Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Let's get this party started!

Martin is getting ready. He has his party hat on. We are all busy as beavers getting the store ready for the ski season. We have made lots of changes and getting things dialed. Staff training season is here too so the company representatives are coming in to do their educational training. and on top of that the customer traffic flow has been higher than ever before during the early season.
It feels like go time.
But it is not- it is "get ready for go time".
Go time is another level altogether!
But for now this is exciting and keeps us very busy.
In the last few weeks we have:
-Doubled our rental department in size (Lot's more alpine gear plus we added back country skis and boots for men and women)
-added about 240 feet of new boot shelving
-eliminated all clothing items from the store. Mens, womens, and kids. We still have accessories...
-expanded our ski and back country areas
-built and installed two new boot fitting stations to accommodate four customers
-launched a new social media campaign on Facebook etc. (I do not know much about all that but trust my staff when they say that this is happening?)
-Brought in three new employees
Sponsored a back country movie last week
-committed to Snowbomb the week end of 11/10 and 11/11
- Committed to a back country mixer the night of 11/16
 -Filmed a segment for Kevin Tinto of Slidingonthecheap.com on what is new in boots, plus a segment on skis and one on gloves.
So. Now we need to put the finishing touches on a number of these things. And by then I suspect...
It will be Go Time!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hiring, training, and waiting for snow...

Ho hum. Not too much going on right now. A few items trickling in from Fed Ex and UPS, but most of the early shipments have arrived. There is very little pressing business from a customer traffic standpoint and it is sort of a "dog days" of fall here at the shop. Everyone is pretty relaxed.
The the big kick off sale is over- and I wish to thank you all very much- it was a great sale! So the chaos of preparation for that event is done. And so now we move on to the next phase of the life cycle of a ski season. Not much day to day customer traffic flow, but lot's to do before it snows. Off the top of my head, we probably have about six weeks to:
-Receive the rest of the big orders ( Where are you Lange Boots?). 
-Make the store look like a retail operation instead of a Barn full of boxed goods. Including a complete new store merchandising round with all new tags for the 2012/13 season.
-Put together a bunch of back country ski rentals
- Tune about a hundred pairs of skis
- Hire 3-4 new faces
- schedule all our training sessions with the manufacturers reps
- schedule all our training sessions for our in house training
- get everyone checked out on all the binding indemnification tests (~10 employees x four brands = 40 tests, plus Martin, Ian, Seth and myself on a few other brands)
- Re-do the web site
-Thouroughly clean the whole shop
- buy and install some shelving units
- fix the toaster oven...
Well let's just say that my list is over two pages long right now. But there is a sort of dead week right now amidst this sluggish time here where nothing is REALLY pressing, so...
I'm going fishing!
See ya next week!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Radford is ready!

Well this is Radford. He's about 10 weeks old. Radford jumped right on these skis as soon as I tossed them on the floor. He is ready to ski! He has never seen snow, but he seems to know that he will like it. Seeing as he is a Great Pyranees mix, I think he is on target. With his double coat and his double dew claws attached to big webbed feet, I am guessing he will be a great "powder hound". Actually, it is my hope that he will get to go out and do some back country skiing with me by spring. He should be old enough to give it a go this winter I think? In the meantime he will probably be at the shop if you come by.

Also at the shop will be some new toys for the upcoming season. We have been getting shipments in on a daily basis. Dalbello boots were first and then came Black Diamond which was exciting. Our first big shipment of back country gear! I spent a lot of time playing with the packs, checking out the shovels and probes, and trying on boots that were sooo light! I'm very excited about all this new back country stuff.

But let's not forget about resort skiing! We will be back with a strong line of Blizzard skis, the Head skis are amazing this year, Fischer Vacuum boots are expanded with new models, and we will have Lange on board too which is exciting. So there is lot's to get excited about!

To get things rolling we kick off the season on the 25th of this month with the start of our Fall Tent Sale. The sale will run three consecutive weekends through September 9th. We rely on the sale to clear out last years stock and to give us some cash to operate and do staff training before the snow hits. It will be interesting to see how things go this year. On the one hand I feel there may be a bit less interest this fall because of the less than snowy winter last year. Lot's of people skied less than they typically do, and so there may be less carry over ski excitement than there had been the last few years. On the flip side is that we had a lot of carry over gear due to the moderate snowfall so we have marked things down more aggressively than ever before to try to move it all out. And it will be interesting to see how much people poke around at the back country stuff. I have no idea what to expect on that one. We will have Seth Green and Rich Meyer around who are both ex Marmot employees and have serious knowledge to help you learn about (and hopefully purchase) new back country, touring, or side country gear. If it is slower than hoped for they wi;ll be trining the staff and passing on their knowledge. Hopefully Seth and I can reach an agreement to have him working here all winter. He is a sharp and fun guy to have around. And he will add some real expertise to the new catagories we are stocking. Rich is a professional guide that we have reccomended for some years now. As usual, Rich will be doing avalanche safety classes as well as guidingto help you be safe out there (http://www.richmeyeralpineguide.com/).

So another summer has come and gone. The kickoff sale is upon us. Then the hiring/training season after that. Then it will snow. I hope the fall goes by as quickly as the summer did. I'm ready to ski! Hope to see you all next weekend. We can all catch up a bit, and start getting our stoke on. I'm ready! Radford is ready! Are you ready?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

There's no such thing as a free (heel) lunch...

Sometimes I feel that I need to write on this blog page to keep it current and I have to think a bit to come up with something interesting to write about. This time of year there is so much going on that I have to decide what not to write about. This time of year I think to myself (with some guilt) that I should have made more entries in the last month. Because there truly are a lot of interesting things happening in a ski shop in the middle of winter. At least this one...

So lets high-lite some things I COULD have written about and then I will write some about just one topic. Although the blog is called rambling from CalSkiCo for good reason so I make no promises...

I COULD do a whole blog about how great my staff is. That would make about 10 people really happy around here at least. But it might not be the most interesting thing for you other readers, so I will pass on that.

I COULD write about my experience at the recent national trade show in Denver. That is always interesting, but I do that most years. If you want to read about that just go into the archives and look at entries from late January or early February. Let's just say that there is a bunch of very cool new stuff for next year!

I COULD write about how there has been only one single little snow storm since mid November or so. How the industry is in a bad state because of it. How many dealers and company sales reps are freaking out. How storefronts will close. How Reps will leave the industry to find consistent paychecks selling widgets or toilet paper. All the doom and gloom stuff. But that is simply depressing stuff, and any regular skier already knows it has not been a good snow year. Plus I just wrote about that the day after Christmas so you could simply re-read that entry if you want to get depressed... 

I COULD write about how we are currently throwing a massive store wide SALE unlike any we have ever had this time of year. All skis are 30-50% off. Clothing is all at least 30% off. Helmets, gloves, goggles and the like are all 20% off etc. But this blog is not about store promotion (although it just crept in right there!).

I COULD write about how we are now on Facebook and even have a twitter account. How I have wanted to do this for a while and finally it is happening due to my great and creative staff. How they have been doing interesting and creative entries and videos to post. How you should all check it out.

But instead of all that let's talk a bit about backcountry skiing. Yes, I said backcountry skiing. What does that actually mean you may be asking? Backcountry skiing basically refers to two things in my mind. One aspect is simply alternative bindings to conventional alpine set-ups that allow one to also go uphill on skis instead of just going down. The second aspect is the "backcountry" part meaning no lift tickets, no crowds, and a more pure mountain experience.

Backcountry ski shops typically cater to what we might categorize as cross country, telemark, and randonee skiing. If you don't know what that stuff means look it up. Or just type in "backcountry skiing" into your search engine and explore. If you are familiar with these terms then you may know that for the last 15 years or so the backcountry skiing has been the stronghold of Marmot Mountain Works here in Berkeley. They have been specializing in this aspect of our sport as well as climbing and camping gear and doing a good job of it. We have done lot's of binding mounts and worked on lot's of boots meant for this aspect of skiing that were sold by Marmot over the years. CalSkiCo and Marmot have had a great symbiotic relationship. Many are the times that customers have asked if we were going to start doing backcountry gear. My stock answer has always been that it is a small niche market and that Marmot was representing it well already. If we competed with them there would then be two entities right in the same town serving the entire bay area for this niche market and it was better to allow Marmot to take all the business and do it right.

Well Marmot is closing down this month. They have a second store in Washington state and the owner has decided to close the Berkeley location. It is a sad thing for many who enjoy this aspect of the sport. Marmot has taken care of the needs of thousands of enthusiasts over the years. Now the closest real backcountry shop for them is 'The Backcountry Store" in Truckee. Sunrise in Livermore has some stuff. Gary down at Helm in San Mateo dabbles a bit with a boot line to compliment his alpine boots. But as far as I know that's it. And someone has to take up the slack. Should it be California Ski Company?

I have thought about this a lot over the last decade. We have always been a true specialty shop. No snowboards. No summer business model. Just alpine skiing. Sticking to our core competency. But as time has gone on, the line between alpine and backcountry has become blurred a bit. Mainstream alpine companies are now getting involved with backcountry, and it has crept into our store all on its own. Marker Duke bindings came out as a crossover alternative to established randonee bindings and are hanging on our wall. Fischer Watea skis are so light that they are desirable as backcountry skis and we have sold many pairs for this use. They are even notched for mounting climbing skins from the factory like true backcountry specific skis are. We have sold Stockli "touring" skis as alpine models because they worked well for that purpose. We even stocked the Dalbello Virus backcountry boot for a season. The shop mounts enough backcountry bindings that we have mounting jigs for the more popular brands. We are very familiar with the whole world of backcountry.

Now both Salomon and Tyrolia have new backcountry bindings that will be marketed under the brand names of Salomon, Atomic, Head, Fischer, and Elan. And all of those brands have plans to continue to develop this aspect of their offering. The truth is that while backcountry still only represents about 2% of the industry sales, it is the fastest growing market segment for the last number of years. It has grown to the point that the "Big Boys" have taken notice. They have decided to compete against the small backcountry specialty brands. Now they will advertise it and drive the backcountry scene even more. You will see more and more articles in Ski, Skiing, and Powder magazines. Mens journal and Outdoor magazine will do backcountry gear expose's.

And I have the resources to give it a go. Steve and Gabe are serious about their backcountry skiing. Steve even teaches backcountry skills classes while working here too. I have a great realtionship with Rich Meyer who is the guru of backcountry skiing here in the Bay Area, and have done some backcountry skiing with him up on Mt. Shasta. Some of the staff at Marmot have even contacted me and want to meet to discuss being part of integrating their niche expertise into California Ski Company. If we are going to expand our offering, backcountry seems the logical way to do it. It is not selling out or compromising like snowboard sales would be in my eyes; it is certainly skiing. It is not a second seperate summer business which would limit my time off in the summer (selfish?-YES!). And the market and industry is making it easier each year to see why it would make sense. The staff is very into it, but it is not there money so they just think it would be fun. I have to look at it from a business standpoint. My argument against it has always been that Marmot already did a great job and satisfied the needs of the greater Bay Area for a core backcountry shop. Splitting that business between us might make for two decent options instead of one really good one. But the market is changing. Backcountry is growing. And Marmot is gone...

What do you think? I think that if we don't do it somebody else will. Actually I know that is the case. If not this year then soon. I think that we are already spatially challenged but have always found a way to cram more into this funky cool retail space. I think that this is NOT the year to make a big move from a financial standpoint due to a down sales year. But I think now is the time to strike if I have the desire and the nerve to take a bit of a gamble on next years weather. No risk, no reward, right? And as they say "There's no such thing as a free (heel) lunch".

Again I ask- what do YOU think? As customers your input is of the utmost value to us. email me at gcalskico@aol.com, write a comment on the blog, or give us a call. If you have an opinion we would like to hear it...

And pray for snow. "Thinking snow" doesn't seem to be getting it done this year!