Aug. 23, 2001--Boyne Country Sports in Michigan kicks off its annual late summer sale today. Sturtevant's in Seattle launches theirs tomorrow. Throughout the West, from Denver to Salt Lake to Los Angeles, Gart Sports stores are gearing up for the annual Sniagrab traffic-builder over Labor Day.
But through most of the East and Midwest, the traditional late-summer sale is a thing of the past. In today's consolidated, less-competitive markets, large independent dealers will wait until October to ramp up traffic with promotional sales.
One exception is Willi's, in Pittsburgh. Manager Greg Klein believes that the late summer sale is valuable in building customer loyalty through the fall months. "It's a marketing tool," he says. "It kicks your season off."
The store has been running a Labor Day sale for 27 years, guaranteeing that it offers the best prices of the year. The guarantee means soft-pedaling post-holiday and March inventory clearance sales. "In order to get people to come out in 90 degree weather you have to do something extraordinary," Klein says. "The public is skeptical about on-sale marketing, so you need good products at the best prices for the year. Then you have to hold that policy. Over the years you have to train your customers that this is the best price for the year. An end-of-season sale can destroy the pre-season sale."
Like most stores, Willi's buys closeouts for the sale. "In recent years we've been able to pre-book closeouts right after placing pre-season orders," Klein notes. "There's always someone with something at a very good price. This is mostly inventory brought in from other countries. But we can't stock the whole sale with closeouts, so we sell new stuff, old inventory, and sample lines. Sometimes closeouts are hard to find - there was a shortage of ski boots at the end of last winter."
In Seattle, still a hyper-competitive market, Sturtevant's gets a one-week jump on its rivals. Manager Tracy Gibbons reports that the 10-day preseason sale launches on Friday, Aug. 24, while Ski Bonkers, the Olympic Sports sale, happens over the three-day Labor Day weekend. "We offer our lowest prices of the year on 2002 equipment, and we'll do some inventory cleanup," Gibbons says. "We did great preseason business last year, but then we didn't have great snow year last year and the economy is off. On the other hand, it's 60 degrees and raining this week, with the snow line at 8000 feet, so we hope for a good push in skis, and boots are always strong - we're doing a big push on soft boots from Rossi and Salomon." Sturtevant's does most of its inventory clearance through its outlet branch, SkiMart.
The master of closeout buying is Art Hagen at Gart Sports. The Gart Sports Sniagrab sale in Denver is the gorilla of Labor Day events; in addition to cheap gear and clothing, in recent years the sale has offered Denver sliders their first crack at discount season passes to Front Range resorts. Sniagrab has now been extended to the SportMart and Oshman's outlets throughout the West.
In Denver, Ken Gart at Specialty Sports goes head-to-head annually with the Gart Sports Sniagrab blowout. "We've picked up a lot of closeouts from dying dot-com businesses," he nootes. Smaller, independent Denver dealers, and even the Christy Sports chain, tend to lie low over Labor Day, waiting for the storm to blow over.
Salt Lake shops also have to answer the Sniagrab challenge, and Labor Day sales are on the agenda at Sports Den, Evolution Mountain Outfitters, Pedersen's, Snowbird and Alpine Sports in Ogden.
Utah's resort shops hold end-of-summer sales, but unlike the city stores they don't run blow-outs. Instead, says Todd Thibault, manager of Cole Sports in Park City, it's a summer clearance. "We'll get rid of our remaining bikes," Thibault says.