TRUCKEE, Calif. — Most businesses begin with a product. The What. Owners start with a product, and build a business from there. Start Haus, a ski shop in Truckee, began with The Why.
Owner Jim Schaffner started fitting boots simply because that’s what racers needed.
“I found it incredibly easy to come in and do custom boot fitting,” Jim said. “It shouldn’t have been that easy.”
It was in his basement where Jim started working with athletes to custom fit their boots. He used tools he’d collected over the years and solicited help from a young neighbor.
Through word of mouth people came to Jim; his expertise in boot fitting was unmatched. But basement business didn’t last long.
“My wife got really tired of people coming into our house,” Jim said.
In 2004, Jim opened Start Haus on Donner Pass Road with then-partner Fritz Vallant.
In the early years, the ski shop had no telephone line, no business cards, no listing in the yellow pages. Jim says people came in because they’d heard about the boot fitting through friends or by people’s “boot guy” conversations on the chair lift.
In eight years the store has expanded by 300 percent and has quadrupled the number of employees. Jim has built a team of professionals, all highly trained in their areas of expertise.
Start Haus’ boot fitters attend an extensive boot-fitting course and receive training from Jim himself, who’s been named “America’s Best Bootfitter” by America’s Best Bootfitters.
“The idea is to make sure we have a team of guys who operate the same way,” Jim said.
Jim firmly believes in “one philosophy,” in having all his employees on the same page.
Brandon Sins, who started at the Start Haus this year, said the training he received was above and beyond.
“Here they teach you why you are doing what you’re doing,” Sins said.
Start Haus has also become a household name among competitive skiers. Ski racer Daron Rahlves says he takes his skis to Start Haus for the extensive knowledge and service.
“They mount my skis, put a sweet grind on the base and set the edge angles,” Rahlves said. “To have a local shop here in Truckee committed like they are, with the knowledge to dial in an everyday skier to a professional level, is awesome.”
As a boy, Jim Schaffner liked to ski but he didn’t take it too seriously. On a whim, his father signed him up for a ski race.
“I won a race at 12 and got the bug,” Jim said.
The Chicago native would go on to be ranked nationally and travel the world. His experience and expertise have lead him to work for companies such as Solomon and Marker and also as a World Cup serviceman.
“I should have followed my parents’ advice but decided to ignore it and become a ski racer and follow a completely different path,” he said.
Today Jim can be found at the Start Haus doing what he loves best. Not running a business, managing employees or balancing the books — but doing boots.
Jim’s wife Kristy stepped in six years ago to help manage Start Haus, freeing Jim to spend more time doing what he loves.
“I’d rather be doing boot appointments than the adult parts of the business,” he said with a laugh.
Jim is a friendly man, a conversationalist and usually smiling. His demeanor turns serious when looking at boots and working with a client.
He says he sells boots by “not selling boots, but doing an assessment.”
And at first glance, the boot room at Start Haus seems too empty — the shelves aren’t filled with shiny new ski boots, but with large boxes. Jim believes in assessing each customer’s needs before he or she falls victim to the latest fashions, looks or colors.
By beginning with The Why, Jim has found huge success with Start Haus. The once basement operation has become an ever-growing shop and hub for skiing. And just like in his basement, Jim can be found boot fitting, educating and sharing his passion for the sport of skiing.
“My forte is working one-on-one with athletes,” Jim said. “When you have a passion for something, follow that passion and make a living out of it.”
“When you have a passion for something, follow that passion and make a living out of it.”
Owner, Start Haus