Ski and Snowboard Shop Owner The Buzz


It is 6:30 a.m. on a Wednesday and Matt Rieden is rolling out of bed. He hardly has time to breathe these days. His ski and board shop has been struggling to break even. Just ask this veteran of the business what drives him each day, and he'll tell you it is his pure love and passion for the sport.

At the age of two, he was already skiing. When he turned 16, he swapped his skis for a snowboard. The opportunity to work at a friend's ski and snowboard shop further propelled his desire to become a shop owner.

"I was basically doing grunt work and learning to tune skis," says Rieden. "I worked for him for about 10 years and realized I could do it on my own."

Building a business was a little more complicated than he bargained for. "I did about eight to 10 months of research," he says, "getting facts and figures on the ski and snowboarding industry."

The next phase involved putting together an extensive business plan for a small business loan. "It took about another three months until I could open my doors."

When he began, Rieden thought a strip mall in the wealthy city of Irvine, California, was a great place for a shop. Orange County had more snowboarders per capita than anywhere else in the world and there was no visible competition within a 13-mile radius.

After two years, however, he is still looking at ways to reduce his overhead. "Business has not been easy," admits Rieden. "It is still hard." Within the next few months, he will probably have to relocate his shop.

His high rent isn't helping him much. "All things considered, where I am is great. There are a lot of high schools and it brings in a great deal of business. At the same time, when you are throwing $3,000 a month out for rent alone, and then add in payroll, utility bills and a loan payment, it gets pretty tough."

Getting the Goods

In the last year or so, Irvine has also been attracting many large-scale ski and board retailers that buy products in bulk from manufacturers. That makes it virtually impossible for Rieden to carry popular product names.

He says retail is proving to be a high-risk venture. "We do fairly little retail because it is difficult to compete with the bigger guys."

Hard goods such as boards, skis, boots and bindings are expensive to purchase. Big companies get a discount while the small operator has to buy products at wholesale prices and mark them up from there.

Rieden actually tried to make contact with sales vendors, but without much luck. "They don't have to go out and solicit their products because people are going to them," he adds. He says if he had it to do over again, he would carry few, if any, products, and focus 100 percent of his energy on rentals.

"Renting rather than selling equipment also turns a higher profit. After a piece of equipment is rented out three times, it practically pays for itself and [your] shop can continue to make a profit off the equipment over and over again with each rental. Retail is a one-time profit."

Phil Carter runs a ski and snowboard shop in California. He says rentals are the bread and butter of his business. He points out that many customers don't want to invest $600 to $1,000 on equipment, particularly if they only hit the slopes once or twice a year.

"Renting equipment saves people money," he says, "plus they get to come in and sample the latest skis and snowboards year after year." After four or five seasons, you can sell off the equipment and use the money to reinvest in new stock.

Tuning In to the Industry

After retiring from a 20-year pro skiing career, Rick Lewon was approached by a Japanese sporting goods manufacturer to work in the company's ski division doing research and development. When the Japanese economy faltered three years later, Lewon opened what he describes as a "specialized tuning shop."

"I [had] learned to do everything by hand," notes Lewon. "We were tuning up to 2,500 to 3,000 pairs of skis a winter. People just loved the product we put out.

"Everyone in the industry will tell you that a hand technician is better than a machine," he adds.

After a successful six-year run as a shop owner, he now looks back and revels in his accomplishments.

"Skiing is my life," he declares. "I'm very passionate about [it]. I took a lot of pride in the fact that we did a good job."

He maintains that learning to tune skis and boards by hand is a great way for an amateur to get their foot in the door of the industry.

Ready, Set, Go

So what steps should you take to become a ski and board shop entrepreneur? Rieden says be prepared to do a lot of preliminary research. For example, ask yourself what kind of services you want your business to provide. Do you want to include retail? If so, it pays to establish a network with vendors before setting up shop.

Another big mistake you can make is to underestimate initial start-up costs. Give yourself more leeway by tripling the amount you think it might take to get your business off the ground.

The next step is to focus on selecting a location that is within your budget and not too far off the beaten track. You'll want to scope out the competition before making a definite decision.

Get some form of business education, advises Lewon. Educate yourself about how much revenue you will need to generate each month in order to break even.

It is also key to have something on the go during those sluggish summer months "like mountain biking or some other type of sporting goods business," he adds.

"When people come in and want to learn about the sport, I get really pumped up and really involved," says Rieden. "I just love dealing with people and sharing my knowledge with them."

Links

Phil's Ski and Snowboard
The home page for Phil Carter's business

SkiNet.com
An online marketplace

Snowboarding.com
Includes product reviews