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Satellite + Installation Owners On New Location & The Future Of Specialty Retail

VIEW: THUMBS ENLARGE
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Shopping, mixing, and enjoying the new vibe. Photo: Ken Yuasa

On Wednesday, March 13 the Satellite and Installation crew held the grand opening of the first stage of their move of both shops to one new über-location in Boulder, Colorado. The event saw the official unveiling of Installation Shoe Gallery‘s new home in one of the city’s largest commercial Meccas.

We had a chance to catch up with owners JG Mazzotta and Raul Pinto on the eve of the grand opening to learn more about the new location, going deep in difficult times, and their views on the state of independent action sports retail.

One of the first rules of retail is the old adage about location. What are the benefits of the new space for Installation and Satellite and who are your neighbors?

We’re at the east end of Pearl Street and at the intersection of all things! Fortunately for us the third grossing Whole Foods in the country resides in Boulder,  along with, Target, and soon to be Trader Joe’s. So needless to say, parents, kids, and everything college will be at our doorstep. The best part is that the building is privately owned by a trust of an old local business owner who was looking to support local business.

Raul, with your background in architecture, tell us a bit about the design process and the new layout.

First off the discalimer, if it wasnt for JG’s ability to manage the financial side of these businesses without any of my help, none of this would be possible, not to mention his feedback and critical eye on ideas I couldn’t have steered the process to a functional and cost effective final product. However, architecture for me has always been about proportions and rules, that’s not to say there is a wrong and a right way to design, but each designer creates a set of rules that defines the project or space, these can be chaotic, or in our case they start with refinement. Refinement of our own selling process to be exact. Between my architectural background and JG’s being much more mechanically advanced than me, I think we are capable of creating anything. JG also had many things from a sales standpoint that he wanted to be held in the highest  importance: 1. Welcoming 2. Easy to shop 3. Organized.

When given these three rules it’s now our job to work them into the program of snowboards, skateboards, shoes etc..

How is the location designed not only to be inviting, but to increase sales?

There were multiple steps to achieve this.

We have the ” long shot” from afar , and the in store “wow” effect.

There’s street signage on the glazing and the bold visibility from far way,  but small up close details at the pedestrian level. I looked at the retailer ACME for inspiration on this and some Dutch architecture. The Dutch do a lot of streetscape billboards.
For the Wow effect, we have displays that are unique and new to the consumer—the slight progression that leads the eyes up. This happens in two ways—one is on the Installation side where the shoes undulate and progress upwards and engage the customer, and secondly with the steady progression of carrying the customers eyes upwards at Satellite, leading to the boards, boots, and bindings above.

Having gone to school for architecture for over five years, I also have some great colleagues, and while some like Rich Duff came in to simply give a critical review of what we had planned, others, like Charles Hellwig from Cinearc, helped with cad-based visuals to drive the message to the brands. However I will admit this has been a tedious process, given that most shops are given a ” here’s our buildout, take it or leave it” attitude.”

JG and I are not interested in creating a “food court” of brands in our shop. We are looking to create the “Installite” experience—our pet name for Satellite and Installation.  There is nothing specialty about regurgitating what another shop already has. We want to make specialty special. This is a reflection of JG and myself, our attitudes, style, backgrounds, et cetera. If you went into JG’s and my garage and mashed ‘em together you would create Installite. That’s what makes our relationship work so well together.

JG-mazzotta-raul-pinto

JG Mazzotta and Raul Pinto. Photo: Lewis

Why did you decide to open Installation now and Satellite later this Summer?

JG and I only have four arms so moving them simultaneously seemed impossible. But seriously we didn’t want to affect our snow business and in a college town we know our slow sales times  and really planned every part of the move and sales process together. With any luck we will have less snow product to move by May when school is getting out.

While the two stores are connected, they’re definitely their own spaces. Why did you design it that way?

Satellite has almost 11 years under its belt and Installation almost eight, so the two stores have strong customer bases and strengths and credibility in their own rights. They are separate companies and have the ability to grow respectively on their own so we wanted to keep that diversity. And with any luck, both shops will lure customers to sales on both businesses.

Tell us a little about your philosophy of the union of Installite and how skate, snow, and shoes fit into your “government” concept?

This goes back at least two years to when JG and I had planing meetings for this very move. We created our rules and definitions of how we saw the two business.

They are outlined like this:
Satellite = the government. We are the state of skate/snow. We define it and determine its future, because as a collective, the team, the employees—we are participating in driving it forward.
Under this “state of skate + snow”  we have branches of government:
Satellite Skate = FBI or SWAT. It’s a little more dark and somewhat elitist.
Satellite Snow = NASA or the Forest Service—these are specialized divisions of our government.
Installation = A union or work force that includes artist, architects, trades, et cetera.
Installiteco = the joining of Installation + Satellite is the community of all its parts.

From a business standpoint, the combination and shared spaces allow all of these special people and talents to feed off one another to keep our state pure and always progressing.

It’s been another rough winter for a lot of shops, yet you guys are pushing forward on a new location and not hunkering down. How has your year been and are you guys in the camp of doubling down in hard times when others are running scared?

It was just our time, we came into this with the intention of making snowboarding and skateboarding special again. In some ways we have achieved this, but for our customers, snowboarding and skateboarding deserve a bigger and better stage.  We just intend to give them that stage, it’s long overdue, and there are a handful of shops that feel the same way. I look forward to changing it with them.

Not to dwell on rough times, but it’s at the forefront of most retailers’ minds. What do you think are the best and worst practices of the snow, skate, and lifestyle industries right now?

Well, this is more of a global economy answer, but when did everybody think that this [skateboarding and snowboarding] was so big? That there was so much money to be made? How many avenues of distribution do we need? How many brands do we need? Who’s really contributing to the growth and progression of the industry? How many are just lingering around, dropping margins and still over producing?  We were asked in 2007 about the recession and the floor falling out, to which I replied ” bring it on, I hope we finally burn out some of these brands that are just lingering around.” Now it’s 2013 and trade shows are as inflated if not more so than in 2007. However, the pie is smaller!? Seems like nobody wants to face the reality so they are all just pretending as if it’s all good and keep spending in a foolish way. It’s not sustainable and not healthy for the industry. It can’t be business as usual, and the shops, brands, and people that design and develop a new plan are the ones that are going to succeed.

What can each learn from the other to come away stronger?

This seems obvious, but don’t go along with the pack, break away and do things different , adapt and change.

At SIA, you had a meeting with some of the other true specialty snow retailers. Tell us a bit about that meeting, who was there, what you guys discussed, and how you’d like to see specialty retailers band together in snowboarding?

The first rule about fight club is we don’t talk about fight club.
However, I will say this is the best group of regional individuals to get the issues we face as an industry in the open and help the industry grow the way the people that have dedicated much of their lives would know how—through design and creativity. All roads lead back to design and planing. The companies and everyone else reading this know what shops are truly going to keep the spirit and growth of snowboarding alive.

What are your goals with the new location for the next couple years?

Really to create the definition of what Satellite meant to us when we wrote our business plan—”a hub or connection to all things snowboarding and skateboarding.” We saw Colorado as an epicenter, like the center of the pond—drop a rock and the ripples go out in every direction.

What is key to achieving that?

Our first skate deck had three words on it: “Educate + Enlighten + Evolve.”  I think along with Service, Community, and Participate; this still stays with our simple three steps and three rules that produce our goal—to have fun!