Michaelís Consumer Column

Sniagrab is Treasure Hunt Spelled Backwards

Sniagrab, one of the worldís wildest shopping events, is Gart Sports Companyís Labor Day weekend kick-off to the winter sports season. Gart Sports, based in Denver, Colorado, puts hundreds of categories of name-brand and own-brand skiing and snowboarding products on sale at discounts as high as 75 percent.

The center of the action is the Denver Sportcastle store and the streets of the four downtown blocks that surround it. Tens of thousands of ski nuts and boarders come from countries around the world to pick through the more than 1 million items on display.

Sniagrab may be "bargains" spelled backward, but itís a perfect example of the treasure hunt phenomenon. Buyers snap up special and innovative new items created especially for the event and offered at one-time-only low prices. They scramble for the new seasonís brand-new merchandise, offered at unbelievable prices because of the huge volumes. They look for customized package deals (like for example, a pair of skis that comes with a free helmet) that will not be available anywhere else in the same configuration. And, of course, they pounce on thousands of last yearís clearance items.

According to Doug Morton, CEO of The Sports Authority, which owns Gart Sports, people come to the event not only for the great deals but also because they love the festival atmosphere—complete with Olympians, celebrities, funk rock street bands, and snow rescue dog teams. Itís a celebration of treasure hunting, and itís very different from the kind of limited-merchandise, zero-sum bargain grabs at department store end-of-season sales and discount store "special purchase" events.

Sniagrab is a masterpiece of treasure hunt management. Manufacturers provide their best technical salespeople to work directly with the consumers. Gart Sports has an entire team devoted to planning and managing the event, which requires intricate orchestration of deliveries, creating high-value premium goods, ensuring selling capacity, and executing a complex campaign of promotional activities.

The key to the success of Sniagrab (and, according to Morton, the event delivers impressive volume and very healthy profits each year) is that people can easily find purchases that fit their personal "value calculus."

Whenever a consumer makes a purchase of any kind, he or she makes a detailed analysis of many factors—including the technical and functional features of the product, the price of the cheapest alternative, the intangibles of the brand, and the circumstances of the purchase moment—to determine how the value of the product compares with the price.

Sometimes, people make the value calculation in an instant. Sometimes, it takes weeks of thinking and comparison shopping. Occasionally, consumers get the value calculus wrong, but most of the time they get it very right. It fits their hopes, dreams, and imagination. It is the salve for modern life.

And that makes them yppah.

(Thanks to Tom Fitzgerald at Bath & Body Works for alerting me to the Sniagrab phenomenon!)