Shop Talk with Ralph Sigrist

At the recent snowboard tests there’s been a lot of talk about what we can do to make our local community stronger. One of the big pushes is encouraging riders to support their local shops. But why bother? Is it wrong to want to save some cash by buying online? We caught up with longtime industry boss, Ralph Sigrist, to get his thoughts on the matter…

Ralph and the future

Hey Ralph, can you introduce yourself for anyone who doesn’t know you?
I began snowboarding in 1991 as a teenager. I listened to a lot of Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, and Nirvana. It was the sound of the subculture that I was immersed in, and snowboarding was a significant part of that. My connection to it grew stronger when I started an apprenticeship at a local snowboard store. Since 2006 I’ve been running a distribution for several brands, helping them to be present in the best snowboard shops in Switzerland.

How’s the local snow-biz looking these days?
It has definitely changed. While we still have several distribution companies operating here, there’s been a trend towards centralizing warehouses and distribution headquarters in Europe. This shift has been reinforced by the rise of a European trade union.

Additionally, we’ve seen larger retail companies, both online and omnichannel, gaining prominence. These companies operate across Europe, but only purchase from the distributions where their headquarters are located – or even directly from manufacturers. The smaller shops are caught in the crossfire with this development. They receive less payment deferral and are forced to place bigger orders just to stay on the radar with certain brands.

Ralph’s Ride

Yeah, it seems like a lot of shops have been struggling. I know that you’ve been a big advocate for the Buy Local message. Why is it so important to you?
My career started in a family-run shop where we prioritized offering customers an exceptional experience. This commitment extended beyond sales. For example, I remember organizing affordable bus trips in October and November to the Vorab Glacier in Laax, creating unforgettable moments for our clients.

Still to this day, I see many shops out there going above and beyond to provide their community with an experience beyond just making a sale. It’s becoming increasingly challenging, and these small shops really rely on support from local distributors. Whether it’s events, or simply in fair collaboration terms, it makes all the difference.

More than ever, we really need riders and shops to Buy Local. If that happens, we’re all able to re-invest in a healthy snowboard culture. This way, we can give back with big test events like Try Days, where end consumers can test a wide selection of gear that are brought to them right on the slopes. Offering something like this for only 10.- would never be possible otherwise. Our local distributors invest a lot of time and money to support our Swiss dealers with this service and many others. But if you end up buying your board at a slightly cheaper online store from Germany or elsewhere, you’re taking the benefit without supporting the people who made it possible.

Try Days – Brought to you by our local distributors

Yeah, those tests are an amazing opportunity. But are there other arguments for buying local? Isn’t everyone just looking for the best possible deal?
Have you ever thought about where you’d prefer to pay more? You could have a quality burger at a standing table in a noisy train station with your girlfriend. Alternatively, you could create a great experience in an upscale restaurant with candlelight and charming service, and you’d be happy to pay double for it. The next day you see the guy that runs the restaurant with his kids in the park. You high-five with him and feel good because you’ve helped that family survive.

I strongly believe that our local industry remains crucial if snowboarding wants to endure as a culture and lifestyle. This means that when you shop at a local store, which in turn relies on a local distributor, everyone benefits. It’s easy to see how the profits are reinvested locally. Only with this intact value chain, where profits stay in Switzerland, is it possible to help and support our local snowboard community to develop further.

So are all online platforms problematic for our local industry? Or are there certain sites that are better than others?
I’m very skeptical about e-commerce-only platforms. Behind them, I often see large corporations with a keen sense of profit and market share – especially when they operate from abroad. They frequently aim to benefit from currency advantages as well as VAT deductions. Sometimes, prices are not transparently displayed. Consumers only realize upon delivery that they will receive an invoice for Swiss VAT. It’s misleading, and it’s not easy for consumers to navigate. Every physical store in Switzerland, commits to local conditions, pays VAT, and gives back to the community, even if they’re owned by a foreign entity.

What are some of the things that our local shops bring to the community?
Social interaction in real life! Our shops also play a crucial role in introducing children to boardsports. If a shop wants to survive, it must work to ensure that the local community is thriving. That could mean building a snow park with the mountain railways or working with local authorities to create new skate parks.

One of many great events put on by our local shops

A lot of my favorite shops have closed over the years. What happens if that trend continues?
Let’s hope they return, or that someone with more courage steps in. Just two days ago, I read a study from the University of St. Gallen and the Swiss Retail Association. Brick-and-mortar shopping is becoming popular again.

That’s good news!
Can you give me an example of a shop that’s killing it? What are some of the things that they’re doing right?
It’s hard to mention just one without acknowledging the others. Take Chrigel and his team at 3sixty in the heart of Switzerland, for example! Just scroll through their Instagram page and see all the incredible things they’re doing—Ladies Shopping Night, finger skate workshops, shopping Saturdays with raclette, daring snowboard races and supporting many young rippers that could become your next hero.

Or Wolfi from Doodah in St. Gallen with his Shredclinic, offering countless skateboarding courses for kids – not to make money, but to pass on his passion.

Snowlimit from Andermatt is another great example. It’s one of the oldest snowboard shops in Switzerland. Baldri and his wife Karin have convinced so many children in the ski town stronghold of Gotthard to stand sideways through their Kids on Sticks initiative. And that was only possible because of the support of the local distributor from Nitro.

Good stuff! Hopefully more shops will follow those strong examples and more snowboarders will show up and show them some love. Thanks for your time Ralph, this has been enlightening. Hopefully we can all work together to keep our community strong.