bt_neil.jpg In our quest to always give you insights on different aspects of European snowboarding and people involved in making our sport grow, we bring you today a BrOADER[view] with Neil Slinger, Marketing and Product Manager for Blue Tomato Snowboard Shop.

Blue Tomato is an Austrian based retailing company which has chosen to develop a strong online strategy. We wanted to know how it was working for them and what benefits us – buyers of snowboard goods – could get out of it.
What we appreciate is that Blue Tomato (BT) is not just here for the business, they are riders and dedicated to promote snowboarding through their team, events and gatherings! Check it out!

Neil, can you just introduce yourself in a few words?

Ok, well Im Neil, I am responsible for product management and marketing at Blue Tomato Snowboard Shop. I have been with the company in Austria nearly 5 years now and come orginally from the UK. I started here after doing a couple of seasons in Austria. I am 28 years old (yeah i cant believe it either!), and my life revolves around snowboarding and surfing.

We asked you for a BrOADER[view] because we would like to give an insight to our readers about what’s up with online retailing in the snowboard industry! So we thought why not ask the best in Europe? 😉 What is your position exactly at BlueTomato? And what does your job consist off?

Thanks for the props. We try our best at Blue Tomato, our aim is to offer an online shop that is so good it is as stress free as going to an actual snowboard shop. As we know not everyone lives next door to a good snowboard shop.
So i take care of all the buying for the online shop and our other shops, i bring together the concepts for our Blue Tomato products, promotion pieces and work together with our marketing team to promote Blue Tomato accross Europe through different media, be it through events, online or in magazines. I also help manage the shop team riders together with my colleague Vanessa. The new big task for me is taking care of the creative management of the print catalogue which means coming up with a style and concept with the designers and then making sure the photos present the image of the bands perfectly.

Let’s get technical! How many ‘Brick and mortar’ shops does BT have?

As you say we are a mix. We have the online shop, the office is based in Schladming in central Austria. We have four actual stores. In Schladming is the flagship shop, down the road from there is a resort shop in Haus, then we have another resort shop in Obertauern, and finally the latest shop, our city store in Graz which opened last September and is a huge success.
We also have several snowboard schools, mainly in the resorts where we have shops and we also support these with testcentres. We actually have the largest selection of test equipment in Austria, if not in the Alps!

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Why did you decide to implement an online strategy? Was it mainly to touch a bigger market of consumers?

The online strategy was first implemented back in 1999/2000. At this time there was an online shopping boom, many shops tried it and many failed because they did not keep investing time and money into it. The first year or so at Blue Tomato was the same as other shops, they simply launched an online shop and attempted to make use of the internet. The main aim was to try to reach new customers, but back in the first year it was not done that seriously. Then the decision was made to give 100% in the online strategy because there appeared to be noone attempting it in the snowboard industry. And this was a good decision.
It took a couple of years to get a foothold on the web and before people knew it existed but this patience paid off. I arrived in 2002/03 and translated the website fully into english and this is when interest from all around Europe really took off, even though we did very little advertising in individual countries.

Was it a heavy investment? And how many people work full time on it to make it all work?

For sure, and it still is. That is what I respect about the owner, Gerfried Schuller. He has kept on reinvesting in the idea and strategies, be it online or in the actual shops. Even though the company is making incredible growth the turnover gets pumped back into the company to ensure it stays at the forefront of snowboard and online retail. We are always trying to keep things fresh and attempting to improve the service for our customers.
I think many people who visit us are surprised at how many full time employees we actually have for a snowboard shop. In the office for the online shop we have around 25 people, this number goes up and down depending on the time of year. But now with our entry into the surf market we also need these staff in summer too.
An example, in Winter we have 4 people working in customer service from 8 in the morning to 9 at night. And at the start of the season when the stock arrives there are heaps of people working to sort it all into the shops and into the warehouse.

How do you manage the stocks? Is it parallel or completely separated from the ‘real’ shops?

Because we are still not that big a company the shops and online shop all live from the same stock. When products are delivered to us at the start of the season they get distributed to the shops and to the online main stock (the distribution depends on what brand it is or what type of product as to which shop it lands in). If a shop runs out of stock it can take stock from the online warehouse and vice versa. For most products if it is only in stock in a shop it can still be seen as being available by our customers online, will just take a day or so longet to send out.

Business wise do you have an idea of the ratio between online sales and regular offline sales?
Are you satisfied with the results you get online?

The online sales have been growing strongly each year. The launch of the print catalogue has certainly helped the online shop, it gives customers something to have in the hand and to look at. I am still a big fan of print media, it is much nicer than always looking at pics online. As for the ratio, we are certainly at around 70% online and 30% offline in the shops at the moment. The launch of the Graz shop will certainly bring more offlnie sales but it is also a decision which will help promote the online shop too. A good shop provides us with a good image, and often visitors to our actual stores buy then next time from home online, because they remember the service they got in the store. For us it all fits together, they all are important ingredients for the tasty blue tomato soup!

Now from a buyer’s perspective: what advantages do I get when I buy online? Are there always incentives?

At Blue Tomato we certainly have a larger stock selection online that in the shops. The shops are limited to a certain amount of storage space, online can present as much as you can buy in, there are no limits. Online also has an advantage over typical mail order catalogues, we are able to present extra pictures, detail shots, videos, links to stories, the possibilites are endless!
Also buying online can often be cheaper than shopping in a store because you dont have to drive anywhere and often the delivery costs are cheap. Especially if you know exactly what you want.
We also have all the latest prices online at the click of a mouse, and as you say there are often goodies available such as free DVDs with new boards etc.

What’s the deal with the shipment costs?

Shipping is quite simple. There is standard shipping which takes 3-5 working days in EU depending on where you live and the charge is then dependent on the value of the order. Orders over a certain amount have a free standard shipping. We also offer DHL express in the EU which is charged on weight of the order. We send outside the EU with DHL Express.

You have a very wide choice of products in your e-shop. Do you have some exclusive online products?

We try to bring in as many new brands as possible. We were the first shop in Europe to offer brands such as Neff, Bataleon, Airblaster, Landing, Nomis etc. For us it is fun to bring in new small brands and to try to help them get a foothold in the market. It is always great to see that we helped them get into other shops who maybe at first said no as they cant take on such a risk with too many new brands. We dont have many exclusive products but next year will see more cooperation with brands for exclusive Blue Tomato products…keep your eyes peeled!

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Aside from the purely business aspects, BT is also active with his rider team and in organizing events. How important is this for you?

The teamriders are very important for us. Being mainly an online shop, it is hard for us to show our face and for people to see the staff behind the scenes, the teamriders are the face of Blue Tomato. Several work for us and many are local shredders who have been shopping with us for years. The aim with the team is to support Austrian rookies and to help them get the most out of their snowboarding and to provide them with a strong media platform. We have strong riders such as Autrian rookies Roli Scharmer, Pole Polanc, Fips and Paz Gruber, Herby Thaler and Flo Galler who all have huge potential, and just need a helping hand. New in the team is finnish ripper Ville Uotila, who contacted us and wanted to join the ride… No problem!
We also arrange our own events and co arrange events with others, this is also important for us. We want to give as much back to the snowboard scene as possible, and events is a good way to do this. There are some sick events in the pipeline!

Ok, now it’s your turn – what do you think about our online snowboard blog and in your opinion what do you think we could improve?

Im liking it! There are a couple of others out there who simply dont update their infos enough, you know the same stories on there for a few days and that is a bit boring! I think the only thing you are missing are some reports from the Blue Tomato Teamriders hehe!

Thanks a lot! Any final words?

Hey it was a pleasure, always nice to give an interview! Thanks for listenting and thanks to all the loyal customers who have continued to support Blue Tomato over the past years, we have some great customers and you are the people that motivate us to bring in new brands and styles and keep it fresh, if it was not for the customers freedom of taste we would be selling heaps of black boring stuff! And even in a winter like this one with little snow it is important to keep the motivation going! So head out to the hill, snowdome, dryslope, whatever, shred some stuff and take some pics with your friends and send them into snowbroader.eu!!! Keep on riding!

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