Behind the Brand | Ellis Brigham

a boot fitter advises a customer

Al Morgan talks to Mark Brigham, marketing guru at Ellis Brigham and a man proud to continue the family tradition of putting the ski-loving customer first

Al Morgan: Ellis Brigham was founded by your grandfather, Frederick Ellis Brigham, in 1933 and is still run as a family business. I even hear stories of your dad Ellis and uncle Bob driving the delivery van to the stores. Why is this family business mantra so important to all of the Brigham clan?

Mark Brigham: This work ethic is key to our longevity. As business owners and family members we have to be a Jack (or Jill!) of all trades – it’s how you embrace what drives the business. Ellis and Bob still put their heart and soul into everything they do at 80-plus years of age.

That said, it’s a delicate balancing act of working hard while understanding that you have to know when to step away and let your colleagues do what they are good at. We always say people work with us not for us.

Mark Brigham, marketing guru at Ellis Brigham, smiles into camera in a red ski jacket, out in the snow
Mark Brigham

You look after the marketing at Ellis Brigham. The UK ski trade is quite small and we’ve crossed paths a few times. You’ve always been incredibly enthusiastic for what you do. What motivates you and what are you excited about for this coming winter?

That’s very kind! Well, I do love skiing and always enjoy talking about it, so I count myself fortunate thatI work where I do and with the people I do. When it comes to gear, we skiers love our kit as much as we love the snow, don’t we? So around October there is always an air of excitement as the new kit is delivered to our shops.

There is so much good gear coming in this season. Clothing is looking really strong; The North Face and Picture always deliver must-have outerwear and layers for the season ahead. Salomon clothing is back in our range and looking great; their Addikt piste skis have become a bit of a favourite, too.

Finally, Boa technology has all the right ingredients to improve ski boot fit and make clipping up your boots a thing of the past. Seeing the new gear never gets old.

Ellis Brigham store photographed from the street

In the early days, Ellis Brigham was instrumental in bringing exciting new gear to UK mountain sports enthusiasts. For me, this still feels as important as ever for you guys. How do you keep this passion going and how do you keep finding gear that no-one else stocks?

MB:We have a very experienced team of buyers who, for the most part, have grown up within the business – they know our values and what makes us different. They are all united in their drive to ensure we offer a fresh and exciting range of products each season, and they seek out new and interesting brands.

Being skiers and mountain sports enthusiasts ourselves is a massive advantage when it comes to selecting what will appear on our shelves and online each year, and just like our customers we get excited by game-changing technology and equipment.

I’ve been helping UK skiers with kit advice for over two decades, and people still question why they should buy in the UK rather than in resort. What do you see as the benefits of buying in the UK – and what’s unique about Ellis Brigham’s services?

Fall Line does a great job of championing the UK as the place to buy ski gear. At Ellis Brigham we have very skilled boot fitters and knowledgeable skiers working in our shops, and we are rightly proud of them.

We invest huge amounts o of time ensuring our teams are trained on snow as much as possible. We have our spring staff training camp in Tignes each year, where 20 of our staff get to test out skis, try out the latest ski boots, and more.

We also use our bases at Milton Keynes, Tamworth and Castleford for further opportunities to test kit and build knowledge; they do tests, get specific brand training and finally get SureFit certified.

It’s all designed to ensure our staff can confidently guide customers on what ski they will most enjoy, and what ski boots will be best for them. It’s a process that has taken many years to refine, but we feel confident that we can offer a level of service that matches – and in some cases may exceed – what’s on offer in some ski resorts.

What’s more, when the holiday is over and you need adjustments on your ski boots, we do that free of charge – you don’t have to travel back to the resort.

a boot fitter working on a boot with a customer

What’s the biggest mistake you see customers making when they come to buy their ski gear, whether it’s hardware, clothing or accessories?

For hardwear it’s probably being fixed on one model of ski or ski boot. A customer has done their research and knows their stuff, but sometimes, after discussing their skiing with them, it’s apparent that another model would give them a much more enjoyable experience on the snow.

It’s a case of customers putting trust in our team to advise them – we really just want the best for them.

We will always talk through the options and be honest about how the ski, or boot, performs on different terrain, and guide each customer to an option that they are happy with.

We will always talk through
the options and be honest about
how the ski, or boot, performs
on different terrain

You have slope-side stores at Tamworth, Milton Keynes and Castleford, as well as across Scotland. Can customers try kit out to help them know if it’s right for them? If so, how does this work with touring kit?

Yes, we offer Demo For Free, which simply means you can try out skis on the slope, and if you like them and go on to buy a pair we will refund you your slope pass.

Our Scottish stores at Fort William and Aviemore hire out gear, so if you’re touring in Scotland then be sure to check out the well-maintained range we have on offer there.

a boot fitter explaining to a customer

What do you predict will be the biggest developments or changes to ski gear over the next five years?

We’re already seeing it. Brands like Picture have blazed the trail with more sustainable production methods, using sugar cane and lower CO2 emissions. We will start to see more recycled materials being used in everything from ski boots to skis to clothing, and a more circular economy.

The Scarpa Maestrale RS was a step in the right direction last year and the Salomon Addikt, with its recycled ABS sidewalls, has continued that move this season.

We teamed up with Nordica last year to offer the UK’s first ski boot recycling program. It was very popular, so hopefully that initiative can help provide materials to be used in production for years to come.

Last winter Gore-Tex also introduced ePE (PFC-free material) into Patagonia ski clothing. This material uses less CO2 without any loss of performance– a real game-changer.