Industry Profile: Jibshop/Willi’s Ski & Snowboard Shop owner Greg Klein
11 Jun, 2009
Shay: So tell us about yourself?
Greg: What’s there to tell? I’m a pretty simple guy who loves the mountains. I believe in working hard and playing harder. I think far too many people take themselves too seriously and so far I’ve kept the promise to myself that that would never be me.
Shay: What is your job title?
Greg: Title? I didn’t realize you got a title when you own a shop – If I had a title I guess it would be either Head Janitor or Head of Wish Fulfillment
Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
Greg: It is a family business, I am second generation and all of my years growing up in the business I saw how hard my parents worked but how much fun they had at the same time. This is the best industry in the world – I wouldn’t do anything else and they would never have tried to talk me out of it.
Shay: What was your first set up?
Greg: I rode Gnu in the early days. It was black and green and about 180cm. I have Know idea what model. The boots were my Sorels.
Shay: What is your current set up?
Greg: I don’t really ‘own’ anything any more – my employees seem to have trouble distinguishing between ‘mine’ and ‘ours’ – I just take out one of the demos we have set up or ride the next years stuff that the reps bring in.
Shay: What was your first job?
Greg: My first job? Mmm, that would be sorting out the replacement zippers. When I was little I used to sit on the floor under the racks in our first store and play with a big bag of zippers – my mom could keep me entertained for hours that way! But I guess that’s not what you mean – my first job outside of the industry was in college, I worked on a union road crew. Taught me alot about life, that job did.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
Greg: Any day on the hill is a great day – it is my mental floss. Working at our area shop there are times when I can escape for just a few runs. Sometimes these are the best runs I’ll have all season because they remind me of why I work so hard to do what I do. I come back in all charged up to talk to the customers. It puts me in the right frame of mind.
Shay: Who are your influences?
Greg: I really identify with people in all walks of life who love what they do – I know he isn’t part of the snowboard industry per se but I think Tony Hawk does it right. He still loves what he does and hasn’t lost perspective…he is having fun and making money doing it.
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Greg: Its gotta be about 15 years at least now.
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Greg: Not nearly enough – never enough..
Shay: What prompted you to start your own snowboard/ski shop?
Greg: My dad was a ski instructor and sales rep. My folks were offered a position at Indian Lake Resort to do basically everything. He would travel as a rep during the week and on the weekend would run the mountain, everything from selling tickets to selling gear. All this has grown out of that.
Shay: When did you open your first shop?
Greg: I guess I didn’t technically – my folks opened the first Willi’s with my Uncle in 1970. We’ve been working on the on-line Jib Shop now for a couple of years – now I really feel it is off the ground and doing well.
Shay: What were some of the challenges of starting your own ski/snowboard shop?
Greg: Since the shop we own has been a ski shop from the beginning it was hard in the early days to figure out how to integrate the two. Some people opened a separate shop all together but I just didn’t like that idea. Many parents ski, kids snowboard. I wasn’t about to make them go to two different shops. At the same time how do you let the snowboarders feel like they aren’t just an after thought. You have to be totally dedicated to their side of the business. We have been really successful with that in our brick-and-mortar shops so that is why we decided to open The Jib Shop, our on-line store.
Shay: You offer ski and snowboard products, do you find that you sell to one sport more than the other?
Greg: Ski, over all, is still a bigger seller but no one has the enthusiasm of the snowboard community.
Shay: How did you come up with the name?
Greg: Willi’s is my father’s namesake but The Jib Shop is just one of those things that washed up on shore after a middle of the night brain storm.
Shay: What steps did you take to open your first shop?
Greg: Even though it was years ago the basic formula is still the same 1) figure out if you have a community to sell to 2) figure out how you can best serve them – what can you do differently than everyone else 3) know what you have to do and do what you have to to get it done.
Shay: What do you do in the summer, is your shop open year round?
Greg: We are open year round – don’t make a lot of sales but we do a ton of prep work. The work we do in the summer allows us to be on top of things during the season.
Shay: What’s the best part about founding a shop?
Greg: Being a part of the industry.
Shay: How did you establish connections with companies?
Greg: Many of our relationships with companies go way back. Our reps are good friends, some of them are even former employees. When you have been in the business as long as we have you see the good people get promoted and are now in leadership positions. We keep those relationships strong by dealing fairly with each company, paying our bills and helping them get good exposure in the market. We go to product meetings so that we can give them the feed back we get from the customers and we recognize that we need them as much as they need us. We are all in it together.
Shay: How do you choose what products to bring into your store and sell?
Greg: We listen very closely to the customers and everyone on staff can make suggestions. We have an end-of-season form everyone fills out about the products we carry, what sold, what didn’t and what we should carry. We also have an entire panel of staff that tests, reviews and discusses what we should carry – we even bring quite a few of them to the buying shows to look for new product that I might have missed. We get a really good mix that way and the staff is into what we sell because they have a say in things.
Shay: How important are salespeople?
Greg: Salespeople are the lifeblood of any business. Everything you are and do as a company is reflected in your staff. They are your connection to the customer because you can’t be all places at one time. Without them you have nothing – my employees know that because I treat them like the gold they are and they pay me back with enthusiasm and this translates to excellent customer service.
Shay: Do you establish connections with your customers?
Greg: Sure – some of my customers have become close friends – I get Holiday cards and postcards from tons of families I have taken care of for years. It is fun to see generations of families come through the doors – we’ve grown up together and they wouldn’t go anywhere else.
Shay: What mistakes did you see other snowboard shops make that you wanted to fix in your shop?
Greg: I see some shops that think they are too cool to do business with some people. If someone walks into their shop that doesn’t look like a rider they won’t even give them the time of day. Take my wife for example – she’s hot but she’s got the whole soccer mom thing going on, when we travel sometimes we go into other shops and you can see the sales people blow her off not knowing that she is one of the industries respected buyers, a rider and I think she even used to race some. But they don’t see that – the minute you start making judgments you are dead in the water.
Shay: You run an online store as well, what made you decide to create an online store?
Greg: On-line shops are just an extension of who you already are. It is just another avenue for sales. The on-line snowboard community is strong because it is mostly young people who have grown up with the technology to relate to people all over the world – you have cyber communities that are as strong as local communities and those people deserve a place to shop easily in a way that has the same level of customer service as your local shop.
Shay: Which came first, the online store or the local store?
Greg: Our brick-and-mortar came first – we had one shop in an old log cabin – our on-line shop makes me realize how much change the industry has undergone over the years. I think the online-only operations are a joke. These operations have never repaired or tuned equipment. They have no feed back or after-the-sale interaction from the customers. Customers shop them for price, and getting the best price is important. But these operations don’t even have a stone grinder or any sort of a back shop. How can they serve the sport if they can’t even tune a board? They have a pretty website but that is it… They’re just a Joke.
Shay: Is the snowboard industry a hard place to work?
Greg: No, it really isn’t – sure we put in a lot of hours but to be honest what we do isn’t very hard. You have to keep perspective so the stress doesn’t get to you but the work itself is not hard.
Shay: What’s your average day like at work?
Greg: Well it starts about midnight – right after the previous day ends at 11:59. I think over all I did the day before and what I didn’t get to and have to do today – I toss and turn a bit as I mull over how it is all going to get done. Then at about 6:00 my wife brings me coffee and I do my best to come around enough to start getting those thoughts on paper. I try to do a ToDo list before I get in the shower because I know my mind will run a million miles a minute in the shower and it will all get lost if I don’t write it down. I leave the house around 9:00 – forget most of what I was supposed to take so go back to the house at about 9:15 – by 9:30 I am in the warehouse checking to see what came in and what still needs to go out to the stores. 10:30 I am usually in my office – this is paperwork and communication time – quick before anyone realizes I’m in the office. Once anyone realizes I’m there I run around and put out all the little fires that they reverse delegate to me. At least 3 days a week I travel to the other stores during the day and I duck out around 6:30 to get dinner with the fam then come back to one of the stores to work the floor or do training until we close at 9:00. When I get home I have wife time – (part of which is none of your business – did I tell you she’s hot?) since I moved her office to one of our extra bedrooms she feels a bit out of touch sometimes – so we go over questions she has and stuff she needs to share with me. By about 11:00 I’m allowed to go to bed and that is when I start to review the day. Weekends are different – those days I’m up at our area shop on the floor or in the back shop. We open our demo center at 8:00, the stores close 9:00 an I am there pretty much all day – unless I can escape for a run or two.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working at a snowboard shop?
Greg: Oh man! If you could be a fly on the wall – I’m not sure those are experiences I can share! I can just say it has been a fun ride – we laugh hard, mostly at our own expense. We travel for a shop trip every year and that is one week of pure fun – each year it is epic and tops every year before it. The stories probably wouldn’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t there.
Shay: How is working for the Jib Shop (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Greg: Like I’ve said we make things fun – we do the shop trip every year and we do our best to make that affordable so everyone can go. We bought a beater Limo so the employees could take road trips together. After a while the limo died… It was horrible on snow.. So we now have a Custom Van for the employees to use. I think we are going to give it as prize at one of our competitions next year. We do a deal called the Prize Pack where staff wins points for swag, we have a huge shrimp boil/crab feast every year after our big pre-season sale, we have a huge pic-nic during the summer and we do big events like the Roxy Day, The Salomon Jib Academy, The DNA Evolution Rail Jam , Rome and Ride Rail Jams and tons of other events – as many as we can bring here. It seems like there is always something going on.
Shay: What experience did you have or attributes to getting the job?
Greg: I grew up in the business and once I realized that I wanted to be a part of it I did everything I could to prepare myself for it. I went to the University of Colorado for Small Business and Entreprenureship, I was a ski racer, I took classes in computer programing and I’ve spent my life dedicated to furthering my knowledge in all areas that effect my business – accounting, management, everything. You don’t have to be an expert – you just have to understand the basics so you can make effective decisions.
Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Greg: Like I said before, it is one of the best industries in the world – I sell fun, how stressful can that be?
Shay: Any Disadvantages of your job?
Greg: I work a lot of hours. I don’t mean just the hours I am on the sales floor or in the office. I wake my wife up in the middle of the night to run ideas by her. When you own your own shop it just means you get to decide which 16 hours of the day you work. You are never off duty – it is like having kids, and just as rewarding. You have to be willing to take the good with the bad and realize that you are in it for the love of the sport, for the life style, this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.
Shay: Do you try out a lot of ski/snowboard products?
Greg: I’m trying new stuff all of the time. We have regular demo days where I try the next year’s stuff with all of the employees and we discuss the products and rate them so we can decide what to carry in the future but then I also get to try stuff that the reps or the companies send me. It’s fun and I feel like I’m always up on what is out there, what is new.
Shay: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
Greg: Early in the season is busiest for me. Not only do I have to work the floor but I have to make sure that all of the new people are fully trained to our expectations, I have to make sure all of our seasonal stores are up and running. We have product to check in and split out – there are 1001 things to do – later in the season it is more fun. Then I get to just sell, talk to the customers and sell.
Shay: Education vs. Experience…which do you think is more important?
Greg: Experience will connect you to the customer but Education will help you to run your business – they go hand in hand, can’t have one without the other and expect to be successful.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to start a snowboard shop?
Greg: Think very clearly about why you want to do it – are there other ways you can satisfy those needs? If you decide that this is the only way to get what you want out of life then put your head down and just do it – don’t short change yourself by doing it 1/2 way, put your all into it. If you lead with your heart make sure your head keeps everything in check. The sport is about your heart but to make it work for the long run you have to have your head in the game. Don’t lose sight of that. Customer service is about relationships – build genuine relationships with the customers, the reps and the companies you carry and you will have a successful business.
Shay: Final Thoughts?
Greg: You gotta love what you do – whomever you choose to be with has to understand that this is who you are – Its not worth doing if you don’t love it.
*Pictures courtesy of Greg Klein, Dave Dinuzzo and Willi’s Ski & Snowboard Shop