Mat Robinson, Snow and Rock Southern Area Manager dishes the dirt on winter pressures, tricks of the trade and consumer trends.
Give us the low down …
I had 17 years’ management experience with Sainsbury’s Supermarkets before joining Snow and Rock seven years ago. I started as store manager in the original store – High Street Kensington – where I did two full years. I was subsequently promoted to the company flagship store, Covent Garden, in September 2007, also as manager. Over the next few years I took on more responsibility and started to oversee more of the London stores acting as Senior London Manager. In September 2011, I was promoted to Southern Area Manager with the responsibility for all the London stores and several in the Home Counties.
What makes me tick? Well it’s probably the satisfaction in being able to make our business a better place to work, actually being able to influence our results and achieve them, and also to work with some of the most dynamic individuals you could find in any business in the world.
Perks and downsides
The perks – really are having the freedom to get on with my job and influence the stores I cover. There is nothing better than seeing a member of staff who I took on as a salesperson working their way through successes up to store manager – yes, that is a perk! As part of my job I travel between stores and get to see one of the most amazing cities in the world.
If you could have anything in your store, what would it be?
A bed! Sleep is at a premium in winter.
What do you do to try to ensure you hit your weekly targets for the store and for each department? What tricks do you have to capitalise on the type of customers you receive in Central London?
We talk to our teams continually. We don’t overload them, but we give them the correct amount of knowledge that they need to be able to do their job more effectively and easily without continual interference. Training of course is key but getting the right type of sales colleague in the first place is also crucial. We have some unbelievable sales people who are truly passionate about the outdoors and the business which really shows.
Our Central London stores get a complete mix of customer types. We work hard on identifying customer’s needs, from students right the way through to very affluent customers, celebrities and even royalty! We know our customers have a choice where they shop, so we really work hard at offering the best shopping experience you will find anywhere.
How do your customers differ to those in other locations not based in big city centres, such as Hemel Hempstead, Sheffield or Brighton?
Customers don’t generally differ – and what I mean is that all of our stores see a vast amount of all walks of life. There may be a slightly more affluent customer in the London area which we do our best to cater for with range decisions.
Snow and Rock is famed for its selection of top-end snowsports clothing and equipment. What do you do to entice those with more modest budgets?
We cover all budgets within our range so no, we are no more expensive than anyone else and for our more modest customers, we offer some great package deals, to get them onto their first board/skis or boots.
Why should someone shop at Snow and Rock rather than another high street snowsports clothing and equipment retailer?
We aim to deliver unrivalled customer service and although we are not perfect, I can show you many letters and emails from our customers, saying they have had the most amazing experience in our stores. In terms of price, we can absolutely say that you cannot buy cheaper, anywhere in Europe – we guarantee it!
How do you capitalise on winter – even when the snow is poor, and the sun is shining?
We react to the weather with different themes and by also having a diverse range of products. When the sun’s out, we know our sister company Cycle Surgery will do very well, when it’s freezing, we need more staff!
How do you plan your enticing window displays in the London stores and do they really have a significant draw?
We try and create some inspiration theatre in our windows to get our customers dreaming about their holidays. We react to the weather, the times of year, key ‘wow’ products and we even work with some of our suppliers.
Would you say that most customers know what they want and are loyal to certain brands or do you have a real flow of newbies in-store?
It’s a bit of both really. We have a very loyal customer base to certain brands – such as Salomon and Burton, but there is certainly a good amount of customers who come to us looking for something away from the norm and are after our advice. People are always looking for new products and exclusivity as opposed to mainstream ticks boxes for people.
What are you excited about in store this year?
I’m excited about a cold UK winter, and a snowy, long ski season in the Alps and North America.
How do you enthuse staff about brands that you stock? Is it all down to the effectiveness of training, seeding or commission?
We work with and sell leading brands and some are exclusive to us. However, we have to train all of our staff across all of our ranges. We have seven company trainers who deliver product and sales training. We also work closely with all our suppliers and brand representatives who deliver technical training. Getting our staff onto or into a product we sell is often one of the easiest ways to enthuse them so seeding goes down well.
How much say do store managers have over the direction of their shops and of Snow and Rock?
We are our own destiny, as I have proved. Within the constraints of some fundamental retail basics, our store managers have absolute control of the direction of their businesses. We empower them to make their own decisions and to do what is right for their shops and the Snow and Rock brand.
Do you think it’s necessary to be a winter sports enthusiast to sell? Are most of your floor staff users of the outdoors?
Well yes and no! Most staff are end users, however it is more important that they are good people with the ability to connect with our customers. Admittedly, certain roles, within our business, do need end-user experience in order to advise customers correctly, but the person is more important to me than the skill. The skill we can train.
What kind of winter board and ski testing do you do as a retailer?
We do a lot of testing – from SIGB ski tests and board tests in the Alps, to suppliers testing and even indoor testing in the UK. The people who attend these are the people who will ultimately have the responsibility of selling these types of products to our customers. Our buyers are also involved in testing the gear, but more importantly, it is the sales staff in our stores that get involved.
If you could have five things for Christmas – price no object – what would they be?
A house overlooking the sea. Some Adidas Forest Hills Comfort as you can’t get them anymore. A personal trainer to get me fit. A new car – probably an Aston Martin. A replacement iPhone – I’ve got through three in a year.
Where would you like to travel this winter if you could go anywhere?
What would you change about Snow and Rock?
We are a dynamic company that realises that we are continually changing, and if there’s a need for it, then change is embraced. As such I’m not sure there is anything I would change … other than adding an extra couple of ‘0’s onto my salary!
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I’ve been very fortunate in my career and I’ve managed one of the busiest winter sports shops in the UK and now I’m an area manager. I work very hard but thoroughly enjoy it. I’m really very proud of the success I’ve had in finding, recruiting and training a dynamic workforce.