IN THE KNOW with Michael Costigan of Dollhouse Agency

May 24, 2022 | Scott Murray-Burrows

Michael Costigan really needs no introduction! He has over 25 years of professional sales representation as well as many years of combined retail experience with his team at Dollhouse Agency. The pandemic saw him move his family from Deep Cove, North Vancouver to Whistler, BC where the agency is now located. With an emphasis on servicing the diverse range of retailers across Western Canada including snowboarding, mountain biking, surfing, skateboarding, skiing, travel; and lifestyle fashion retailers.

Hey Michael, how are you?  
I’m well, life in Whistler is a dream come true. 

What’s happening at Dollhouse Agency these days? 
We’re enjoying the influx of new snowboarders, Mountain Bikers, Skiers, and surfers on the scene here in Western Canada! Sharing our passion and commitment to these ways of life is what gets us up in the morning. The successes of our outdoor retailers this past winter is so heart warming. We are very grateful to share this experience with them and we’re amped for future seasons! We’ve also added ILABB to our mix this spring, the alignment of values and perspective is a strong fit here at Dollhouse. Brian Shaw continues to be a key part of the Dollhouse family and his perseverance and positive attitude over the past two years has elevated him to new heights in Andrea and my eyes. We respect that he chooses to swim rather than sink when business becomes more challenging than any of us ever anticipated.

New addition Beau Jack joins Brian Shaw and the Dollhouse team.

Beau Jack is cutting his teeth with us and his bright personality coupled with intelligence is an integral part of our team. We are proud of our team and know that together we will reach new heights.

That’s all very positive and exciting, glad to hear! Looking back on the last couple of years, how has your agency had to adapt to the pandemic rollercoaster?  

The Dollhouse crew shred day

We are fortunate that we have a diversified customer base and product mix. With travel restrictions we’ve had to significantly scale back our travel business with our exceptional travel stores. This has been painful to experience and even more difficult to see intelligent and successful travel stores be so impacted. Our adaptation has been to triple down our efforts with outdoor sports. The silver lining is that all of us live and breathe these sports, so the shift came very naturally. The part that was more difficult to adapt to was the physical isolation of being behind a camera for the last few years conducting business with our retailers. I think, I’ve had the hardest time adapting to this compared to the rest of the team. I like being on the road and in particular love doing product PK’s. The comradery of sharing an evening with shop staff and shooting the shit about snowboarding and mountain biking is something that was hard to replicate on a Teams meeting. 

I hear you, it seems to come naturally to a lot of people but there are many of us who prefer face to face interaction.  Do you think the rise of digital showrooming changed the landscape for good?   
As in all parts of life everything is continuing to change. Some customers have discovered digital showrooming and they prefer it. At the same time others have been forced to do it and they are not into it. They want to physically touch and feel the products they will buy. It seems to me that there is a further validation that physical shops and the community that they cultivate is very important to many customers. I am blown away at how the retailers of Western Canada have adapted over the past two years.

In your experience working with various brands and retailers over the years, what do you see as the biggest challenges ahead?  
Continuing to foster emotional engagement with the people/brands/retailers/reps do business with. When people have heart felt connections with their customers the relationship becomes personal. As we know when a customer feels cared about and heard their affinity to the store/supplier locks in for the long haul. The challenge is to continue to stay relevant and meaningful to the customer. I believe that the majority of the retailers/brands/reps that do business in Western Canada do this without really having to think about it, it comes naturally to them. That said, everyone can always take relationships to the next level.  One of the bigger challenges in my opinion is staying connected in the future. The past two years, with a lack of trade shows events and activations has shown that things “can” work during a “state of emergency”, surprisingly in some cases it has “worked” very well financially. The challenge is to not get caught up in how it “worked” and then keep locked away at a head office/store/showroom thinking you can save time and money by no longer participating and engaging with people face to face. A very significant challenge to brands will be increasing their effectiveness to create more environmentally sustainable products. This in combination with increasing performance standards is an exciting challenge. 

And despite many challenges in the industry the last couple of years, what are some positives that you have seen?  

The Costigan family visit with the big guy

The fortification of shop to consumer relationships. I get really emotional each time I hear of local consumers that went out of their way to support their local shops.  This speaks volumes to me. As you may know I lived in Whistler in the late nineties and worked for Russell Couchman selling DAKINE and Ride Snowboards. When K2 bought Ride Russell and I resigned, this meant that I was unemployed. I moved to Deep Cove (North Vancouver) and co-founded Radio Agency with my friend Lyndon Cormack. We had 7 good years together, but all great things must come to an end. I had a great life and business in Deep Cove. The pandemic opened a door for my family and business to move to Whistler. This is something that I had literally thought would never happen. This is the biggest and best silver lining that I could have possibly wished for.

I am glad to hear the return to Whistler has been positive!  Speaking of returning, as someone who has been a big part of KNOWSHOW history, what are you most looking forward to as we return to in-person events this summer?  
Being in the same physical space. I’m looking forward to being face to face with retailers, reps, sales managers and marketing people. It’s going to be extra rad to see everyone getting fired up and re-connecting. Knowing that retailers will have the time and platform to touch and feel physical products to make the best buying decision is a very healthy thing for the retail landscape in Canada. I’m beyond stoked to not to have to look at a computer screen for 2 full days in a row!!

Thanks Michael, great catching up and looking forward to having you back at the show this summer!  

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