to compete & keep their doors open. The “Stay Human, Shop Local” mantra, coined by SnoCon founder John Logic, was established as a reminder of the benefits gained by shopping locally with actual humans.
After 24 years of outstanding retail service, Seattle-based SnoCon (also known as Snowboard Connection) decided to close their doors for good. SnoCon was not only a pillar in the world of action sports retail, but also to its local NW community. With great customer service, highly passionate and relevant employees, and founders who were involved in every step from day 1, SnoCon became much more than a retail shop. Retailers like SnoCon are a driving force behind the ski and snowboard industry, and with each closing door, we are left with a weakened sense of community and culture. We recently caught up with John Logic to hear his thoughts about the origins of “Stay Human, Shop Local”, the future of retail, and what brick and mortar stores can do to stay competitive in the current market.
Question of the year: What ultimately led to the closing of SnoCon?
LOGIC: We were operating with flat/negative profit for the past 5 years. It was enough to stay alive, but the debt kept piling up. We were fortunate that our suppliers were patient, but eventually you have to admit, "this isn't sustainable—the hole is getting deeper." This last winter, we had the worst snowfall since we opened in 1990, and that hit us pretty hard. The storms finally came in mid-February & March, but by then the industry is on sale nationwide, so it's just a scramble to get rid of product. The selling window seems to be getting shorter and shorter for every shop.
Where did the phrase “Stay Human, Shop Local” come from?
LOGIC: It’s something I came up with sitting next to Forrest Wedmore (former SnoCon employee) one day. I wanted to make an ad that expressed how critical the local link is to the whole chain of the economy. You know…if you spend locally, that employs people who buy burritos, tip bartenders, support weed dealers…all that. So I made this long, wordy ad because that’s how I do things. From that we came up with "Stay Human, Shop Local.”
What was the original intention of the phrase, did you see it spreading beyond SnoCon?
LOGIC: I wanted the phrase to be a focal point, a rallying cry for people to celebrate and acknowledge that some interactions are better when done in person. I set up a Facebook page explaining that this wasn't just about "retail.” I wanted people to post photos of people and businesses they had a good experience with. It could be a waitress, a plumber, a bookseller, etc…. I carried some stickers with me, and when I thought of it, (most of the time, I forgot) I would ask if I could put up a sticker, snap a pic, and post it to the Facebook page. I’d like to see that live on. It was pretty much just a pet project, and I have always welcomed any help that supports the cause.
What experiences are shoppers missing out on when they shop online instead of at a brick and mortar store?
LOGIC: Well, there are all types of issues, a few things are: Fit – you can't try things on online. Feel –does this shiny object on my screen feel like cheap plastic in my hands? Knowledge – a quality store has someone to answer questions, offer advice, and guide you to the best choice. Websites can try this with general FAQ pages or even a real-time live chat assistant, but still… the questions you have while shopping online will not be the same questions you’ll ask when you're holding a product in your hand. Friendship – a good store offers the opportunity to make new friends, hang out and chill a bit because you're around others with similar interests. This should be true with all retail, not just a board shop. Our store has been ground zero for so many friendships, hook-ups, and marriages – it's been awesome. That happens wherever people are made to feel comfortable and welcome.
How do you foresee the next 10 years of snowsports retail (or any retail) shaping up?
LOGIC: Snowsports may have to condense or consolidate to survive. Brands will drop away in the next year, just like shops have been – we can all agree on that. We keep seeing these "market corrections" and eventually there will be the right number of brands making the right number of items to satisfy the demand. Maybe that's a utopian dream, but until then, you'll have overproduction, wider distribution, deeper discounting – a whole lot earlier and in a shorter selling window. Short windows lead to a lopsided business model, so it will be critical to build a solid non-winter business.
I think brick and mortar stores have to embrace the technology and use it to their advantage. I hear retailers complaining when they see a customer scanning a UPC code in their store. Instead of fighting that, why not walk up and hand them an iPad, and invite them to find the lowest price online. Match that price, or a little above, for the obvious reasons (my awesome staff, you'll walk out with it today, we'll fit you for the right size, etc), then track all your sales where you had to match online prices and recoup that from vendors that allowed this to happen. This DOESN'T have to be confrontational at any level – that is key. Get an agreement with the vendors worked out when you submit your sales orders and let the customer know they don't have to sneak around with their phones. Take the time to show them you're a real person that cares about WHAT they purchase and WHERE they shop. That’s the STAY HUMAN side of this. If you can make that connection, you've won the battle.
Do you think there will be an eventual return to brick and mortar when people realize they are afraid of Amazon.com delivery drones or if they want to see something in person before ordering off the Internet?
LOGIC: Some people think there's a tipping point, where people will be sick of e-commerce, but I’m not one of those. I think it's going to be more of the same; online sales will grow because people are hooked on convenience. You know that, right? We walk around feeling there's no TIME for anything, so anything that's pitched to us as “easier” makes us think, WOW, my life will get better because I just clicked and it showed up two days later. Convenience is a pretty easy drug to slip to the public. Ease of everything. Once we realize we don't need half the stuff we're chasing after, that may change, but that's another conversation altogether.
What have been some of your favorite aspects in having a well-supported local shop over the past 24 years?
LOGIC: There are so many great things about running that store, but far and away, the best is the friendships created with employees and customers. We were lucky to have a great staff that played well with each other and customers that became friends with each other and with us/our employees. Rides were shared to the hills, and life just happened. And beer. It was really fun to share a beer with so many people over so much time.
Do you have any closing thoughts on the “Stay Human, Shop Local” message? What can supporters do to help?
LOGIC: Let’s make something happen with the Facebook page. Make it viral. Snap a pic when you have a good experience and give that person or establishment a shout-out.
Throughout the course of the season, POW will be featuring some of the best brick and mortar shops that support our brand, highlighting the aspects that make them a crucial part of our family and our extended culture. Sign up for the POW newsletter here to receive all the Stay Human, Shop Local updates, and remember to heed Logic’s words by recognizing shops, restaurants and any local establishments that provide outstanding service on the Stay Human, Shop Local facebook page.