We spend a lot of time talking to retailers about what they look for in a brand. Recently, we had the chance to chat with Brendan Madigan of Alpenglow Sports. Located in Tahoe City, California, Alpenglow has been providing inspiration, local knowledge, and the best equipment to enjoy the great outdoors for over thirty-eight years.
Brendan has been working in the outdoor industry since 1998, inspired by a genuine passion for the outdoors. This is a man who knows the industry, and how to create a truly special specialty retail shop. Brendan’s shop thrives due to the community he’s built up around it by creating seminal events like the Alpenglow Sports Mountain Festival, offering authentic experiences driven by a love of the outdoors, and creating lasting relationships with his customers and brand reps.
What do the best brands do to support and collaborate with you as a retailer?
Brendan: The pendulum of brand support has finally swung back towards the specialty shop. Today’s consumer wants to shop with brands (and stores) with a story, a message, an identity - a calling if you will. Large brands are once again coming to their senses that specialty shops provide a degree of authentic credibility that they can absolutely not manifest on their own. Sure, they can open concept shops and chase mainstream multi-channel brand growth and pump their products through elite athletes and ambassadors. However, when it comes down to mountain town skitrack/singletrack credibility, they are powerless. The staff that make up successful mountain town shops can ultimately be their biggest advocates. That doesn’t mean they’ll compete on volume, but we’re of the mindset that the outdoor industry has to refocus on QUALITY and not QUANTITY. What better way to do that than via heritage specialty shops that literally helped build the entire outdoor industry from the ground up?
We think it is the role of a specialty shop to vet brands and consciously do business with ones that are supporting said shop’s events, make them more financially viable and/or give them the resources to differentiate themselves in a crowded and saturated market. Now, don’t be an entitled retailer and expect a handout, it’s a two-way street! We align more strongly with brands that sponsor our events, send speakers, guides or athletes, or any devoted action that allows us to differentiate ourselves while giving back to our community. Think it’s a given that your brand’s product hits our floors? Correction, it is a privilege that is earned and not given. For Alpenglow, this support comes primarily in the form of financial sponsorships for our nine-day winter Mountain Festival or winter Speaker Series. Additionally, if cash isn’t an option ,EVERY company can come off of product. This can either be sold, raffled away, given to influencers - the sky is the limit. We make no secret to reps, who can be a shop’s biggest advocate, that if they tow the line for us, they will make more money from our purchasing decisions.
How do these collaborations benefit both you as a retailer and the brands that participate?
Brendan: The beauty is it’s a win-win-win in our book. A win for the retailer-brand, and most importantly, the community. Besides the simple economic benefit of an increased preseason order amount with a company, we then turn around and show our loyalty by offering to place an ADDITIONAL event PO. This is usually on wheels at a predetermined discount, which is then passed on to the event participant. Alpenglow purchases more from the sponsor, the sponsor is then happy and best of all, the event participant is stoked because they were able to have an amazing experience AND save some cash. This builds tremendous goodwill and loyalty on all levels and it’s rewarding.
What are the business qualities you look for in a brand to be carried in your store?
Brendan: Integrity, identity, authenticity, and a genuine care for specialty. You know right away when you sit down with a marketing team or a rep whether they genuinely care about your shop and consequently your community, or if they’re just chasing self-interest commission. Both are possible for sure, but they are not mutually exclusive.
How do you find new brands?
Brendan: These days, I think primarily through the press the store receives, they reach out to us. It used to be we’d go hunting in the corners of the trade show arena but we have too many events to tend to these days to do that.
What are the top problems you encounter when working with a brand?
Brendan: Honestly most brands are just too busy for their own good. You can have an amazing person in marketing who absolutely believes in your mission but they’re tasked with wearing so many hats that they can’t necessarily give you the time the investment deserves. It’s not their fault, but rather how the outdoor industry has set up this accepted concept of over-working people and not allowing them to truly flourish in the role they were hired for. We’ve learned to circumvent this by planning events 12 months ahead of time and being dogmatic about communication, expectations, signed contracts, and collective direction. We’re OCD organizers with acute attention to detail.
What is the #1 value in working with a retailer like AlpenGlow?
Brendan: Authentic and honest credibility and concern for the high touchpoint capabilities of specialty shops.
What makes you happy to come into work each day?
Brendan: The people, unequivocally. And building something of lasting value that is bigger than any single team member.
Specialty retail clearly brings unique value to the table. Without shops like Alpenglow working to create real experiences for enthusiasts, and offering opportunities for brands to engage in a very real way, outdoor brands will struggle to find the authenticity they need to connect with consumers and succeed.