Snow & Rock - Richard Cotter (former CEO)

An industry veteran with well-rounded expertise, Richard Cotter has served as Snow + Rock’s CEO and held a string of other executive positions at companies including Head Sports, Brasher Boot Company and Berghaus.  

Fusion Associates sat down with the industry expert to get his take on new era retailing, with particular focus on the performance sector.

Richard Cotter

Richard Cotter

Consumer behaviour has changed on many levels in the past few years. What is the most significant shift?

It’s important not to get too wrapped up in trying to pinpoint the shopping habits of certain age groups; consumer behaviour has changed across all ages, spanning baby boomers to millennials. Before the crash in 2008, the market enjoyed the carefree spending habits of the liberated credit buyer – people spent their money on whatever caught their fancy. These “want” purchases ceased following the downturn but people haven’t stopped spending – they just do so in a more considered, discretionary way. Consumers are willing to spend a lot of money on the right product; the reasoning goes – ‘running is my passion, therefore I’m happy to pay for it, whatever the price might be’. Hence, the performance category has seen an upswing in average spend; retail prices of road bikes and ski gear alike have increased considerably since the economic downturn.

What other characteristics define the new era consumer?

The level of information consumers arm themselves with before making a purchase – they are more informed today than ever before and the consumer purchasing journey has become a lot more intricate. Firstly, consumers go online to research different options, then they talk to friends about the products they’ve discovered, after which they visit a shop to view it up close. Then, they go on to consult blogs, chat threads and reviews. Gradually they’ve absorbed all the information needed to decide exactly which product is right for them – be it a ski suit or a road bike – and which retailer deserves their business. The consumer has the power and will make sure to spend their money in a store that meets their expectations.

What strategies should performance product brands and retailers employ in order to capture the “discretionary spend” consumer?

You need to know who your consumer is and what they want exactly. If you don’t know what type of skiwear they’re looking for and have a clear and convincing way of selling that product, they will go somewhere else. Retailers need to know precisely how to present the product options to the consumer and elevate the way information is shared. Staff must be trained so that they have more knowledge than the well-educated consumer of today, and can offer the level of service they expect when in the process of making a major purchase. Snow + Rock Group, for instance, offers everything from gait analysis and bike fitting to ski boot fitting. Consumer expectation will only increase and we’ll have to figure out how to best satisfy them on every level.

What’s is the ideal balance between physical retail and e-commerce and how should the two complement each other?

All the talk about the death of bricks and mortar shopping has finally died down. Nowadays we are seeing just how important the store is in the consumer decision journey; retailers might no longer operate a shop on every street corner, but the physical store is still a vital part of the overall purchase decision as the desire to interact with the product – try it, feel it, test it, have it fitted – is as strong as ever. In the sports sector, about 80% of sales are registered at bricks and mortar outlets, but the online space is massively important in the selection process – product information, reviews, extended product choice are all increasingly influencing the purchase decision. So we see customers who make their purchase decision in-store but still buy online and customers who make their selection online but still purchase in-store. The reality is, in short, physical retail and e-commerce are equally important parts of the shopping ecosystem. Whether you call it multichannel or omnichannel doesn’t matter – it’s about retail in my eyes.

Did you come across anything unpredictable in the purchasing cycle during your time at Snow + Rock?

Serious runners change shoes every six months and you might be tempted to think that they’ll come into the store once for gait analysis and to discuss options with staff, only to order the consequent pairs online. But at Snow + Rock we found that this is not the case – most runners return for another gait test and consultancy session to make sure their running style hasn’t changed. This proves how seriously they take their sport, which ties into the amount they’re happy to part with to get the best out of it.

Are there any issues related to product and stock that need addressing?

In line with increasing consumer expectations, product availability will be the biggest challenge over the next few years. If you are a vertically integrated company, you’re safe as you control everything from design through to delivery. But if you don’t operate this way, you’ll have to work closely with brands in order to ensure total range product availability. Nike Free is the shoe of the moment, and it’s available in a dozen colours each season but typically retailers will only stock 3/4; customers expect to be able to purchase any of these colours at any stockist. So, retailers and brands need to figure out a solution to increase availability and meet the consumer’s requirements.

Have you noticed a rise in any particular sport and its associated product category?

I can’t say that I’ve spotted an upswing in any particular sport; cycling has been the big growth sector over the last few years but currently there is a dramatic rise in the number of young female runners. This global phenomenon presents a huge opportunity for brands.

SportAlex Pescott