The Benefits of Teamwork in Specialty Retail
Depending on Mother Nature to deliver weather conditions that spur cross-country ski sales can be a high risk gamble. That said, Nordic shops that partner with high school ski teams avoid much of the stress that comes when the snow doesn’t.
Gear West Ski in Long Lake, MN works with several local high school ski teams and has long-standing relationships with Nordic ski teams from across the Midwest. “We’ve had very active relationships with local ski teams since we started the store. They are very important to us. We help educate parents, introduce skis to beginners and hopefully move them up if they continue in the sport,” said Jan Guenther, owner.
Ben Jonjak, owner, Cyclova XC, St. Croix Falls, WI, adds: “We do everything we can to support high school teams. Athletes always get a discount and we try to organize specials for them. Cross-country skiing is a lifetime sport and it really helps center a person and make them a valuable member of the community. In addition to getting young athletes on equipment affordably, we also organize tech and technique clinics. Major Nordic ski brands understand the importance high school teams play in the health of snowsports specialty retailer who promote their products.”
“Local high school teams and clubs are a major part of our business,” said Evan Pengelly, nordic racing manager, Group Rossignol North America. “I work hard to ensure that my work with junior skiers is done in collaboration with their local retailers so that we can all work together to grow the sport.”
Adds Jonjak, “The community benefits if young people are out doing productive things like skiing and cycling. It’s great to make long term connections with athletes at the beginning of their involvement with sports, and it’s amazing to see them develop into truly spectacular athletes.”
Team Night Crowds
Store owners have to plan ahead to offer a high level of customer service when the high school cross country ski season starts. Traditionally the majority of business related to high school is conducted the last two weeks of November and first week in December. Teams can range from 15 to more than 100 members. Depending on the size, one team can keep a store very busy and result in a significant amount of sales.
“We need active, intelligent employees. It’s a perfect storm when cold weather, snow and ski season starts,” says Guenther. “We do need to look at additional staffing. No one can take time off and we bring in other people and friends. It’s fun because that means people are skiing.”
Specialty retailers report Nordic ski brands support the store’s sales efforts with product selection, regional staff and discount pricing. “Rossignol staff hand select all race skis that leave our warehouse from our Xium level ski up to the Premium model. This ensures that our specialty retailers throughout the country get ski flexes that are appropriate for snow conditions in their area. Part of my job is to work with junior skiers and coaches to promote the brand and help them with equipment needs at national level races,” said Pengelly.
Ski packages for high school teams are no longer the lowest priced holdovers from last season. “I’ve been in the ski business for 26 years. The value and quality of the product for the money spent is probably greater now than it was 15 years ago,” said Guenther. “Brands understand this is a very important group of people to target and sell too. A lot of kids may have an allegiance with one brand throughout their high school career and after.”
Team Loyalty Leads to Sales
After the initial rush of recommending and fitting boots, bindings, skis and poles, specialty retailers often see additional sales from family members and fans of the high school team the store supports. “Families always appreciate when we work to help get their kids the best possible equipment for a good price. Most of the student athletes who come in have dedicated parents who are also skiers,” explained Jonjak.
“Whether it’s a parent that has never skied before and is looking to start out with a touring ski package to a parent who stepped away from the sport and is motivated to reconnect and spend more time with their child, junior racing has a much broader influence on the market than just the juniors themselves,” related Pengelly.
A four-year high school career doesn’t mean the end of the store’s relationship with coaches and team members. Skiers often continue enjoying the sport long after their high school careers come to a close. “A large portion of Nordic skiers continue through to their adult years. We see them come back again and in some cases we hire them to work at the store and ask them to coach local teams,” Guenther said.
“I work with elite athletes that still have a close relationship with their hometown retailer and will come back to support them at major events. I also will speak to skiers getting back into the sport as adults who have come to buy from the retailers they worked with as high school racers,” said Pengelly.
Nurturing relationships with high school cross country ski teams pays long term dividends,” concluded Jonjak. “High school teams help build and reinforce the community of lifetime athletes in our community.”
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