Brad Nelson: Mary Jo, you've been involved in the ski and snowboard industry for many years. Tell us about your background.
Mary Jo Tarallo: I've been in the snowsports industry for more than 30 years. I started as president of the Baltimore Ski Club and then the Blue Ridge Ski Council in the Mid-Atlantic region. I served as ski editor for the Baltimore Sun for 12 years and was the southeastern editor for the Snow Industry Letter.
I worked with SIA as director of Public Relations and Communications and director of Education and Special Projects. I managed PR for SIA for several years, created Winter Feels Good, managed Winter Trails, developed a multi-purpose education program and worked with leaders of resort associations to lay the groundwork for the first Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month (LSSM) in January, 2009.
In 2010 I was hired as a consultant and executive director for LSSM by the National Ski Areas Association.
BN: Help us understand LSSM, what is it and how does it work?
MJ: Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month is a theme, a website and a tool kit of materials that areas and retailers can use to create their own promotions to promote and grow snowsports. The objective is to create promotions that encourage children and adults to take ski and/or snowboard lessons from professional instructors - rather than trying to learn on their own or from friends.
BN: LSSM isn't an actual promotion to promote snowsports?
MJ: No, participating areas and retailers use the tools and materials on the LSSM sponsors website to create their own programs, then they list their programs on the LSSM consumer website www.skiandsnowboardmonth.org
BN: So on the LSSM website there will be many different kinds of promotions sponsored by areas and retailers from around the country.
MJ: Yes, areas might offer a basic beginner package of lift, lesson and rentals. Retailers on the other hand, might create never-ever beginner classes in their store then bring these students to local areas for a lesson, lift and rental package. The sky's the limit in terms of what kind of promotions can be created. Many retailers and areas have worked together to create interesting programs.
BN: LSSM is a month long program that is run during the month of January. Why just the month of January?
MJ: There are a number of reasons. First off, January is usually a slower month for retailers and areas; it gives them a chance to focus on this effort during a little bit slower time of the season. Second, after the first of the year the general news media typically slows down a bit and they're looking for new and interesting topics for news stories. This is the reason why LSSM has been able to get such great media coverage by non-industry specific media.
BN: LSSM has been around for a couple of years. What is the new program we're hearing about -- Bring A Friend?
MJ: Bring a Friend is a companion program to LSSM. It is new for the 2012/13 season. The concept is simple. Like LSSM, partners create their own programs to encourage current skiers and snowboarders to bring their friends skiing and riding and to get them to take a lesson. Bring a Friend 2013 evolved from the SKI magazine/Ski Utah promotion last year and also from a "Take a Friend" promotion from several years ago. BAF programs are not confined to the month of January. They can take place all season long.
NOTE: Industry research indicates that most people are introduced to skiing and snowboarding through a friend or family member already involved. BAF is an opportunity to leverage current participants to help grow the market.
BN: If a retailer becomes a supporter of LSSM, are they also part of the BAF program?
BN: Is there anything else that is unique to the BAF program?
MJ: Yes. The new www.bringafriend.org micro site is targeted to current skiers and snowboarders. It encourages them to introduce newcomers to skiing and snowboarding via professionals. The Bring a Friend Challenge, hosted on the site, is a friendly competition that rewards participants for doing so at any partner location.
BN: Do retailers have to be a part of the Bring a Friend Challenge to partner with BAF?
BN: LSSM is a fairly new program, how is it doing?
MJ: The first organized LSSM effort took place in January 2009 at ski/snowboard areas in 22 states. About 20,000 children and adults took lessons via LSSM programs.
The following year, ski and snowboard areas in 33 states offered programs. Glen Plake became the first LSSM Ambassador. His appearance on The Today Show with Hoda Kotb attracted widespread attention for LSSM inside and outside the industry. Participation increased to 30,000.
In 2011 participation more than doubled to 75,000.
Despite a poor 2012 season, participation in LSSM programs increased to nearly 100,000.
BN: Whoa, this thing is really rockin'. I know from some of our conversations that there are far more areas than retailers involved in LSSM. Should retailers be part of this effort?
MJ: Retailers play an important role in the overall process that helps turn first-timers into life-timers. Newcomers may have their first on-snow experience at a resort but retailers have a unique opportunity to educate newcomers before and after with information about apparel and equipment needed for meaningful results.
LSSM and BAF offer retailers opportunities to create special promotions aimed at generating new customers either by collaborating with a local resort learning program or by working with their own customers under the banner of Bring a Friend.
Retailers can prepare newcomers for their first experience in ways that resort learning centers cannot -- especially in regard to apparel and equipment. Newcomers who have a positive learning experience -- on snow and off -- will more likely return and become lifetime enthusiasts. Retailers will be joining with industry colleagues in this effort to attract more customers.
LSSM is supported by NSSRA, NSAA, SIA, PSIA-AASI, NSP, USSA, state and regional resort associations, SMC, SSL, NBS and Sports Inc. buying groups, rep associations and the trade media.
BN: How does a retailer become part of LSSM?
MJ: Retailers who are not NSSRA members or of one of the supporting buying groups, can sign up to be a part of LSSM/BAF by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The partner registration fee is $50 per store front. That will get them access to all promotional materials as well as a listing on the learn to ski and snowboard consumer site and a listing on the retailer locator map on www.skiandsnowboardmonth.org.
NSSRA members will not have to pay the $50 per storefront fee. In the next issue of the NSSRA newsletter we'll explore some ideas that you can use to create LSSM/BAF promotions in your stores.