The Rome Lodge, now in its fifth year presents the Vermont-based snowboarding brand the opportunity to show European retailers (and lucky media) next season’s products in an on-snow environment. As Co-Founder Josh Reid puts it, “Every time we snowboard with a shop, it’s a super good time. Shops get to meet the team from America, they get to meet our European staff, and they spend more time with their reps – they’re sleeping in the same house!”
In our small boardsports industry, snowboarding makes up an even smaller part of that niche, meaning relationships are a key part of doing business. Products need to walk the walk and with Rome’s 15+ years experience (plus Josh and Co-Founder Paul Maravetz’s previous knowhow from a decade working at Burton) the Rome Lodge provides the best atmosphere for these relationships to be fostered.
Upping sticks from the Austrian resort of Diedamskopf, where the Rome Lodge had called home for four winters, for 2018 the Lodge moved across the Alps to the Italian resort of Sestriere and into the Fiat family’s personal lodge. A great setup and a fantastic resort, home to incredible terrain, which provided the powdered goods for both days of our trip.
This was my third visit to the Rome Lodge and being immersed in such a rich brand experience is something that we, as snowboarders often take for granted, but on chatting with Josh – and riding for two solid days with the rest of the Rome crew: Phil, Eddie, Tigs and Frap (and in previous years Stillman, Grady, George, Max and more) – what really resonates is that snowboarding is the lifeblood of Rome SDS, from top to bottom. They’re the first out the door in the morning, the first to drop in and the last off the mountain. My chat with Josh went off on some interesting tangents, so stay tuned for the second part of this interview where we take a look back at Josh’s career starting off with his introduction to snowboarding in the early 80s.
In the meantime, read on as Josh talks us through five years of the Rome Lodge, product highlights for 18/19 and just how they measure its success. Words, Harry Mitchell Thompson. Photos, Tom Greenhill.
What led you guys to starting the Lodge in the first place and how has it evolved over the last five years?
I’ve always questioned the value of trade shows worldwide, in terms of what you actually get out of it. You spend a lot of money on them, but what do you actually get out of it? And this increasingly became my feeling towards ISPO. So five years ago we did an event at Schmitten with some shops from Austria and Germany, with two days of riding and two days of hanging out. The snow was super good, everyone had a great time and at the end of the two days, myself and Sully (Dan Sullivan) said “that was so good, but we need to do it on a bigger scale.” That was when we started to think about taking the trade show money and pushing it into a multi-week retailer trip.
Snowboarding is more fun than trade-showing
As the idea started to roll out, the marketing tagline was the rationale behind it: Snowboarding is more fun than trade-showing. We felt that even though we wouldn’t see as many retailers (not that we see that many at trade shows!), we could share who we are as people, as a brand and the product. We knew we could show people product better over a couple of days than in 30 minutes at a trade show booth. Every time we snowboard with a shop, it’s a super good time. Shops get to meet the team from America, they get to meet our European staff, and they spend more time with their reps – they’re sleeping in the same house!
The one thing that’s been great about both locations (Diedamskopf and Sestriere), is that there’s no night life. So the only thing to do is hang out with each other in a small space; cook food together, snowboard together, then come back and hang out together again. It’s a really personal, human thing and you can really connect with someone.
Through snowboarding, you can connect without speaking the same language. Our current French reps came as a shop a couple of years ago, Black Cats from Tignes, and they speak English fine but we cruised round Diedamskopf, which I know pretty well now, and there was some really good snow and we were all getting amped together and it was just an immediate connection between me and them, and now they’re our reps. The Lodge is a really good representation of who we are as a brand and without sounding corny or cheesy, snowboarding is really important to us, so to share that with people and meet new people, and people who share that feeling – like Thomas (Delfino, Rome pro snowboarder in attendance of the Rome Lodge 2018 media session), who is just super stoked on snowboarding. So getting together with retailers, Rome staff, riders like Thomas who share that hype on snowboarding and want to go till 5 o’clock, is truly what the Rome Lodge is all about
It’s a community experience of getting together with other snowboarders and having them learn about and ride our product. It’s been a great experience so far and we plan to keep on doing it.
Can you talk numbers in terms of how you’ve performed sales-wise since starting the Rome Lodge Vs ISPO days?
Europe has been growing since we started doing the Rome Lodge. We look at how the shops who come to the Lodge perform with us, to see if what we’re doing has any impact. Not all of them do perform better, because some people have bad winters weather-wise and due to other different factors, but on average all the stores who have come to the Lodge have grown over most of the years we’ve been running it. We view it as successful. We went to ISPO last year, in the pre-built arrangement thing they had and it was effective for meeting with some distributors, but the number of stores that were there seemed like slim to none.
So we’ll re-evaluate how we do this (the Rome Lodge), do certain little tweaks, but we think it’s an effective use of money – it’s not the cheapest thing in the world – but it fits us as a brand and it really is an expression of the brand and a great way to show product.
Which are your best performing markets in Europe?
Austria and Germany. Italy is growing, the UK is looking good, we’re re-building France where we are adding a bunch of new stores this year. Russia and Eastern Europe, Poland are pretty strong. Southern Germany and Austria do particularly well for us.
And where do you see the biggest potential for growth?
All of it really. We’re far from saturated in Europe. France and Italy are growers. Spain has always been pretty strong historically for us. Parts of Scandinavia. Overall a lot of places, but particularly France, when you look at the number of resorts they have and how big of a country it is.
Which product category have you overhauled the most for 18/19?
Probably bindings. Boards have been a bit more incremental, but bindings continue to grow. Last year was a big year for the bindings, with the Vice and Guild launching. For this coming year the Katana is largely a new binding with a completely different highback, which I’m personally very excited about – on how light it is and how it adheres to our asymmetric flex story; which looks at how a highback flexes, how a base plate flexes and on the Katana you can now adjust your ankle strap so it flexes asymmetrically. This new Katana highback is a really sleek execution of this. And towards the mid-lower price point the Crux and Flare are coming in with a ton of features that the retailers here have just loved as a binding, for advanced riding but at a lower price point. It has the underwrap structure which is fundamental in our approach to bindings but it is fixed so that there will be three baseplate sizes you can adjust toe to heal through to the disc. People love that ankle strap so much that they want it on our higher end bindings, thanks to the geometry and flex of it. The highback is a performance high back on an affordable binding – it has a lot of substance to it. So retailers who want to get people into a more affordable binding, but still want more features than other bindings at that price are excited about it. And this was the approach we took to the binding market early on; to give more features at the same price. So the Crux is something that heads in that same direction.
The whole Tramline snowboard collection: the ethos behind this is the love of the turn, and focusing on how people turn. In the collection there are different turning profiles, some quick turning and some more wide turning profiles and also a love of turning in all snow types. So it’s not a piste or a powder collection, it’s both. Especially the Mountain Division and the Ravine, which are both designed through their camber and other design elements to make them turn really well on a groomer, but also rip powder lines and tree lines. They’re really versatile so can suit all conditions, and then you get the Powder Division which is more powder focused, but Thomas (Delfino) shot by on an icy, winding piste track today riding the Moon Tail and was really putting the thing on rail and getting super low and putting a board designed for powder to work on piste. The Tramline collection is new for us in the board world and is a modern evolution of our take on freeride that goes back to our beginnings with a board called the Design, which was super tech and lightweight and then the Notch series, where we had a 174cm swallow tail, a 164cm swallow tail and that was seven or eight years ago. And just boards that are really designed for places like the Alps, or Jackson Hole or Whistler.
In boots there are three SRT (Support Responsive Traction) boots, which come with Vibram outsole, Powerstrap, BOA that handles the ankle on the two lace ones. The Inferno, a full BOA version is brand new and the Guide SRT and the Libertine have also seen a bunch of upgrades.
Which products have seen the best pre-order sales so far this winter?
I haven’t looked at numbers too closely yet, as they were just coming in when I was leaving. The Ravine, the new board model, part of our Tramline collection has been launching well. The Katana, Vice and Flare bindings are also doing super well.
How many staff does Rome employ and have there been any major personnel changes at Rome in the last year?
I think worldwide we are a little over 20 people. Grady (Skelton former Marketing Manager) left last spring and moved back to Oregon and is now working for a beer company. He was a big part of Rome for six years or so and so that was a big change for sure, but Stillman (former Digital Media & Event Coordinator) had been there for long enough to just step straight into the role. This has happened a lot, where if we’re had someone moving onto something else, we’ve been fortunate enough to have someone ready to move into that role.