Sun & Ski Sports explores new terrain in Avon | VailDaily.com

Sun & Ski Sports explores new terrain in Avon

AVON — It can be hard to fill big retail spaces these days, especially in smaller markets. But Sun & Ski Sports saw an opportunity when Sports Authority closed its Avon store.

Both of the former Sports Authority Vail Valley locations filled quickly. Christy Sports recently opened a new location in the old Sports Authority space in West Vail and Sun & Ski opened in Sports Authority's old Avon location.

While Christy Sports has a long history of operating in and near resorts, the Avon store is something new for Sun & Ski. Many of the company's 33 stores are in warm-weather markets. The Avon store is the first in the Colorado mountains.

"We get asked a lot about being in warm-weather markets," Sun & Ski Chief Operating Officer Karl Salz said. "People in Houston love to ski."

Salz said that as Sun & Ski has grown, the idea of being closer to where people play has more appeal.

"Somebody in the country usually has snow," Salz said, adding that the company also has locations in New Hampshire, the Carolinas and near Washington D.C.

Recommended Stories For You

But the idea for a store in Avon came to Sun & Ski from the man, whom, for years oversaw Sports Authority's operations in the region.

Brian Stein worked for Sports Authority for 13 years. Even before the company had closed all of its doors earlier this year, Stein, who knows Salz and other Sun & Ski executives, went to the firm to recommend opening a store in Avon.

The idea became a reality in a matter of weeks.

Walk into the Sun & Ski store in Avon, and at first glance it's not much different than the old location. But as your eyes adjust, there are significant differences. The ski rentals are where they were in the old Sports Authority store, but Sun & Ski's merchandise is more focused than Sports Authority's was.

Instead of everything from skis to fishing poles to basketball hoops, Sun & Ski focuses on snowsports, clothing, footwear and bicycles. In fact, the southeast corner of the Avon store has a decent-sized two-wheeled inventory, even in winter.

There's a large range of clothing, though.

"We have top-tier items, but still a value," store manager Jim Yurcak said.

The Avon store filled quickly — Stein said it took about six weeks from the time the lease was signed to re-paint, adjust the store lighting, hire staff and fill the store with merchandise. The merchandise itself was delivered and put on the floor in about two weeks.

"We have relationships with our vendors, and they scramble right alongside us," Stein said.

Hiring is always tough, but Stein and Yurcak were able to reach out to former Sports Authority employees. About one-third of the current staff worked in the old store.

Hiring those people helped the store stay consistent with its philosophy of providing in-house expertise to customers. The company has long hosted trips so employees can familiarize themselves with the new products coming in.

That focus on service at the Avon store includes a new ski-tuning machine that will soon be set up. While hand-tuning is still available, the machine can quickly tune rental skis for the next customer and is adjustable for current conditions.

Having a store close to where customers play also allows the company to expand its rental services.

Customers in, say, Houston, can go to the store there, get fitted for gear, then pick up that gear in Avon — although you really need to try on that gear before carrying it back to your lodge.

The focus at Avon is a little different than the big-city stores, too.

In Houston, Sun & Ski customers can find a list of gear to take along. In Avon, that list is adjusted to focus more so on "what did you leave at home?"

But, Stein said, "We will do all we can to be a destination for the local community, whether it's merchandise or service."

The Avon store is something of a test for Sun & Ski. Salz said the retailer is still looking to expand its locations.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

Four facts

• What: Sun & Ski Sports.

• Founded: 1980.

• Number of stores: 33.

• Fun fact: The Avon store went from bare walls to open in about six weeks.