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Katmandu: the end of the beginning of an era

Iconic store closes village location Today, but developing space at Function Junction

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However, Long said he has been slowly forced out of his most profitable lines by competition and other realities in the Whistler retail scene, as well as things like Internet comparison shopping. Rather than compete with bigger chains he's tried to stay ahead of the curve by branching out into specialty goods like musical instruments, longboard skateboards and head-shop-style products — bongs, rolling papers, vaporizers, that kind of thing.

In the end, Long said it was a combination of issues that got the better of his store.

Too much competition?

One of the main reasons Katmandu has been forced to close is competition. When some larger chains moved into his area his revenues went down $350,000 in the first winter. The next year he cut his order and his revenues dropped again by roughly the same amount.

He used to have a few exclusive high-end brands, but when those brands decided they wanted to be in the bigger stores it took his advantage away.

The result was that those companies now had more exposure, but lost the enthusiasm that Long and his staff had for their products.

In the summer months Katmandu used to specialize in bikes, but Long said that margins are low and the opening of the bike park favoured stores closer to the mountain. As well, Katmandu backed a few bike brands that were themselves mismanaged.

After watching accounts that used to be $100,000 or more drop to $10,000, Long started to diversify his product selection — a strategy that has met with some short-term success. But anywhere he diversified successfully, competition inevitably followed. Now Katmandu is one of three head shops in the village.

As well, Long said Internet comparison shopping has taken a bite out of retail, especially where the tourist market is concerned.

"There was a guy who came in here a few weeks ago looking at badge glue, to stick a badge on his jacket and he agonized over the decision for half an hour before saying, 'I think I'm going to buy online, I feel safer that way.' For badge glue," said Long, shaking his head.

Cal Jelley, who has worked for Long the past five years, said it's a common problem these days. "People would rather go to the web even when there's an actual human being in front of them who's used the product, who's telling you it's going to work," he said.

The long recession

For a lot of people the latest global recession started in late 2007 with the collapse of several U.S. investment banks, but Whistler's busiest winter ever was back in 2000-2001 before the economy took a hit after the September 11 terror attacks. Cross-border travel has become more difficult since then, while the Canadian dollar rose to parity with the U.S. greenback.