By  on November 29, 2007

LOS ANGELES — Burton Snowboards unveiled its first West Coast flagship on Wednesday, part of a retail push in urban centers worldwide as it seeks to evolve from a winter sport specialist to a year-round player in snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding.

The 11,500-square-foot store on trendy Melrose Avenue devotes as much as 20 percent of the sales floor to women's and highlights more than a half-dozen Burton-owned brands, including Gravis sneakers, Anon sunglasses and AK tech-oriented outerwear. It is the largest of Burton's seven flagships.

"We see it as an opportunity not [only] to build a direct retail business but [to] build marketing and brand awareness, especially as we evolve our brands into a year-round lifestyle that doesn't have the presence that we're able to give it in our dealers' [stores]," said Cathy Quain, vice president of retail.

Started 30 years ago by Jake Burton Carpenter in a barn, privately held Burton launched its first shop in its hometown of Burlington, Vt., in 1992. During the next five years, the company plans to open as many as two flagships annually worldwide.

Burton's evolution underscores the challenges that outdoor companies face amid global warming. Last year, Ventura, Calif.-based Patagonia, founded as a mail-order climbing gear catalogue in 1964, shifted its focus from snowcapped peaks to tubular waves by launching its first surf store in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif. Unseasonably warm winters also dampened Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Quiksilver's efforts to boost the bottom line after its $304.6 million acquisition of alpine skiing equipment maker Skis Rossignol SA in 2005.

As action sports move into the mainstream, Burton's expansion parallels plans by rivals, including Roxy and Volcom, to open more freestanding stores.

In April, Burton shifted its design and development team to Irvine, Calif., from Burlington and New York, becoming the latest youth-oriented company to transplant key staff to Southern California, which is home to Billabong, Hurley and other board sport brands. About three years ago, motocross racing company Fox Head Inc. moved its marketing and women's design teams to Newport Beach, Calif., where it employs 80 people, from its headquarters in Morgan Hill, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area."The trends start on the West Coast, especially in young fashion," said Marie Case, managing director at market research firm Board-Trac in Trabuco Canyon, Calif.

Although Burton leads the pack in Board-Trac's surveys of popular brands for snowboarding outerwear and boards, the company can benefit from marketing Channel Islands Surfboards and Gravis to Southern California's surfers and skaters who are likely to snowboard, she said.

The women's market yields another growth opportunity. In the Melrose shop, women's merchandise includes $95 satin-lined jumpers and $69.95 satchels from B by Burton, as well as $35 thermal Ts from Burton and $369.95 bomber jackets printed with bubbles encircling images of Edie Sedgwick that were created through a collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation. Since Channel Islands produces only surfboards, Burton relies on other apparel vendors to fill out the surf lifestyle collection, which encompasses $72 Rastafarian-inspired string bikinis from Billabong and $118 Mod herringbone coats from Kensie Girl.

Indeed, as snowboards and surfboards form the foundation for Burton and Channel Islands, neat rows of boards greet visitors when they walk through the two metal garage doors serving as the store's main entrances. While the entrance for Channel Islands' section opens to reveal a smooth floor of dark Ipe wood, the one for Burton flows into maple panels curved to resemble a half-pipe.

Though standing in a cavernous industrial space with exposed air-conditioning ducts and silver track lights, visitors also feel as if they are in the woods amid Douglas fir planks that screen the bottom half of the 20-foot-high glass windows and a towering Port Orford cedar wrapping a cement column.

To help female shoppers navigate the terrain, Burton intends to sponsor women's shopping nights, enhanced with a DJ and 10 percent discounts, at the Melrose site as it does in its other flagships. Such efforts are intended to boost Burton's women's business, which is 30 percent of the total. Donna Carpenter, who owns Burton along with her husband, Jake Burton Carpenter, is on a mission to increase that figure to 50 percent. She also is the founder and director of Burton's women's program.

Before 2003, when Burton hired its first women's creative director, the company's strategy for creating women's apparel was characterized by the slogan: "Pink it and shrink it." In other words, Burton made the men's clothing in a smaller size and dyed it in a rosy hue. Efforts to offer more fashion culminated in last year's debut of B by Burton, a women's-only label that incorporates stylistic touches such as quilted fake leather trim on $349.95 outdoor jumpsuits, costing about 20 percent more than the main Burton line."We have the potential to be the brand of choice for women," Donna Carpenter said.

To reach that goal, Burton is embarking on new ventures with women in mind. Gabrielle Sampietro, vice president of apparel, said Burton and B by Burton will introduce women's denim next year. In the following year, a women's line for the streetwear-influenced Analog brand that retails from $20 to $150 will make its debut, as will dresses under the Burton label. Carpenter added that she envisioned a women's equivalent of Mark XIII, the $400 to $1,200 outerwear line that collaborates with designers like Paul Smith.

On Melrose Avenue, youthful fashion is prevalent. Cruising west from Fairfax Avenue, G-Star Raw's industrial gray storefront is squeezed between animated displays for Paul Frank and Kid Robot. Adidas' blue-and-white-striped trefoil sprouts farther down on the right, across the street from Fornarina's louche mannequins. Quiksilver's skateboarding-centric DC Shoes took over the 7,400-square-foot space vacated by Miu Miu, while Betsey Johnson, Energie and Miss Sixty up the style ante with their haute street fashions. Then there is the Mecca of West Coast trends: the vine-covered complex housing Fred Segal and Ron Herman, two blocks east of Burton.

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