SIA President on Pandemic Adjustments for SIA and Winter Businesses
As winter approaches, we thought it would be a good time to check in with Nick Sargent, the President of the Snowsports Industries America (SIA).
SIA has been super busy during the pandemic putting on workshops, webinars and a lot more to help its member companies navigate the situation.
We asked Nick about new SIA initiatives and if he thinks the snow industry is ready to operate in the new normal this winter.
It seems like SIA is offering a lot of education options to its members at the moment. Is that a newer strategy for the association? What type of education is your membership most interested in?
SIA President Nick Sargent: SIA has always provided education to our members, specifically at the Snow Show through our Industry + Intelligence program.
At the beginning of 2020 we decided to expand this to a year-round education platform. Then COVID hit, which put this program into full speed with Town Halls, an information hub on our website, and workshops to address the challenges everyone was facing in the early days of the pandemic.
Our education platform consists of Town Halls, webinars, workshops and video libraries, and covers a variety of topics including B2B and B2C business technologies, consumer loyalty, e-commerce, inclusion, sales, sustainable recovery, data and research, climate and tariff advocacy, and more – all aimed at helping our members navigate the landscape created by COVID and beyond.
SIA acquired consumer-facing expos before the pandemic hit. What is the status of the Snowbound Festivals and how are you trying to utilize those properties this year?
Nick Sargent: We are launching our online community, SnowboundFest.com, later this month, and are planning for in-person events again in late 2021.
SnowboundFest.com is a new digital platform that is a welcoming and inclusive epicenter of the winter lifestyle, appealing to diverse new audiences of consumers of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds. The Snowbound platform will provide the winter outdoor community the ability to showcase unique, branded content and the opportunity to engage with these passionate consumers.
The Snowbound audience also provides us with the opportunity to glean critical consumer insights. A couple of weeks ago we launched “The Impacts of COVID-19 on Snowsports Consumer Trends and Insights” – the first of two consumer reports that will launch this season that will be especially pivotal in helping retailers, resorts and suppliers better understand consumer sentiment as we navigate this winter.
What is SIA’s approach to research these days? Is this something your members utilize a lot?
Nick Sargent: Research, which we now call Insights, is one of SIA’s six pillars of focus. The goal is to provide actionable consumer, retail and participation data for our members to make better informed business decisions. Successful businesses use data to build perspectives on important areas of focus, to assess opportunities and weaknesses, and most importantly to get an edge on their competitors.
Retail, wholesale and participation data have been the backbone of SIA’s insights previously. Now, SIA is adding consumer insights and trends, and we released our first of two reports last month (the next one will be released later this winter).
Also new this year, we are surveying industry stakeholder groups (resort, retail and supplier) and consumers on a monthly basis in order to create the Industry Sentiment Dashboard. The aim is to gauge and share insights across these different groups as we move into and through the winter season in effort to help shed light on what stakeholders are thinking and feeling in different parts of the country.
How is SIA helping its members with topics around diversity and inclusion?
Nick Sargent: We not only have a moral obligation to build a more welcoming and inclusive industry, we have a business imperative as well. Change needs to start now, and this will take all of our collective effort to create this shift.
At the OR + Snow Show last January, I made an announcement that DEI would be a focus for SIA this year and beyond.
This past summer, we hosted a series of four Town Halls focusing on inclusion, hosted by Selema Masekela, which were well attended with excellent engagement.
To follow that up, leaders in several industry associations and groups in August began taking part in a six-month inclusion training program led by Dr. Gerilyn Davis of Inclusion on the Slopes. Those participating include the leadership at SIA, the executive committee of our Board of Directors, and leadership at National Ski Areas Association, National Ski Patrol, Outdoor Industry Association, Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, and Share Winter Foundation.
Then in September 2020, we began offering the same training on our website for the winter outdoor community to engage in – these are weekly sessions that are open to all. You can visit our website, snowsports.org/education to access this free training
SIA will continue to lead this effort on education and awareness of DEI.
SIA has also launched its Inclusion Committee, made up of diverse people from across the winter community. The committee will meet monthly and will help identify areas that SIA and the entire winter outdoor industry need to focus on to help be more inclusive and move inclusion forward.
How tough has the pandemic been on your member companies?
Nick Sargent: It’s been really tough on the winter outdoor community. The sudden shut down in mid-March came at a time that is traditionally the highest sales of the season for resorts, retailers and the travel industry – spring break, rentals, food & beverage, hotels, etc., plus end-of-season sales – these were all cancelled due to COVID.
However, there have also been a number of bright spots. Businesses that have faced the challenges head-on, have found new ways to adapt and innovate in ways that will ultimately make their businesses stronger in the long run.
In addition, as we are going into this winter season, we are optimistic that consumers will still want to get outside like we saw this spring, summer and fall. Resorts are preparing to open, retailers are selling gear earlier than normal, and consumers are looking for alternatives to resorts such as Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, backcountry, winter running, fat biking, etc. While this winter won’t be normal, we will have a season and need to be prepared for whatever life throws at us!
Do you think the snow industry has adjusted to the “new normal” and is ready to do business this winter during the pandemic?
Nick Sargent: The winter outdoor industry has spent the entire summer preparing for thef “new normal” this winter. Many retailers and resorts were open this summer and were able to try new things and prepare for the busy winter season. Most have already moved to things such as buy online/pick up in store, touchless pay, limited capacity, in-store flow, implementing new technologies, etc., as well as, implementing technologies to take the place of B2B meetings and showings. So yes, we are as prepared as we can be.
And SIA has spent the summer helping our members prepare with education and developing a page on our website “Best Practices for Rental, Retail and Technology in the COVID-Era and Beyond” to provide our members one place to go to find this information.