Burton Eliminates Independent Reps to Focus on “Customer Experience”

Burton Snowboards is eliminating all of their independent sales reps in the US market, in a move to bring all of their sales & marketing efforts in-house, among other organizational maneuvers.

John Lacy, President of Burton Snowboards describes the transition in a memo distributed 16 April to Burton employees and independent reps:

Today, we’re announcing some strategic changes to how we run the Americas region. As a refresh, the Americas region includes Canada, the U.S. and South America, which Elysa Walk oversees as our General Manager of Americas. So here’s what’s happening. In the U.S., Burton is evolving to a territory structure to better focus on the customer’s experience with the brand, regardless of channel. What this means is that instead of having independent sales organizations in the U.S., we will move to an in-house territory structure that will be responsible for all activities in that geographic region – from DTC, digital and wholesale channels to resort sales and regional marketing. Moving forward, North America will have five regions, which will each be managed by in-house territory business management structures.

So why are we doing this? Simply put, it’s all about our customers. We want Burton customers to have the same incredible experience with the brand no matter where they shop – on Burton.com, at their local specialty shop or at one of our flagship or partner stores. Having a territory structure where each U.S. region is responsible for providing the best customer experience across all channels is the way to make this happen. With customers constantly changing how, when and why they shop, this is a move that many brands in our industry are making, and we’ve been working towards it for some time now.

For those of you who have been here for a few years, this structure may sound familiar. That’s because we’ve already implemented this model in Canada, as well as in different markets in Europe and Asia-Pacific. Zurich is a great example. We now have a Burton ‘Hub’ in Zurich where we have a retail store, sales showroom and in-house sales/marketing staff on the ground there.  Same with Montreal and Munich – which are both on track to open this fall and will feature a retail store, showroom and regional sales/marketing all under one roof. We’ve seen our brand elevated in regions that have this structure, and now is the time to make it happen in the Americas.

As always, these changes impact people – primarily our independent sales reps in the U.S., and we don’t want to minimize that. On behalf of the entire Burton family, I want to thank our U.S. independent sales organizations for their dedication to the brand and snowboarding over the years. We wish all of our independent sales reps the best of luck as they pursue new opportunities – including some newly created in-house positions.

Here at HQ, we’re adding a number of jobs to support this new Americas territory business model. Similar to how we run our international regions in Europe and Asia-Pacific, the Americas will now have its own regional marketing department that will closely align with our Global Marketing Department headed by Anne-Marie Dacyshyn. Pierre Ricard is assuming a new role as the VP of Sales and Marketing in the Americas and will continue to report to Elysa.

I also want to highlight two new positions that long-time Sales department employees are shifting to at Burton HQ. Beth Steele will take on a new role as our first VP of Global Digital Wholesale. Reporting to Elysa, Beth will work with the Americas, Europe and APAC regions to ensure a premium brand presence online and drive eComm sales for our wholesalers. Also taking on a new role is Mark Wakeling, who will now oversee the anon brand worldwide, including strategy, product, sales and marketing as the new Global anon Business Unit Director.

During tomorrow’s company meeting, we’ll get into more details on our vision for the new Americas structure, and we’ll also spend time talking about our updated Trail Map. After such an incredible year, we couldn’t be more excited for the future of Burton, and we look forward to sharing additional updates with you all tomorrow.

In a follow-up email memo (also distributed to retailers) Elysa Walk, Burton’s GM of the Americas region, sheds more light on the organizational changes designed to help Burton “better focus on the success of our premium retailers and customer sell-through”:

As a part of our overall structure change, Burton will be adding horsepower to support the growth and complexities of premium accounts, eCommerce and resorts, which we view as our key opportunity areas.  Territory teams will focus on driving sell-through in-store and online in all channels with more marketing activations, visual merchandising, digital support and sell-through analytics to manage consumer response.  We will continue to elevate premium retailers through our Full Service Dealer program, invest in our DTC business to build the brand, support key retailers and resorts both in-store and online, while moving away from excess dealers to limit distribution and liquidation.

What does this all mean for you? Or for your local snowboard shop?

Of course it’s too early to say. But it probably comes as a surprise to many independent retailers who are already feeling the pinch from Burton’s increasing direct-to-consumer sales efforts. It’s fair for them to be skeptical that their best interests are being kept in mind. We understand that at least some of the reps have already transitioned to in-house positions, but that is almost certainly not the case for all of their independent reps, many of whom have promoted Burton for years.

Most of Burton’s other regions, globally, already operate on the “territorial” in-house structure, and Burton recently transitioned the Canadian market from independent reps to in-house, so it’s been several years in the making in order for the company, globally, to have consistent management and (ideally) provide consistent service and experience across regions.

Until now, Burton has used a combination of in-house (for large box retail accounts) and independent brand representatives (for smaller retail accounts). The change will align their management structure within the US market and globally.

Trying to read between the lines of these memos, along with Burton’s several-years-in-the-making push and promotion of their direct to consumer channel (i.e., Burton.com, which is essentially in competition with their licensed retailers a/k/a your local board shop), it sounds like we might expect to see some reduction in their retail accounts, too. How this might happen remains to be seen. Of course, Burton may take a proactive and bottom-line oriented approach, and simply neglect to renew certain accounts. Or there may be some natural attrition as brand/retailer relationships — to which the independent reps are integral — falter, and the shops don’t re-up. Or maybe some of both.

In any case, it seems like Burton is focused on their DTC channels, their flagship locations, even if that comes at the expense of the independent retailers who helped build the brand into the global leader that it is, today.

Author- David Zemens

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