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Retail Rant: Satellite Boardshop Owners On The Good, The Bad, And The Opportunities Of Core Retail

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Welcome to Satellite.

Why are you part of this industry? If your answer revolves around an unabashed love of the sports, then you’re in it for the right reason. Especially if you’re a retailer. However, as the industry has grown, not every retailer can answer in that same vein and many of the ones that can are being forced out. This has led to a spiral eroding the “lifestyle” of the sports that drew people in and eventually  pushes kids on to something new.

One pair of retailers that are fighting the good fight are the owners of Boulder, Colorado’s Satellite and Installation, who have been serving up snow, skate, lifestyle, and footwear fun to the good people of the Front Range for over a decade. Raul Pinto and JG Mazzotta have been successful by capitalizing on their insider knowledge of what the sports are all about, living the life, and focusing on growing their community through service, service, and indviduality.

We recently sat down with the duo to get their unfiltered take on the industry’s good, its bad, its fugly, and the opportunities that exist in that stew.

You guys have been in the game over ten years and are arguably one of the most focused, locally owned snow and skate shop in the huge market of Boulder, Colorado. Why did you get into this in the first place?

It happened out of necessity, the shop JG and I had been apart of prior, Brothers Boards, closed and it seemed like a good idea.

What’s changed about the market in that time? 

Really I think it’s the same. It’s bigger but for the core shop its always been the same—the “scale” of it has really only changed it for sporting goods stores being a part of it and how there is just this “more, more more” attitude for it to get bigger when really the participants seem to look the same. The biggest difference is there is a cloud of options.. Barneys Ski Barn, Billy’s Wake and Blade, Richards Sporting House, all trying to “cash in” on snowboarding…

In skateboarding this hasn’t happened because you can’t fake it to sell it. You gotta participate.

Why do you think this isn’t the same in snowboarding? Why are snowboarders willing to buy their gear from the Barneys, and Billys of the world, and more importantly, why are brands and pros willing to ride for companies that take that route?

Most of it has to do with time. It’s a young lifestyle. In the mountains there is an established lifestyle but not a strong connection to all the parts—riders, industry and all that. Skateboarding has a great community right now and doing business almost doesn’t feel like its business at all. It’s more like family, and to some degree some of the brands and magazines, on the snow side are the same way. Satellite has built this relationship with that community and experience. This helps develop riders that ride for the right companies for the right reasons, I won’t even comment on the “others” we just know our way is better.

JG Mazzotta and Raul Pinto

How about your outlook on retail? 

We love it more than ever. We love being the little guy, we love being better at what we do with really only one weapon— we do this. We snowboard. We skateboard. This isn’t a f#*k*n costume man. This is a way of life.

How do you stay passionate about retail when your big brands are opening multiple doors within blocks of you?

Our investment isn’t in retail; it’s in the lifestyle. I think JG and I both pinch ourselves because this sometimes hardly feels like a job. It’s what we do and would do even if we didn’t own a shop.

How have you responded to that to continue to stand out and make it not all about price?

I think for the people who know this isn’t simply recreation and live this lifestyle, it has never been about price, it’s been the experience. The industry just exploded and it was tough for it to not grow in all directions, good and bad.

But JG and I were fortunate to have some great people and shops to help show us what this lifestyle is all about. E.T., JG’S local shop, Marin Surfsports, my local shop, and Brothers, our local shop in Boulder, and snowboarding—these were our personal examples and we took parts of them. They all had an influence on our lifestyle and this influenced how we would become the shop we are now..  We make it more about the service side and what we can offer in that department that none of our competitors can touch.

The shops I mentioned had some down falls too, and we learned from them. It has been a challenge to live the lifestyle and not intimidate or scare people off—welcome moms, girls, and even dudes who are not sure if this “lifestyle” is for them.

You’ve mentioned that skiing has hijacked snowboarding and really commoditized and homogenized what snowboarding is today. How can shops, brands, and individual riders take it back?

In Colorado, there was a time when snowboarding was snowboarding and skiing was skiing. Colorado is exceptional in this case because of the resort boom. We have more “mega resorts” and just like mom-and-pop shops, small resorts get squeezed out. With those resorts comes “recreational equipment stores.” The ski industry in Colorado saw the money and jumped on the bandwagon. They sold it their way, the ski way, which was already broken years before. When I say “broken,” I mean keeping the value of a ski at a margin and not simply blowing it out, and selling a commodity, not a lifestyle. This growth is much like urban sprawl in architecture, it has its place but it’s not sustainable. Customers get the wrong gear…and much of this has led to less ski and rider retention. On top of that the few small shops—ski or shred—are both pushed aside because we are not ” strategic partners.”

Creating the experience is the difference each shop owner has. His/her participation is on the table to get that next rider stoked to pass the torch so to speak. The torch of stoke (laughing)—New  idea right there! 

What’s your take on how the Colorado market differs and how it’s impacted snowboarding and “core” retailers?

We feel like we have to defend Colorado. It was one of the first to even allow snowboarding—parts of the East and  Utah had/have resorts that don’t even want you riding “their” mountains. As a result it’s made it cookie cutter and lame. If surfing, skating, and snowboarding have one thing in common besides stance, it’s style! And, that is where the opportunity lies. You can’t fake style. You either have it or you don’t. Shops need to elevate that style, make that experience their own, and those “core shops” are already there. You know who you are, we’ve ridden with those dudes, and it makes Satellite feel really good to be a part of that elite family.

Freeskiing is blowing up in a lot of places thanks to a vibe from brands that snowboarding used to have and it’s hijacking the next generation of kids away from snowboarding to an extent. What are your thoughts on growing participation in snowboarding but doing it in a way that will keep the lifestyle and scene what got you hooked on it?

First off the disclaimer: Satellite Boardshop is not bashing skiing nor does it intend to sell skis, and simply thinks skiing should be sold in ski shops (laughing). Now, in reference to your questions… Skiing is just regurgitating old trends. I remember big ass jackets and pants at you’re ankles. It’s called the ‘90s of snowboarding. Been there done that. They can have it. We are looking forward, not backward—good luck keeping up you’re only 20 yrs behind right now. 

We allowed too much to be crossed over. Brands need to stay focused on snowboarding by doing the following:

One—particpate, two—get shred lessons into the hands of snowboarding, our way should be exactly that.. “Our way.” Three—stop placing shred gear in shops that are not qualified to sell shred gear—it doesn’t belong next to patio furniture and golf clubs. Skateboards are sold in skate shopws, snowboards should be sold in snowboard shops. Four—f?$k proforms. Snowboarding doesn’t owe you anything. Put you’re time in and then we we’ll talk about a deal. You gotta earn this—support snowboarding. Lock these assets down and make it so special again people will fiend to be part of it.

You’ve always been outspoken about what you see as the upsides and downsides of the industry, here’s your chance to let loose.

Current upsides:

Opportunity.

OK. How about downsides:  

Opportunity. I can answer this with one word for both because if it were not for the inflated scale that the industry has become, you would not have the clustered and sometimes clouded message that the consumer sees.

It’s this situation that has lead to our opportunity to do it all better and adapt. You could bitch all day about who sells what and where and on and on, but I’d rather create opportunity out of creating something better than what “they” are doing, and it will be so clearly better that customers will only have one choice, be apart of snowboarding/skating or bitch-out and buy the rental, the sub par set up like the Walmart skateboard or a snowboard with zero zero angles that was just set up to move product and not keep a riders enthusiasm and retention.

What brands and retailers are on the right path and what makes them different?

Satellite is not looking at other counterparts in our industry, we’re looking at mom-and-pops like McGuckins Hardwear [Boulder’s independently owned hardware store], and giants like Apple and Whole Foods. We’re looking at how we buy things and what it is that we like about those and other places—what makes them a great experience

They all have one thing in common—service—service by design. It out weighs all else, and in many ways it’s one of the few things that core shops have lacked over the years because we thought “well this is how a skate shop or snow shop is,” but its more than that these days so we need to offer more to survive and grow our vision.

That said, what brands in the industry are doing it right and what is “right”?

Being creative and leading with authenticity—building relationships and participating in snowboarding together. It’s so clear to us who is authentic and really is being driven by snowboarding and skateboarding. Snowboarding needs to look at skateboarding and see who is creating this authenticity and capitalize on it. I hate to see snowboarders walk away from it because they feel pushed out by the “Barneys” and “Billy’s”. It’s worth sticking around and fighting for it. Those brands know who they are and it’s clear because they all have their own special style. They should know because we spent time and money on these brands and they make up what Satellite is now and in the future.

How do we keep specialty special, especially when times are tough? What does that service look like to you?

Adapt and lead by design. This is always changing and evolving and if you are not moving with it “participating” well, how will you keep up? Max Schaff said, or at least my rough quote: “any dude can buy the most expensive motorcycle, and put on a leather jacket and pretty much fool most people into thinking he’s a gnarly biker, but you can buy the best skateboard in the shop. As soon as you drop that board down and take that first push everybody knows if you’re a kook.”

Some of your biggest sellers are major players like Nike. How can large, vastly distributed brands help specialty retailers?

They have to decide what is more important growing the sales or growing the lifestyle. The lifestyle has longevity, sales are temporary. So, by selling certain items to our store that our limited, we both can benefit from the exposure, but it need to be done right and over time.

It’s easy to complain about the problems the industry faces? What are you doing about it?

I’ve had a lot of talks about this but I was so excited to have one of my own team riders and now managers make a very insightful quote about one of the problems with the industry. Dan Downing said “snowboarding doesn’t owe you anything, it has too much to offer you and you need to pay your dues to be apart of it.” I think we are still paying our dues and because of that the shop has more to offer to snowboarding and skateboarding, because as a lifestyle it has given us so much.

Because of that our mentality is to skate more, ride more, and push harder, and if the core shop is supposed to grow we want to grow it with our leadership and direction, in a way that only someone living that lifestyle can do.  We lived it in those shops as kids, we remember the cool parts, the whack parts, and in the end we are still those kids. We have the ability to grow this and also create retention in these sports. It’s not a fad or phase its here to stay and we have been here all along.

This gives us an advantage to create a space that grows the scene the right way. Service, design, simplicity will be the outcome of Satellite and Installation in 2013.