Movers & Shakers Q&A with David Kohn



Brought to you by Retail Insider and K3 Retail


David Kohn, head of multi-channel, Snow + Rock 


1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business? 

Snow+Rock is a business staffed almost entirely by people who are passionate about the outdoor activity (or more normally activities) that they participate in. As well as our heartland of avid skiers and snowboarders, we have competitive triathletes, obsessive runners, near-insane downhill mountain bikers and even a couple who have climbed Everest. In a world where there is too much choice, we have the people who can guide you to the right product for you. If we can harness that authority, knowledge and passion across the business we can achieve great things. 



2. What is the biggest challenge to your business? 

In all three of our retail fascias, it is our premium supplier brands that reign as customers look to them for the assurance of quality and innovation. When selling branded products there is a danger of prices being driven relentlessly downward as the web enables customers to shop around either online, in-store, or on their mobile devices. Our suppliers help by managing distribution of their brands carefully. But, if customers chase only the lowest price and put no premium on service it will become harder for us to grow our sales. 

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far? 

Over the last 18 months we’ve worked really hard to drive more traffic to our websites and to improve conversion and average order values. We probably haven’t invested enough in our customer service systems and customer communications to keep pace with this increased demand. With the heavy snowfall in January we hit all-time record order levels, but did suffer customer service issues. We’ll be putting much more focus on this in the coming months in readiness for 2013 peak. 

4. What is the future of the physical store? 

Our store sales have held up reasonably well in the last couple of years, partly because many of our products require high levels of personal service. If you’re buying ski boots or skis, bikes or running shoes (where we offer a free in-store gait analysis) you really benefit from visiting a store. Moving forward, we will have to constantly improve our ability to deliver advice as well as developing new services, e.g. bike fitting, fitness consultations, that are best delivered ‘in the real world’. Our stores will also have to become places where the customer can experience the passion and excitement of the activities. 

5. What will the high street look like in a decade? 

I am something of a Jonah when it comes to the future of the high street. The higher gravity centres will probably thrive, but small to medium centres will suffer. There’s a romantic notion that the demise of some multiples may lead to resurgence in local specialists and boutiques, but I think it more likely that high streets will be increasingly populated with coffee shops, pound shops and high service operators like opticians and hairdressers. Landlords may be the biggest casualties of the changing landscape. 

6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future? 


As device boundaries blur, the more relevant question to us is: where will the customer be and what will they be doing when they make purchases in the future? For most of our products, the purchase process is one of consideration. We think most customers will continue to purchase when they are sitting down and have time to consider. But it is likely that they will increasingly research products and information while on the move, and we will have to ensure that we provide help through all of our channels. 

7. What other retail business do you admire? 

You have to admire Amazon, which has set out to be the biggest and best retailer in the world and has invested billions to achieve its aims. It’s the Google of shopping and has created THE genius idea of eCommerce in Amazon Marketplace. This is a shop with almost 200 million lines in it, each supplied by merchants competing to achieve the lowest price and the best service, in which there is no stock or distribution risk and where a commission is made every time something is sold. Fantastic. 

8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do? 

I have a passion for sport and should really have trained to be a sports journalist. My ideal job would be golf correspondent for Radio 5 Live, but I’d take tennis, rugby, cricket or even darts. I did write some sports humour books in 1999-2000, which were published, but I didn’t quite have the confidence to see it through to a new career. 

9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement? 

Great question. Say 9 and you appear unbelievably arrogant; say 5 and it looks like you’re being ever so humble and no-one really believes you. At Snow+Rock, with limited budget and resources we’ve done a lot of stuff and achieved great growth so I’d give us 7, but we’ve got an awful long way to go to get anywhere near to being a market leader in multi-channel.