In anticipation of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, China is in a huge snowboarding growth spurt. One woman in particular is pushing that growth in Northeast China. Burton retailer Sijia (pronounced sih-JAH) opened her first Burton shop nine years ago in Shenyang city, and she hasn’t slowed down since. JJ’s, her shop, has grown into six stores and Sijia is the official Burton product distributor in her region. In other words, she’s killing it.
Needless to say, this snow industry mogul is ambitious. Her stores are 100% staffed by women, she founded China’s most popular snowboarding club, and she’s the mother of a 22-month old who’s already standing sideways. Sijia is pushing the future of snowboarding in China in every way she can.
Before heading out West for a club snowboarding trip, Sijia stopped by Burlington, VT to check out Burton headquarters. She went riding at Stowe Mountain Resort, took a tour of Craig’s Prototype Facility, met many US employees, and ended the day by catching up with Burton. Luckily, we had an in-house translator — Claire Zhu, a softgoods developer — to help us communicate. Read on for sound career advice, first impressions, and other insights from Sijia herself.
You’ve worked with Burton for a long time. How long have you been operating JJ’s and how did you get started?
I used to ski, and on the mountain I started to see people snowboarding and I was intrigued. I thought Burton was a really good brand and wanted to work with the company. So, I switched from skiing to snowboarding and started JJ’s. I have been running JJ’s shop for nine years, and now there are actually six different stores: two regular storefronts, two stores in the mall, and two stores at the local resort.
We hear that you and your employees ride at the local mountain every day. What is a typical workday like?
The employees arrive at 9am and we use the first hour to share our experiences from the previous day. Then, the store opens to the public. The employees working the morning shift can ride at night, and they all switch shifts so everybody has a chance to go snowboarding.
What is the snowboarding scene like in Shenyang?
Every year there are more snowboarders in Shenyang, and 30-50% of people switched over to snowboarding from skiing last year. Right now, about 20-30% of our customers are snowboarders, but we’re working on changing that.
At JJ’s stores, we have a snowboard club with over 2,000 members. Our shops have a living room space for the club to hangout and have coffee. Each member pays a fee for access to discounts, group riding, and a space to gather. [JJ Club uses WeChat, a popular social media site in China. Click here for a recap of a recent women's snowboarding contest they held and a link to JJ's WeChat account.]
The club has many opportunities for snowboard trips, usually to Japan and Korea. This week, we’re going to Park City, Utah and about 10 members will be travelling with us. We’re working on building up the community behind snowboarding.
What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
There are five things I’m really proud of. 1 – I got support from Burton China to be the distributor in Shenyang. This means I go beyond the store and sell Burton product to the other local stores. 2 – I was the first to set up LTR (Learn to Ride) programs with local resorts. It’s been a big success in my region. 3 – After Burton opened a Beijing office, my own sales tripled within one year. When I became a distributor for the region, the total regional sales doubled in one year. 4 – I’m proud that JJ’s has sold exclusively Burton product for the last nine years. All the other stores around us carry multiple brands. 5 – I’m excited about opening up another store in my region that’s somewhat of a flagship store. It’s the biggest Burton store in China.
We hear all your shop employees are women. What made you decide to do that?
Yes, there are about five employees in each store, so 30 employees total. I think women tend to be more easygoing. It serves my customers better when the employees are easy to talk with. At the beginning, a lot of JJ’s customers were men, and when they came in they were surprised that the girls were more knowledgeable than them.
Are there many women that participate in the snowboarding club?
There are more and more women joining the club. The customers who used to buy women’s stuff were mainly men buying for their girlfriends or wives. Nowadays, there are more women buying their own gear. Both women’s and kids’ products are flying off the shelves.
What surprised you most about Burton headquarters?
I’m so happy to see that we are a big company, with so many employees that are passionate about the business and the sport. I’m also surprised to see that we have a workshop next door [Craig’s]. Vermont reminds me a bit of home because of Burton. It’s my first time in this city, but it doesn’t feel strange because Burton is so familiar to me.
Any advice for other women hoping to open their own store someday?
If you want to own your own store, you must provide good service all-around. Think about the experience as a whole. Your customers will come back to you if you give them great service. To open a business, you have to love it, believe in the product, and want to put more time and effort into knowing the product inside and out.
It was a pleasure to host Sijia and hear about the snowboarding world in China. From her impressive business acumen to her passion for Burton, she’s inspiring us to keep pushing it further. ∆