Meet Your Merchant: Skiing and black ties go hand in hand
October 17, 2011
TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212; Who knows how the concept came to him. It could have come out of his fondness for pizza delivery, or maybe from his former job working at ski rental shop, watching cold and huddled ski folk grabbing gear, one by one, in a monotonous bovine-like fashion. Whatever it was, the fact is the idea came to him andamp;#8212; and now his ski rental company couldnandamp;#8217;t be more of a success.Sitting in his Truckee rental shop, Black Tie Ski Rentals co-founder Joe Sternberg tells how he had moved to Steamboat Springs, Colo., in 1997 and began working in the ski rental shop at local ski resort. The job was tedious and frustrating as he watched skier after skier go through a lethargic rental processes. It was the catalyst that made him question the whole rental system.andamp;#8220;I saw the anguish of people waiting in line and just the lack of personal attention, the herding of the cattle through the rental shop, and I did that for five years and it was just not the way to take care of people,andamp;#8221; said Sternberg.Talking it over with his friend and now fellow co-founder Ian Prichard, Sternberg said they made a decision to find out whether a ski and snowboard delivery business would be able to buck tradition.The result was the founding of Black Tie Ski Rentals in 2002, which has now grown to 13 locations providing service to more than 35 world-class ski resorts.andamp;#8220;I just bought a van and worked out of a one-car garage for the first year and watched it grow,andamp;#8221; said Sternberg. andamp;#8220;It was pretty exciting to see a model that had never been tried before and now, 10 years later, expanded into this real demand.andamp;#8221;
Black Tieandamp;#8217;s North Tahoe locale, based in Truckee, is a testament to wild success of delivery-based ski services, brothers Adam and Scott Kmitta know.The two have operated Black Tieandamp;#8217;s North Tahoe location as co-owners since 2005 when the two brought the delivery service to the Tahoe Truckee region.andamp;#8220;We started up very, very small with one employee. And we turned our one employee back in 2005-2006 into 19 employees,andamp;#8221; Adam said.Sternberg and the Kmitta brothers attribute the wild growth nationally and locally to visitors demanding to maximize their vacation times and avoid hassles at airports lugging gear, waiting in long lines at resorts or spending travel time heading to a nearby rental storeandamp;#8220;People who are coming to North Lake Tahoe to ski donandamp;#8217;t want to waste their time … they want to be on the hill,andamp;#8221; Adam said.With timing essential, Sternberg said the company usually tries to contact its clients andamp;#8212; some being celebrities andamp;#8212; a few weeks before, setting up the fitting and rentals in the comfort of clients hotels or lodges.andamp;#8220;Our whole marketing strategy is to get a hold of the guest the week, two weeks or a month before they arrive and have it all planned out like a dinner reservation,andamp;#8221; Sternberg said.Talking about the growth of Northstar-at-Tahoe with its recent $30 million in improvements, and the acquisition of Alpine Meadows Ski Resort by Squaw Valley USAandamp;#8217;s KSL Capital Partners andamp;#8212; coupled with another $50 million in Squaw improvements andamp;#8212; Scott said the wonderful part of Black Tieandamp;#8217;s business plan is its link with larger resorts that have spent thousands marketing Tahoe as a ski destination.andamp;#8220;Here, you have some of the best mountains to choose from, Northstar, Alpine, Squaw,andamp;#8221; said Scott, and his brother agreed.andamp;#8220;Local resorts spend a lot of time and effort marketing this area as a true destination for travelers, as a place for people to come and spend a week with their families and ski and snowmobile and check out the lake andamp;#8212; we have absolutely piggybacked that rise,andamp;#8221; Adam said.