The local shop: To support or not to support is always an interesting question. The answer is usually situational: how much service do you get at your local shop, and are they supplying a service that could not be obtained via online purchase?
Many, many B+M shops do a very poor job in several areas. First and foremost (from a retail standpoint) the shops seem to be staffed with salespersons who simply aren't knowledgeable about the product. The sales guy/gal hasn't skied many (if not most) of the skis on the wall. Even if they had skied the models, it is likely that the skier is either 1) not skilled enough to determine differences in each model, and therefore simply liked/disliked the skis, or 2) is so skilled that they approach every ski as if it should be skied at GS speeds through chopped-up crud, and therefore find all but the most powerful skis to be a big dissapointment. We also have all dealt with the salesperson who skis big 90mm-width sticks all day, and tells every customer who comes in the door not to bother with anything narrower (even though the shop is located in Vermont). Not to mention that most salespersons have trouble relating modern ski technique and a skier's skill development/future goals to the skis he/she should be buying. That is, if they even have a clue as to what models are on the floor: all too often a customer will walk in to a shop, say that "I am an improving intermediate, taking lessons, been skiing for 3 years, spend most of the time on the groomed, but looking to explore a bit more: what do you think of the dimensions on ski X here?" And the retail guy will say "umm, uh, let's see....well, it says here that the ski dimensions are 119/76/100, radius is....It is probably here somewhere.....anyways....the tag here says that Ski Magazine "loved this ski" and awarded it a "gold medal"". That is, if you can even get a salesperson to help in the first place!
Also, the ski industry seems to be populated with big-man types with sizeable egos. Many shop employees come across as real jerks, and end up making the customer feel pretty low by bragging how great of a skier they are/racing background ect. The ski industry seems to have a pretty high population of these guys, for whatever reason, and they don't come across very well in a normal consumer environment.
Third, most shops (and the industry as a whole) encourages a "buy before you try" mentality. Ski sales are pushed hardest in the fall and early winter, before the snow falls (and definitely before demo skis are allowed onto the mountain, due to poor snowcover). By the time that snow is piling up, many of the most popular sizes are picked through, and distibutors are sold out of those sizes. So, it is either "buy early and hope for the best" or "demo and fall in love with a ski, only to see that it is unavailable until next fall".
We are a resort shop, and as such, have some built-in advantages and disadvantages. BAD: we don't see a customer until Thanksgiving, and rarely get steady walk-in traffic, except at the holidays (not much we can do about this, save for moving the business). GOOD: We don't take delivery of product until mid-fall, get later payment dates, and can demo skis easily all winter. Due to the proximity to the hill (about 25 minutes) we can get people on several pair the first day, and several pair the second day: they are sure
to find a ski that works well for them.
At our store, I personally attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible about the product, including extensive testing of every model, speaking with others who have skied the product, and reading reviews such as those on RealSkiers.com. We also attempt to make sure that each member of the staff at least has a working knowledge of each ski on the wall and has skied it. Furethermore, my sales input is only to point the skier in the right direction (genre of skis).
Once we have determined some skis that may work for them, we set them up with skis from our demo fleet (we have about 40 pair, new every season) which allows us to carry at least 2 sizes of every model (up to 3 or 4 on the most popular models). We allow a free demo of up to 5 pair of skis (cost of demo is credited toward a future purchase).
I believe that we are providing a service here (to our walk-in customers) that they do not recieve at other area shops. Therefore, we are strongly building a customer base (3 years ago, we were strictly a rental shop, perhaps selling 10 pair of skis per year). Now, the ski service is expanding into our bicycle business, of which sales are exploding (we offer the same demo program and sales service on bicycles as we do on skis). This is in addition to the skis I sell here on Epic (which I consider a different branch of the business, and one I enjoy very much). Most of the Bears that buy skis from me are a pleasure to deal with, and I enjoy the fact that not only are they getting some really great gear, but that the skis will get lots of love and be used by an enthusiastic skier (vs. hanging in someone's garage for the next 20 years, next to the $1500 golf clubs and $6000 Colnago, both of which are collecting dust).
I am not saying that how we do sales here is the best way, or the only way, to sell skis and actually give the customer the service they deserve. I am a strong believer in the "good product, good service, inexpensive price: pick two" motto. I want the purchasing experience to be as positive and helpful as possible, and the product to be top-flight.
There are three common groups of customers I see come in the door: some customers want stellar service and are willing to pay for it, some know what they want and are looking for the best possible price, and some are just plain cheap and want something for nothing. I enjoy working with the first two types: the last group, I would rather not deal with!