Interview with Phil Gordon

Snowsports Hardware Buyer at Snow and Rock


Recently I caught up with Head Equipment Buyer, Phil Gordon, from Snow + Rock. Snow + Rock are on the world’s most highly respected Winter retailers & operate online & with stores across the UK.

Tell us about yourself……

Phil Gordon,  Snowsports Hardware Buyer for Snow+Rock; I guess I do what I do because I love skiing, I love the outdoors & I know it’s had a positive impact on my life and I hope that the products we sell, can allow other people to experience it.

Before working at Snow+Rock, like many people, I’ve done all sorts of things on this side of the pond and on the otherside. Landscape Gardening, Ski Instruction Telesales, Pharmaceutical Marketing, so done a few things here and there.

What makes Snow+Rock unique?

I think one of the things that make us unique is our roots as staff  & buyers as being enthusiastic and knowledge technical users of the products and able to relate this across multiple doors to our customers.

You, at face value, have a cool job as buyer of Skis etc for a large retailer. Is it is cool as it seems?

Yes – it is. Don’t get me wrong, like in many jobs there are ups and downs. Though the only real reason I can do my job is the help and support of the people I work with any my family. This is because there is a lot of travel ( or was pre covid) and with that, one really needs to be able to have faith in equipment department team and people around you. I think this is true for many people who are buyers; there is a lot of travel domestically and to the continent & we need to have the support of some great people.

How did you end up where you are & what advice would you give to younger people who want to do what you do?

Well…. I’d say there are a few things to consider. 1) one needs to put in time to learn something to be able to bring those skills to the table. Though that sounds fluffy, what I mean is I had 11 years teaching skiing, so I had a strong base of understanding. What I didn’t know was retail per say. 2) Be open to learn new things – I had some great people to help me along the way – the people who were previous buyers at S+R,… so when I worked there I had the opportunity to talk and learn from them. 3) I think that these categories are slightly different to many other types of products to buy, range and sell. By this I mean; skiing is a very personal and emotional activity – we don’t need skiing ( or snowsports) we do it because we choose and want to do it. One can learn numbers, excel, and the technical part  – but I would say that one needs to try and connect to WHY YOU started getting involved with a sport & the role of the buyer in this category is to share.

Tell us about what important aspect makes you bring a product into Snow & Rock?

Excitement. Not every product is going to have shiny lights or wizzbang stuff, but products should be exciting to you as a buyer to solve a problem for a customer. Be excited for THAT customer to find the product YOU found for THEM!! I’m sure my colleagues roll their eyes sometimes when I get exited about a new product and how we could do this and that with it!!!

You test the skis too, do you get to Ski often as a hardwear buyer?

I am very lucky to have the chance to ski as a buyer. I do get the chance throughout the winter to head to the slopes for work. Sometimes It’s a just a day here and there and other times string 3-4 days together.

Do you have a favourite brand personally or a specific item?

I don’t have a favourite brand; each brand has a characteristic and I’m fortunate enough to try many many items from lots of brands. Though boots are the most important thing,………. My favorite item…… is a pair of ski poles. LOVE THEM!!!!!! To replaced them in about a million years. They are a carbon composite pole so they are lightweight…. and I trimmed them to the right hight for me. Will need to replace them soon I think,… but I’ve not gone on a search yet to find my next pair.

Which piece of equipment is the most important for people to invest in before their winter holiday?

Boots; Boots, Boots and socks!!!

Boots – are the key to making sure you are comfortable, warm and can get the best out of your holiday. You’ll spend 8 hours in your boots,….so they need to be right!!!

Socks -don’t get me started!!! Not tube sock – proper ski socks! At the very least 1 pair of socks for every 2 days skiing – but really,…. A pair a day!!! Your feet sweat about ½ pint of water a day on average. You would not wear the socks you wore to the gym for a workout or wear for a run twice…. And that may only be 20 min – hour’s activity. Why would you wear a pair of socks that you had on for 8 hours and sweat ½ a pint for 2 days! YUCK!

What should the customer expect when they visit a Snow + Rock store?
A range of great products, knowledgeable staff who can help, and products to cater for many budgets. The products we range are some of the very best in the world. From Clothing & thermals to Helmets & gloves and hardware; but the best does not always mean the most expensive. They are they best because they offer great value. Sometimes products cost more because they are built better and us as a retailer stand behind the product. So I would say that when they come into store, they should expect great products and staff.

Staff training on technical equipment across a number of stores, with seasonal staff, must be tricky. How does S&R handle this to help your staff offer top level advise to consumers?

This is done by the very hard work of the training department to co-ordinate and organise all sorts of training for staff. That and the work of many brands and reps to help get a level of understanding for our staff.

In particular one way the training team have done things is to work with some of our most experienced staff to make them core experts. These experts in conjunction with the training department coach, train and are on hand to help our shop staff. I think this is a really great way to blend the technical understanding that comes out of a manual and the hands on experience of many of our staff. This in turn hopefully adds context to our newer staff or those on the journey to learn more.

Do you ever work on the shop floor anymore, if not, do you miss it?

I probably should spend more time on the shop floor; but I’m sure I would hamper sales!!!! I’m always in awe of the Ladies and Gents that work and sell on the shop floor selling products, especially our experienced staff. They are very good people people and know how best to communicate with the customer who are there to invest in a product. I get too excited!!! I’m like – “This ski is great for XYZ,…. But This skis is also awesome too – Oh and this one here this is ….” ?

Where is your favourite place to ski?

I would say my favourite place to ski,… is the place I’m skiing on the day!

It changes; I love the grandeur and history of the alps; the romance and character of the little huts and restaurants around the mountains. I love North America because of the lift system and efficient ways many of the places work.

I think the place I was most in awe because I’d always wanted to go there – was the very first time to Zermatt!

How is Snow+Rock dealing with the Covid-19 challenges & do you think the industry will stand strong?

I do think the industry will stand strong; it will change but I believe it will bounce back. I think that the changes to retail were coming; this just sped things up. Like many; we are doing our part to keep our staff and customers safe and well, products clean and doing our best to deal with the ever changing government guidance.

S+R is a member of the SIGB, is there more the trade & the industry can do in reaching out to consumers more?

I believe so. There have been some great initiatives that have come out and more every year, but I always think we can do more. The thing is these take time and money. I think that to make the jump to REALLY reach out to consumers; we need to understand and collectively believe what the SIGB is and what it can DO for consumers. For consumers to see it of value to them and thus seek out an SIGB member – they need to understand what’s in it for them. For that to happen…. we need to understand what it is we can offer. Having said that, I think that part of our collective role is to promote Snowsports overall to the end consumer; This context I think is much easier- SIGB can be a voice for snowsports overall.

Why is it important for Brands & retailers to work together & why does the Ski industry have an overall positive vibe between rival brands & retailers?

It’s important for us to work together, because the industry is small. We have lots of people involved in the sport – but that’s not the same as the industry. We all came to this industry and this sport probably because we like people, we like products and we like to be outdoors. We like to share our excitement as passionate outdoor and Snowsport enthusiasts first – and then as a brand or retailer.

Of course, all brands make great products; and the staff and reps who work there are loyal to those ranges. But aside from a bit of fun rivalry – I believe that as people, we are sharing a collective experience in the enjoyment of the sport.  In this, the UK is probably a bit unique and we help and share. Two cliché’s but they are true; we all put our ski boots on one foot at a time & and a rising tide lifts all boats.

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