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Working in a Ski Shop

Chris Fitzgerald Interview Continued.

One of the most important characteristics of a successful ski shop employee is their ability to "connect" and "disconnect" with a guest. By connecting, I mean that they immediately walk up to customer who's just come through the door and make them feel welcome. From there, they need to make the guest feel that all of their needs are being addressed. Dis-connecting refers to the point at which we get the customer out the door with their equipment and onto the mountain. By the time a guest has flown all day, taken a shuttle from the airport to their hotel, fed the kids and spent an hour in the rental shop, they're usually ready to go. A good rental technician can pick this up on their own.

There have been a lot of changes in the ski industry over the past five years and it continues to evolve. Speed seems to be the predominant factor in the way that the customer wants to be serviced. Almost 30% of our customers who rent equipment from us begin the process from our website, On the website, they can streamline the rental process by providing profile information such as their height, weight, sex, skiing ability and what type of skis they'd like to rent. This saves them time when they come to pick-up their ski gear. And, likewise, our computer programs will help when it's time to return their equipment - all designed to minimize the amount of time guests spend in our shops and maximizing their time on the mountain.

"We maintain a customer profile database that keeps track of a guest's preference in skis and boots, the sizes they use and other information that will help us to provide better service to our guests."

There are a lot of exciting changes planned for the ski industry in the next five years. Völkl (one of the leading ski manufacturers located in Munich, Germany) has developed a ski called the Tiger Shark that allows the skier to adjust the amount of flex of the ski. There are also a lot of changes in boots - many boots now come with inflatable or silicone- injectable bladders that can be custom fit to the skier's foot. And finally, many skis that customers buy these days come with "binding systems" that are actually part of the ski. The binding system allows the boot to "float" on the top of the ski, providing better turning and performance capabilities.

One of the things that our employees enjoy most is the flexibility to ski almost every day - even when they're at work. We experience our highest volume of customer traffic between 8:30 and 11:00 AM and between 2:30 and 6:00 PM. During the hours in between, staff can usually take a few runs, providing we have adequate coverage on the floor.

I think ski shop employees are in a position to personally make or break a guest's vacation experience. It's so gratifying to see someone come in at the end of their ski vacation with a smile on their face, raving about their equipment. We're also able to intervene when something doesn't seem quite right. If we see that a guest is struggling with their skis and isn't having a good time, we can make the kind of changes that will turn that situation around and get them back on the right track.

If I could offer one piece of advice to someone who'd like to come and work a winter in a ski shop, it's this - keep the customer's wishes and needs ahead of your own. Treat the guest in April as enthusiastically as you do the guest who comes to you in November. Give them everything you have and then just a little bit more.


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