We sat down with Burton’s European Director of Marketing, Chris Patsch to see what’s kicking at the big B in Europe at the start of the 18/19 winter. They’ve now rolled out three of their Hubs across Europe, where they look to give consumers a peek behind the curtain, to show the brand in its entirety; consumers may walk in on a dealer writing an order, scope out next season’s products and simply see every aspect of the brand. We ask Chris how this and their D2C approach has been received with wholesale partners and also cover topics ranging from equality in the workplace, Donna & Jake moving to Europe and also find out how Burton are making informed decisions with information coming from a newly created Consumer Insight department.
What has the feedback been like since opening Hubs in Zurich and Munich?
Three words: direct, unfiltered & plentiful… as expected. And that’s the beauty: we get to meet long-time Burton loyalists and newcomers alike. We get to hear why they love the brand and what we need to be doing better, which obviously accelerates the learning curve.
What are the next steps with the Hubs?
Oh man, so much work goes into the minute details of finding the right location, the build-out, the hiring, the launch… and once it’s finally up-and-running you realize the work’s just getting started.
It’s really all about making the brand, and all it stands for, more tangible and getting that direct feedback from the customer.
For us in marketing it is so much fun because it’s basically our version of R&D… our own rapid prototyping facility, if you will. We can test event formats, displays, whatever, and upon feedback either scrap the idea or improve before rolling out to all our channels
Burton as a brand is like a great rock band… listening to the album is great, but the best experience is live and in-person. We’re less about huge, shiny awareness campaigns and more about creating fans and believers through hand-to-hand combat. And that’s the main purpose of these Hubs: creating experiences and connections rather than taking the short-cut to the purchase. We believe strongly that if we build these connections the customer will happily buy more Burton product down the road… either at one of our wholesale partners located in the Hub city, on burton.com or directly at the store.
What has been the reaction from wholesale partners in those cities?
A mixed bag, with comments ranging from ‘… cannibalizing sales’ to ‘…makes total sense’. With the Zurich Hub we have a bit over a year under our belt and some of the early sceptics are seeing our vision in full effect: the Hub approach is about more than just a Flagship store, it’s about increasing the brand’s foot print and thus creating demand across all channels.
Could you explain the difference between these hubs and your own retail stores?
The customer shouldn’t feel a difference in the retail space itself. Hubs just add an extra layer of depth. They are a holistic approach and the ultimate showcase of the brand. No matter if you’re a customer, a buyer or a journalist we want you to experience all facets of the brand. It’s really about breaking down the barriers and pulling back the curtain for everyone to see the inner makings.
Munich exemplifies this perfectly: customers shopping Hardgoods in the lower level are basically standing in the middle of the showroom. No walls, no curtains, no nothing! You might pop in on one of our dealers writing an order. You might see an excited Sales crew unpacking next year’s samples. You might even receive an invite from shop staff to take a sneak-peek of the upcoming collection.
What is setting this upcoming winter apart from others for Burton?
Jake and Donna moving to Zurich. Having the founder and the Co-CEO living in Europe for a year will be huge for us. We are lucky enough to have the best and most down-to-earth riders rocking the Burton logo but when Jake and Donna show up to an event it somehow takes it to another level. People simply gravitate towards them, want to hear stories or genuinely just want to say hi. Donna especially is very eager to get into the various markets, meet with all-sorts of people and share Burton’s purpose and values.
What is Burton currently working on behind-the-scenes?
Two things have really been front-and-centre.
First, becoming a more customer-centric organization. This is not to say we won’t come in with an opinion and a strong set of values. It’s more about putting the customer at the starting-point of everything we do. Rather than simply creating product and later selling said product, really obsessing over who our target customer really is. What values/motivations does he/she have? What benefits or experiences is he/she looking for?
This entails not only a shift of mindset but also in process and organization, resulting in creating a department for Customer Insights. These insights ultimately fuel marketing decisions to be more fact-based and objective.
… and secondly?
The focus on the female customer. Donna has spent a lot of time over the past years creating awareness for women’s empowerment within the company: outputs range from a balanced leadership team, mentoring programs, right the way through to employees joining the women’s march on Washington. Now we’re shifting that focus on equality towards the outside… customer-facing.
We’ve always built great products and worked with great female riders. However, snowboarding has historically been weighted strongly towards the male customer and we’ve been guilty of playing the odds vs. changing the odds. We want to do our part in levelling the playing field by investing in women’s participation in the sport. Concrete measures include communicating Step On in a very focused manner to the female entry-level rider as the no-hassle solution but also being active in the women’s rider community with events like ‘Ride with Anna Gasser’.
This is also the area where the aforementioned Customer Insights team is laying its focus early on. One of the early findings was that some of our communication towards our female customer felt too staged or even “wrong”. After identifying this perception, it was clear that we needed to change our tone, communicating topics of women being active and pushing their own limits.
This is a great example of using the power of customer insights to hold a mirror in front of yourself to check if you like what you see. It also gives us the opportunity to correct missteps very quickly.
Besides the Hubs, where else do you see the biggest potential for growth?
We are continuously emphasizing our resort business, putting a healthy focus on our identified premium resorts. These are the perfect playground to promote and share Burton’s lifestyle year round and it just makes too much sense to partner with some of Europe’s most forward-thinking resorts. From the core shred kid to the family just getting started; from rental product to our own flagship retail; from splitboarding tours to Riglet events; these are basically mountain versions of Hub cities where the brand is on full display. We have the perfect blueprint with resorts such as Laax and Avoriaz and now we are looking to elevate other partnerships to that level.
Which regions do you see the biggest potential for growth in?
By going direct in and opening Hubs in the DACH countries we’ve established that these will be at the centre of our attention for years to come. However, we still have a lot of growth potential in France especially with softgoods. I would have to make an educated guess and I would say the Scandinavian region.
How are you using regional and global riders to activate marketing and leverage their social media presence?
If you work with the right riders, then half the battle is already won. Riders today are not just insanely talented but also content creation/distribution machines. Take Anna Gasser for instance. Within a two-week time span she broke the internet by landing the first Triple Cork by a female rider, won the award for Austria’s ‘Female Athlete of the year’ and then casually took the top spot at the Air & Style in Beijing. That obviously makes a marketer’s job pretty easy.
With the emergence of the Hubs we are however, more than ever, incorporating our riders in everything that we do, from launch events, to Mountain clean-up days to meet ‘n greet style raffles. Additionally, we’re back to investing in local ambassadors and team riders so we can actively be part of that local community.