On-the-Job: Working in Ski Retail

A few years ago, Cathy Groves left her position as a ski instructor to manage a nearby ski shop.

As manager I’m responsible for all the goings-on in the store. If someone calls in sick and I can’t find a replacement, then I have to come in and take the shift. Also, I’m responsible for making the bank deposits at night.

If a customer is not satisfied, either with a purchase or how he was treated in the store, it’s up to me to deal with it, to come to some middle ground. You really have to know how to deal with conflict and people. It can be hard at times. I don’t personally deal with pay raises or job evaluations, but a lot of managers do. I do the hiring though. I look for someone really good with customers, who knows how to provide good customer service. That’s the most important thing we offer.

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We’re a seasonal store, skiing in the winter and biking in the summer, but experience in those sports is not as important as you might think. Ski knowledge is a plus, but it’s not necessary because we don’t sell skis. We only rent them. Most of us here do ski though. I love snowboarding, too. We get to try out all the rental gear, so we know what we’re talking about when we explain things to the customers.

But customer service skills are the most important thing I look for in an employee. Shop experience helps immensely. As for winter, I look for technicians certified to work on skis and bindings. They can get certified through a course that travels around the country. Legally, to work on bindings, you need to be certified. Bindings are the biggest liability in the ski business now.

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I also look for a person’s ability to deal with a lot of people at the same time. It gets extremely busy on weekends. If a person’s got a single-track mind, it would be hard to keep everybody happy, to make them feel like attention is paid to them.

The days can get long. In the winter we’re open from eight in the morning to eight at night. I get in usually by 7:30 in the morning to clean things up from the night before. On a weekend you’re taking care of customers on the floor, selling and doing rentals pretty much all day. Then you’re getting the rental returns at night. So, sometimes it’s a twelve-hour day, but not always. The employees are here for their shift only, but once in a while people will stay late if it gets extremely busy.

One problem is that customers don’t always want the right gear for themselves. It happens quite a bit that they come in wanting the shortest skis possible, thinking they’re the easiest to learn on. You get a guy who’s five-foot-ten who wants 140-centimeter skis. You know the skis won’t work for him, so you have to educate him about skis and how they work. You have to explain things nicely to the customers without insulting their intelligence.

Related: Fitting Ski Boots Video

We get some pretty odd questions. Sometimes people come into the shop, ready to rent skis for the day, and they ask, “Is there any snow?” I have to answer them without laughing. I mean, would they be going skiing if there were no snow? So, there are times I have to be pretty tactful, but sometimes it’s hard.

One of the bad things about the job is that it always seems like the best skiing is on the days you’re working. But you have to work the hours that people ski, and that means every weekend. But we’re close enough here that we go up at night after work to ski when the snow is good.

At the shop we have mostly full-time employees we keep year-round, but we usually add a couple of part-timers for weekends. We normally hire someone just out of college. It’s rough on high-schoolers. They’re looking for work, but they have no experience yet. So it’s hard for them. Kids out of college, we know they’ve worked with people a lot more. Most of them have had some job experience. Retail work experience helps a lot.

I’ve seen a lot of college racers get into the business, and as long as they know how to get along with people, they’re good employees. They already know about ski tuning and the different bindings and skis.

The job is a lot of fun. The hard days are the busy ones, or when a customer yells at us. Sometimes it’s hard to put up that wall and not take those things personally.

The fun times are when we’re not too busy and the customer has time to just sit and talk. The job itself is really rewarding. We learn good ways to deal with people and how to deal with conflict. I learn something almost every day.

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