Despite being one of the driest seasons in decades, Chris Krance and Drew Van Gorder emptied their pockets to open the freeski retail shop, Slope Style, in Breckenridge, Colo. last August. Instead of carrying the industry’s well-known brands and best-selling gear, their product mix is tailored exclusively to park and freeski customers.
Skiing Business caught up with 24-year-old co-owner Krance to see how Slope Style met sales expectations by targeting a niche market.
Twenty-four is pretty young to open your own retail shop. Where did you gain the experience and know-how to do it?
I’ve gained most of my insider-knowledge just from growing up in the freeski community and hanging around people involved in the culture. The reason Slope Style has such a loyal customer base is because we cater to our community. We saw the demand for this kind of niche shop and knew Breckenridge would be a prime location.
On the business side, I learned a lot from Gabe Martin at Colorado Freeskier in Crested Butte, Colo. I owe a lot of what I am to him because he taught me how to run a business and still stay true to the community.
Do you think your age and relative lack of experience hurts your chances of flourishing in the long run?
No. We’ve been inside the Colorado ski industry for a long time, and we’re pretty well known. We’ve worked with a lot of the reps and athletes before and have great relationships with them.
How do you justify the risks of carrying smaller, lesser-known brands?
Stocking a new or small brand is always risky because there’s less recognition, but these brands are what attract our core customers. We research what brands our costumers want on our shelves, and they tend to be smaller, freeski-oriented brands. People don’t come in here looking for a ski or jacket they can find at any retailer. They come here because they know we’re probably the only place that carries what they want.
What factors contributed to a successful first year?
First, we knew that our customer base was going to be younger freeskiers and park skiers. Knowing what your customer wants is hugely important when it comes to sales and getting them in the door. So, we made sure that the shop was tailored to them.
Second, we kept our price points as low as we could while still making a profit. It’s not about ripping people off. We want to sell them a reliable product that doesn’t break the bank. Customers easily notice unnecessary markups.
Finally, our close relationship with the freeski community is a huge reason this year went so well. Because we promote the sport, its participants are willing to support us.
You mentioned unnecessary markups. How do you walk the line between having the needed margin and keeping prices low while still abiding by MAP policies?
You can look at it in two ways. You can sell fewer skis at a higher price or you can sell more skis at a lower price. We sell more skis a lower price and still meet our margin. If we want to compete with online sellers then we have to sell at MAP. We also have a price match guarantee. If we didn’t do that then everyone would just buy online.
With one year under your belts, what will you do differently next season?
We’ll be better dialed in when it comes to stocking more of one item and less of another. Last January we scrambled because we sold out of a lot of our Marker bindings faster than expected. Instances like that gave us a better idea of what to buy this year.
We’re also decreasing inventory from certain brands. Making those decisions really gave us a bellyache. We have close relationships with the brands we carry, but it comes down to a business decision. It’s nothing personal.