Flipping a business: Mud season in the High Country
It begins in April: Bikes roll onto center stage, as skis gradually slide into the back of stores.
Some seasonal businesses change inventory gradually as mud season creeps in, while others dedicate a day or two to moving winter gear and bringing summer gear in.
They don’t have to advertise or make a grand statement that new bikes have arrived and skis are nearly half price: No matter what season, people still think of the Vail Valley and Summit County as premiere ski destinations, and that drives ski sales throughout the year – at least enough for owner Carl Richardson of Carl’s Worldclass Ski Tuning in Avon to cover the summer’s common area fees (trash, mowing and so on) for the retail space he owns.
By the time every resort other than Arapahoe Basin has closed, ski shops have converted their inventory. Still, sales tend to be weather-dependent during the mud season. If it’s sunny and warm, people shop for bikes, even if all of the inventory isn’t on the floor yet. If it’s cold and snowy, people walk to the back of the store and look for discounted coats and skis, said Neal VanWieringen, a manager at Recycle Sports in Frisco.
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Recycle Sports operates a little differently than other seasonal businesses, since the owners only purchase bikes and a few other products; the rest works on consignment. They buy selectively and sell every bike by the end of the season, VanWieringen said. Its large space accommodates much of its winter gear in the back of the store, but owners still have to rent the biggest storage unit they can find in Frisco to house much of the consignment gear. Even with storage fees, they make a profit from their larger consigners, who bring 500 skis in a year, he said.
Chain stores often send leftover winter gear to a main warehouse. Vail Sports doesn’t keep any of its winter equipment during the summer because business is much slower then, said Erik Richardson, sales person. Once Vail Resort closes, Vail Sports shuts down for a couple of days, brings in biking and hiking gear and casual wear, and sends winter stuff to Glenwood Springs, where it’s discounted. If it doesn’t sell during the summer, the company holds a huge Blizzard sale in the fall in Denver.
Other stores, such as Vail Mountain Adventure Centre, experience no major inventory rotation. In fact, the Centre brings in more winter equipment from other stores Fortress owns, such as Breeze.
Though it doesn’t historically sell much winter gear in the summer, it keeps the inventory out, acting as a clearance store, said manager Erik Schultz. In the past, it rented bikes then tried to sell them at the end of the season, but this year it won’t.
“The cost of purchasing bikes wasn’t profitable,” said general manager Alex Rebeiz. “It wasn’t a good business model.”
And with the closing of the Vista Bahn chairlift due to construction, managers forecasted a poor bike rental season.
During the summer, Carl’s Worldclass Ski Tuning predominately turns into The Wheel Bicycle Services. Both signs remain on the storefront year-round, and both owners of each company keep much of their inventory in the store all year.
Jamey McCalla, owner of The Wheel Bicycle Services, tried to run his bike shop business in the Slifer, Smith and Frampton center in Avon, but after six months, he asked his landlord to release him from his two-year rental agreement, because McCalla couldn’t pay the bills during the off-season.
Now, he subleases Carl Richardson’s store, taking the front of the building from April 22 through the fall. Richardson has subleased his space for four years.
“It’s easier for someone else to maintain the bike business,” he said.
He saves overhead by only hiring employees during the winter and having no summer employees. McCalla works for Richardson’s ski shop in the winter but still sells bikes he hangs from the ceiling during Christmas sales.
McCalla stores extra summer inventory at his home in Wolcott during the winter.
Contrary to what most people think, the bike sales season lasts longer than the ski sales season; he only has four slow months, from November through February, whereas most ski shops only operate six or seven months out of the year, he said.
Of course, not every ski shop turns to cycling to remain profitable throughout the summer. Precision Ski and Golf in Frisco looks toward golfing in the summer. Last weekend, it started moving in golf gear, and even before that, golfers had been in the store for new gripes.
“You define the season by the first people who start sniffing around,” said owner Jim Deines. “As one winds down, the other winds up.”
He didn’t start as a golf shop in 1981, but for the past dozen or so years, he’s added golf gear to his inventory, since there were plenty of bike shops in the county. He’s the only summer employee, which isn’t bad considering the store only opens from 9 a.m. to noon and 3-5 p.m., five days a week – because he’s out golfing.