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Bernhard Leichtfried

A discipline in itself: international category management in winter sports

The task of purchasing goods in the sports retail sector is challenging both strategically and from an operational viewpoint. Winter sports, in particular, pose purchasers with new challenges every season due to their dependence on weather and snow conditions – even in “normal” years when there is no pandemic. One person who is more acutely aware of these developments than any other is Bernhard Leichtfried, international category manager for Winter Sports. The ski enthusiast, who has been in charge of purchasing at SPORT 2000 Austria since 2016, was appointed to the position of international category manager for Winter Sports in the fall – a challenge which he gladly accepted and for which he is well fitted since he can already look back on more than 20 years of experience. Before joining SPORT 2000, he worked for Fischer Sports GmbH as a product manager and at Boards & More as Head of Purchasing. Despite his wide-ranging expertise, Bernhard Leichtfried approaches his international position with great respect.

SPORT 2000: Bernhard, you started as the international category manager for Winter Sports in the fall of 2020. How are you feeling about the position so far?

Bernhard Leichtfried: The position of international category manager for Winter Sports is very interesting since it has a lot to do with skiing, which is my passion. This rapport has been decisive for me ever since the start of my professional career and is a source of fresh motivation every day. What’s more, I’m particularly happy to be returning to a job in an international setting. Through my experience with Fischer and Boards & More, I have come to see purchasing through the eyes of the brand manufacturers and to combine this outlook with that of SPORT 2000. That means I feel well equipped for the position and am embarking upon it with great joy and naturally also with great respect. I’m expecting major and minor challenges that will also be new to me.

What challenges do you mean exactly?

Until now, I was solely responsible for purchasing merchandise for SPORT 2000 Austria. Even in this country, the different conditions in each region and the diverse requirements expressed by customers give a lot of variety to this task. At the international level, it becomes even more complex but also more interesting. The challenge is to generate added value for end-customers, dealers and industry partners – across international borders.

What are the differences between the SPORT 2000 countries when it comes to winter sports?

Countries like Austria, France and Switzerland are strongly driven by the rent business due to the large numbers of tourists they attract. Switzerland also has a seasonal rent model. In other countries, there is more of a focus on ski sales. Another thing to consider is the width of the skis: wider skis are preferred in the western Alps, Scandinavia and certain hotspots in the eastern Alps (e.g. Arlberg), while narrower skis are preferred in the eastern Alps. This is due to the different terrain preferences of the individual skiers. The width of the ski depends heavily on whether you ski more on the slopes or off-road. As a rule of thumb: the harder the slope, the narrower the ski.

What does the ski industry expect from SPORT 2000?

SPORT 2000 offers the highest quality. The winter sports industry expects us to maintain or even strengthen this position. Our task is to live up to these expectations, to make the industry’s top concepts as well-established among our dealers as possible, and to combine them with our own. I always give top priority to cooperating with our industry partners on an equal footing. The coronavirus pandemic is currently showing us the importance of solidarity and active dialog and confirming that we are on the right path.

What does the future of winter sport look like?

The number of “Skier Days” has been gradually increasing for some years, and despite climate change, this trend is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Comfort and convenience are sure to become increasingly important. Most customers are interested in fun and comfort rather than achievement and performance. However, we now must turn our attention to the coming season. This will be a challenge to us on many levels. One thing is certain: this winter, there will be greater emphasis on traditional sports like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and touring.

How important is customer consultation in the field of winter sports?

Advice is extremely important in this sector. Finding the right boots and the right skis is very difficult. The wrong type of ski, the wrong ski length, or boots that don’t fit can ruin even the best day’s skiing; at worst, they can even cause serious injuries. Competent sales staff can find the ideal equipment – always depending on the customer’s level of skill. Modern technologies such as boot fitting have made additional top-quality tools available to stationary retailers and can turn the sport into an adventure before going anywhere near the slopes.