Meet Your Merchant: Tahoe Mountain Sports – small business, big virtual vision
KINGS BEACH, Calif. – It’s no secret the seasonality of Tahoe presents multiple challenges for small business owners who are constantly adapting to the unpredictable flow of visitors and second homeowners. Creative marketing is invaluable, finding a niche is necessary and a good reputation will go a long way in a small town. It’s not easy; many small businesses in Tahoe will fall by the wayside if they lack proper nourishment and constant innovation.One outdoor retail store in Kings Beach – Tahoe Mountain Sports – has mastered the art of success in Tahoe, and owner Dave Polivy plans to keep his doors open no matter what Mother Nature brings, when the sidewalks form or how the recession unfolds.As an outdoor enthusiast growing up in Connecticut, Polivy migrated to Tahoe in 2000 to nurture his passion for mountain life. He immediately became involved with the Sierra Business Council where he campaigned for responsible development and sustainable land use in small communities throughout the Sierra.Polivy’s work with the council honed his public leadership skills and cultivated a passion for contentious environmental issues – an undertaking that would prove valuable in opening an outdoor retail store in North Lake Tahoe.The stint with Sierra Business Council also connected Polivy with his wife, Pam, whom he met during a leadership development program while she was working as executive director of the North Tahoe Business Association.”Pam and I are both very civically minded and we’ve both been involved in local boards and organizations, but we thought we could make the most difference in our community by opening a small business operation,” Polivy said.After running a successful online store for year-round outdoor goods, the Polivys decided to buy out the shares of their business partners in October 2006 and open the doors of Tahoe Mountain Sports off Highway 28 in downtown Kings Beach.Since opening, the online market is what Polivy attributes to keeping his business thriving in a tourist-driven, weather-dependent environment. As many local businesses wait with bated breath for the first snowstorm to blanket the Sierra Nevada, Tahoe Mountain Sports has reached an all-time high in sales due an abundance of Internet customers. “We’ve been experiencing record sales and record shipping over the past couple of weeks,” Polivy said. “There’s not a lot of retail business occurring up here, so that’s really helped us through even though the weather is not cooperating.”However, it takes more than solid web traffic to keep the family run business profitable. Offering year-round, full-time employment has given the Polivys an edge over their competitors, as well as providing regional customers the same products in store as are online.”We’ve enabled our local customers to be able to shop online before coming into the store so they know they’re getting the best deal,” Polivy said. “Our online operation makes us transparent so when we change our prices, the whole world knows in addition to our local customers.”As a result, Tahoe Mountain Sports does not inflate prices – they must stay within the competitive price range of online outdoor sports retailers nationwide. “We don’t believe in gouging anybody for the sake of gouging,” he said. “We’re trying to run our operation the same way everybody else is and our prices are extremely competitive, if not lower than national or regional competitors.”In an area teeming with alpine retailers, the specialty shop separates itself from the competition by offering a variety of products and global name brands such as Mammut gear, Kavu clothing and Deuter backpacks to name a few. They also supply the largest selection of backpacks within a 100-mile-radius, and their outdoor shoe collection is unparalleled, Polivy said.To take full advantage of the digital age and maximize profits, they recently launched a mobile version of the website where customers can buy on the go through their smart phones – an expansion that is already proving beneficial.”In my opinion, Dave and Pam run the ideal Tahoe business,” said Greyson Howard, web editor for Tahoe Mountain Sports. “Normally Internet shopping takes money away from a small community like ours, but Tahoe Mountain Sports brings some of it back. And at the same time, with a store front, it serves locals, too.”Bringing the money back to the community and lending a helping hand to nonprofits is a substantial part of the business model for the Polivy clan. The husband and wife duo find time to participate in local organizations like Keep the Sierra Green, Sierra Business Council, and the Main Street program through the North Tahoe Business Association. Polivy will soon serve on the board of directors for NTBA, where he hopes to continue his involvement with the planned redevelopment of Kings Beach.In addition, Tahoe Mountain Sports recently partnered with the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the ecosystem and natural history of Tahoe through education, science and outreach. The event – dubbed “Drink to That” – raised more than $1,500 and was the first of many charitable events the company would like to host. “If our local community is willing to shop with us, we can turn around and support other local entities within the community as well and we hope that resonates with the local population before they think about driving down to Reno,” Polivy said.