Periodic Articles to Help You Navigate the Ski and Bike World
Ever popped into a ski shop, found exactly what you wanted, but it turns out to be a little pricier than expected? It's happened to all of us at one point or another. Sometimes there is some room for movement on the price, sometimes there isn't. Navigating the discount request can be tricky and maybe even intimidating for some people. If you're unsure whether you should even ask for a discount, read on and grab some tips on what, and what not, to do to get that piece of gear just a little bit cheaper.
1. DO...Try to stick with one shop
Customer loyalty is a huge thing to a specialty retailer (ski shop). If we can count on a decent sized loyal customer base, it makes seasonal ordering easier, it makes trying out new brands easier, it makes training staff easier, etc. A good ski shop knows this and takes the time to establish good relationships with loyal customers. A good shop also knows that developing and maintaining these relationships isn't by luck. We make sure our loyal customers know they're appreciated through discounts and additional percentages off, preferential treatment with tunes, small freebies here and there, etc. We also know that we don't have EVERYTHING you may need
2. DON'T...Complain about pricing
In almost every instance, prices are made by the manufacturer. While we're able to adjust some prices, we, as dealers, must adhere to a dealer agreement and minimum advertised pricing policy for each vendor. We build our orders with an amount we're going to spend in mind, along with an amount we need to earn in mind. This is all based off of this type of pricing. The nature of our business is such that we have a very small window in which to make sales. Complaining about pricing does nothing to further your attempt to get things cheaper or to get a better deal. Unfortunately it typically has the reverse effect, pretty much ensuring that you'll never get a deal.
3. DO...Send people to your favorite shop
When someone walks in and tells me good ole' Tom Loyal Customer sent them in, I send out a mental high five to Tom, make sure to take extra good care of the new guy/gal, and then hook Tom up later for the new contact. Word of mouth is the single strongest and most effective form of marketing and advertising. Who else do you trust more than your friends?
4. DON'T...Ask for a discount from a shop you have no relationship with
A ski shop is not a car dealership. Most ski shops also are not massive chains or corporations. The majority of ski shops are like ours; small family owned businesses where every penny counts. Rolling up in a $70,000 SUV and asking "can you do any better" on a $35 beanie is rude and punch worthy. That $35 beanie cost the shop $20 and the $15 the shop is making on it is going to pay for the owner's kid's dance lessons, or boy scout trip, or the vacation they FINALLY get to take this year, or dinner and beer for the shop guys and girls because they've all worked 14 hour days for the past week with a smile on their face and haven't bitched once, or the new tuning machine that costs $250,000 but will give customers the best tune of their lives, etc. If you have the haggling bug and want to talk price on skis or higher priced items...ehh maybe. See #1.
5. DO...Bring beer
That's pretty much all there is to say about that one. It's pretty simple. We love beer, also Angie likes chocolate instead of beer so there's that.
6. DON'T...Expect a discount simply because you're buying a lot
Our cost doesn't change because you're outfitting the whole family. That being said, if the sales person has had a good experience with you and you're doing your best to stick to #1 above, 9 times out of 10 you're going to get a discount without asking when spending a good deal of money.
7. DO...Be nice
It can absolutely be that simple. A good rapport with the sales person can go a looooonnnnngggg way.
8. DON'T...Tell us you can get it from (evo.com, skis.com, thehouse.com, REI, shop down the street) for cheaper.
Great, go there. Get it cheaper. Threatening the shop with the loss of a sale is just poor form. In our case and when possible, we set our prices to be as competitive as we can be, while maintaining a profit margin. Let's be dead honest, we're in this because we love skiing and the outdoors, but we're also in this to make a living. Discounting every item repeatedly is a race to the bottom and eventually that practice will put a shop out of business.
9. DO...Drop a good review on Google (avoid Yelp, more on that in a later post)
We get notice of all of the reviews left for us. It's always awesome to hear when we do good job. It's nice to know that the energy and hard work we put in pays off. We know who leaves us the reviews and we like to thank them when we can and have the opportunity.
Hope this helps give a little insight into the other side of the retail world!
I've been in hundreds of ski shops in my journeys through recreational skiing and around the industry. I remember as a kid walking into shops and smelling P-Tex and wax and wandering through the maze of clothing racks, eventually ending up at the ski wall staring at the new gear lit up by the flood lights from the ceiling. I can also remember standing there staring at the new skis and not knowing what I was looking at except that they looked a hell of a lot cooler than my season lease set up.
I was always afraid of asking why there were so many; what did each pair do better than the other, why did everyone try to brag about riding race skis, why did Volants look like they weren't finished being painted? All these and a thousand other questions never got asked. Fortunately, because of my career path, they eventually did get answered, but I wasn't alone in my lack of understanding exactly what was what while not wanting to appear dumb. A lot of that hasn't changed for the average skier while participating in our beloved sport.
Unfortunately, there tends to be a snobbery that exists in a lot of areas of skiing. Here in New England, the race heritage is VERY strong and a huge source of pride for local mountains and mountain schools, and it should be. Okemo Mountain School, Stratton Mountain School, and Killington Mountain School (all within a 30 mile radius) have all produced Olympic level athletes. That's a pretty amazing stat and I personally remind myself how lucky I am to be in the middle of such heritage and history concerning our sport. That being said, that same heritage can be wielded in a way that is off-putting or intimidating to the average skier, or more importantly, a casual observer who is considering entering the sport.
Although I grew up skiing from a pretty early age, I never participated in a race program. Not because I wasn't good enough, but because when football season ended, I wanted to ski, not have to attend more practices and listen to more coaches...I wanted to just have fun on the mountain skiing where I wanted, how I wanted. Without a doubt, there were times when I would see the kids in the lift line in their speed suits, or watch a kid half my age drag a hip around a gate and have a twinge of jealousy aimed at the mystery of it all. You mean they get a WHOLE RUN roped off just for them??!! They had cool helmets when none of us wore helmets for anything, much less skiing. They had sweet-ass looking poles that were bent on purpose, not because they used it to smack their brother with it, etc.
The race world, however, held no real appeal for me, which rings true for the vast majority of skiers. Skiers who grew up in race programs are certainly in the minority. I think it's awesome that these programs exist and that communities, such as ours here in Ludlow, foster them and support them. These programs allow kids to pursue the sport on a more organized level if they choose to do so. We support the Okemo Mountain School with donations, sponsorships, raffle prizes, etc. This type of program adds to the community of our sport. It's awesome. This might be hard for some people to hear, but racing is not the whole sport. It's not even the most important part of our sport. It's just a small aspect and one of many ways to enjoy skiing.
Another way to be immersive in our sport is to train and work as a ski instructor. This has you on the mountain everyday (or every weekend), teaching the sport you love to the masses. Varying levels of PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) certifications can allow instructors to gain full-time, year-round career positions in the ski industry; an amazing way to make a living for sure! They've even nick-named themselves the Snowpros, it's right there on their website. This organization has standardized the way in which hundreds of thousands of people have learned to ski. But again, they aren't the most important part of the sport. They also aren't the penultimate experts on our sport, although I know a few instructors who will bristle when reading this.
Ski Patrollers also get to spend an enormous amount of time on skis. Honestly, this is the only group that makes me jealous. They poach lines we can't all day and call it "work". They do "safety checks" before dropping ropes on pristine glades full of freshies, just to make sure it's safe for the rest of us *wink wink*. They clear trails every evening after close...translation...ski everything without the crowds at the end of the day. People talk about getting first chair...PATROLLERS GET FIRST CHAIR EVERYDAY, not that I'm salty or anything. Patrollers also provide an indispensable and lifesaving service, these guys and girls have saved thousands of lives, with most of them working for nothing more than a free season pass. But again, they aren't the most important part of the sport, nor are they the ultimate authority on skiing.
Of all of the jobs or "Pros" in the industry, us shop rats are probably the most populous. We have access to much more equipment knowledge than any other position in the industry. The average ski shop employee (at least the lucky ones) have the opportunity to ski over 100 different skis a season. As dealers, we have access to major industry demos and trade shows that no one else does. Not racers, not instructors, not patrollers. We get to try on new boots before they're released to the public, we get to participate in focus groups and assist in ski and boot designs, and we participate in major ski gear reviews.
At this point, you're probably thinking this blog post is just a way for me to bloviate about how cool ski shops and their owners and employees are. And while you're not wrong...we are cooler than everyone else...we still aren't the most important part of the sport.
What gets lost somewhere in everyone's self importance about their position in the industry, is that YOU, the average, the everyday, the weekend warrior, the 3 times a year, the twice in your life, the never been before...YOU'RE the most important part of the sport. YOU provide all of us the opportunity to do what we do. Without YOU, the terminal intermediate, the girl who skis 10 times better than you and you secretly have a crush on, the guy buttering knuckles while we all watch from the lift, the crusty senior skier who can't understand why all these people are on skis that are too wide and have their feet too far apart, the slightly-older-than-middle-aged guy who won't wear a helmet because he likes to let his "locks flow" as if he just railed a nose beer in the lodge and walked out of 1986, the mom who is self conscious because she says she isn't a good skier and her husband who should be self conscious because even though he skis faster, her technique is better... YOU are the most important part of the sport.
The kid who is part of the local school ski club and has to go home and beg mom and dad to pay for a season lease and pass that they can't afford is the most important part of the sport. The college kids who skip class on Friday, hit the dispensary in MA on the way to Vermont, and spend the weekend lapping the park doing shitty tricks on 2 foot wide boxes while getting GoPro footy for the boys are the most important part of the sport. The gangs of little girls who somehow have the ability to ski faster than you without poles and catch air you never will are the most important part of the sport.
The dad who loads the kids and all of their stuff (HOW DO THEY HAVE THAT MUCH STUFF) in the car and drives 3 hours and unloads all their stuff (HOW DO THEY HAVE THAT MUCH STUFF) gets their boots and coats and gloves and balaclavas and helmets and jackets and dammit you forgot your neck-up fine I'll go buy another one and socks and no stop hitting her with your pole and goggles on...YOU'RE the most important part of the sport. The mom who gave up skiing when she had kids but gets up early and makes the chili that goes in the crockpot that gets plugged in in the lodge next to the cooler full of drinks and bag of snacks because there's no way in hell that I'm paying $11 for a dry tasteless cheeseburger just for you to not want it and she sits there reading or doing cross stitch waiting until at least noon for that glass of wine so she doesn't feel too bad although she earned an 8:30 am glass, YOU'RE the most important part of skiing.
So when you next find yourself sitting at the table in the lodge and you hear someone talk about how so-and-so is a patroller so they know this and that, or this guy is a ski instructor so he is that and this, or he owns that shop, or I race in this program blah blah blah, remember this without hesitation, YOU ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF SKIING.
Happy fall everyone! It's been a VERY busy summer for us. We loaded ourselves up with tons of projects, trips, upgrades, revamped programs for the shop, and new TUNING MACHINE INSTALLATION (sorry, I'm still excited about that). Amazingly, we've been pretty successful in getting the majority of them completed. One of the most time consuming of these projects is this, our new website.
Our poor website has been through the wringer more than once. Our first iteration served us well, but we chose to move our domain and server usage to another provider in hopes of building our online retail presence. Unfortunately, we weren't able to dedicate the time we needed to in order to grow that side of the business. We didn't have the time because our in-store traffic and business has grown by leaps and bounds keeping us ridiculously busy. Not a bad problem to have, but it derailed our progress on the web store.
What we did find in our small venture into e-retail, was that the fitting process for winter sports equipment really does require face-to-face interaction to be done properly. We spent, what we felt, was too much time on phone calls which took away from the time we were able to spend with our customers here in the store. We love helping our customers, phone or in-store, don't get us wrong. The failure in this was our fault in not anticipating that need. Because of this, we decided to shut down the web store and concentrate on our growing in-store business.
In shutting down the web store, it became very apparent that our website host was not allowing us to do the things with our site that we'd like. We were very limited in our ability to make changes, keep our customers updated on new happenings, and create new pages, etc. For all of these reasons and more, in late summer we chose to return to our previous domain host and site platform. Since then, I've spent a ton of hours rebuilding pages, updating information, and adding new things...like a blog page.
That leads me to the reason for this post. What's coming in this blog? My plan is to offer up advice, tips, tricks, help, and reviews that can assist in navigating your way through the ski and bike world. These articles will certainly be framed from my point of view and how I see things, not only as a skier, but as a boot fitter, ski tech, bike tech, and ski shop/business owner. Even though my wife wouldn't agree, I think I've got some info to share. Feel free to comment, suggest topics, ask questions, prove me wrong, etc. I'm humble...I've been married for 19 years. Looking forward to it.
Patrick Ross is President and Owner of Tygart Mountain Sports. He holds BA degrees in Secondary Education Social Studies, History, and Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Masters of History from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He's been an avid skier since early childhood and has more than 18 yrs experience in the ski industry.