Recently, we caught up with Tracy Gibbons, co-owner of Sturtevant’s in Washington State, to get her thoughts on being a specialty retailer and taking honors in two awards this season as the 2010 SIA Pacific Retailer of the Year and SKI Magazine’s 2010 Gold Medal Shop of the Year. Sturtevant’s currently owns and operates four stores in Washington, including their flagship store in Bellevue and Ski Marts in Tacoma, Bellevue, and Alderwood, as well as the all new Sturtevant’s Online store. Tracy is also one of 14 retailers on SIA’s 2011 Retailer Advisory Committee providing insight and direction into the industry’s retail community.
SIA: How did you get started in the industry?
Tracy: I grew up in Bellevue, and ski raced at Crystal Mountain (where my dad was on Ski Patrol), and where I met the Campbell family. I raced with Jeff Campbell (now my business partner) when we were kids and thus came to know Duncan (his father). Duncan Campbell (who, with Alan Quinn co-owned Sturtevant’s from 1977-2007) asked my parent’s in 1982 if I would like to come work at the shop after school – my parents thought this was a great idea, as I could work off some of my needed racing equipment.
I started by doing garbage and cleaning up the shop as needed. Then I worked my way through every department (shop tech, inventory, sales associate, manager, GM, and finally in 2007 Jeff and I bought the business from his dad. I actually have a Race result on my office wall from 1975 that has Jeff, myself, Stacey Weichbrodt (our Women’s Apparel Buyer), and Kirk McEwan (our General Manager) all from a race at Crystal Mountain.
I enjoy all aspects of skiing – except the periodic rainy days – but most of all I enjoy the fact that it is a sport that we can do as a family. In fact, this week I am enjoying a family reunion (17 of us) as Whistler, ranging in age 8 to 75. And yes, we all skied together yesterday.
SIA: How important is marketing to specialty shops?
Tracy: Marketing is a very important part of what we do. The challenge is always how to spend your dollars the wisest. Unfortunately for us, we have lost several other specialty retailers in our area over the past several years and it makes our marketing challenges even more difficult, as we often feel that we are the only ones pushing the consumer towards our industry. I don’t mean to sound like nobody else promotes, but just not nearly the amount that there once was. We try very hard to reach the families and kids in our area, as we feel strongly that this is where the continued growth in our industry needs to come from. We truly believe that skiing/snowboarding is a great family sport.
SIA: What was your highlight from the 2011 Snow Show and/or On-Snow Demo?
Tracy: We really enjoyed the SIA Snow Show in Denver this past January. We found it refreshing to be near the mountains and in a city that really embraces the industry. The Convention Center is great (nice layout), and the ability to walk outside and find nice restaurants, bars and coffee, is also a plus. As far as the on-snow, we utilized the buses up to Winter Park and back to Denver and found the demo layout (including the food offered by the mountain) great – yes it was a bit cold, but that’s skiing. And, although it kept me out of the office for a couple more days in a row (vs. going to a demo at another time and location) I was actually out of the office 1 less day overall and the cost to us was significantly less than previous years. We are looking forward to 2012.
SIA: What’s the most rewarding thing about being a specialty retailer?
Tracy: It is great to always be around the best products in the industry and to work in an industry that we enjoy so much. It is also very rewarding to help customers select the best products for their needs to enjoy their days on the mountain.
SIA: What has been the single best-selling product/category over the season?
Tracy: We have been fortunate to have a great winter this year (especially compared to the last two) and have had many departments with stronger sales, but the two that really stand out are skis sales (especially men’s) and women’s clothing. The Rossignol S7 and Dynaster Sultan 94 were our bestselling men’s skis.
SIA: What do you think makes your shop a great specialty shop?
Tracy: We pride ourselves on our staff. They all participate in the sport and they all really want to help people enjoy the sport.
SIA: What kind of relationship do you have with your surrounding? Do you give back or sponsor any local events/organizations?
Tracy: We are strong supporters of the Outdoors For All Foundation program that participates in many different sports including skiing, snowboarding, waterskiing and many more. I also coach Women’s Specific ski clinics every winter. These clinics are designed to help advance and intermediate women reach the next level.
SIA: With December/January being a record breaking month in sales, how has your shop done this season?
Tracy: We had a great early season (thru Dec.) Unfortunately January was not so good, both weather and business wise. Fortunate winter came back in mid-February and we are finishing the year very strong.
SIA: What was your shop’s biggest obstacle in the 2010/11 season and what was a highlight?
Tracy: Our biggest obstacle this year was to work through the inventory from the past two bad years and move forward with a great new year. We feel we have accomplished this.
Sturtevant’s takes pride in their knowledge and premium service and stands behind every product they sell. Visit Sturtevants.com for more information.