Northwest Business Magazine

Success Story: The Vertical Drop Ski & Patio Shop

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Learn Why Two Shops in One Equals Success

Vertical Drop’s business strategy works. It uses one space to sell two different product categories that change with the seasons.

The Vertical Drop, 116 W. Main St., St. Charles, is known for its multiple personalities. In the spring and summer, it’s an outdoor patio shop, filled with brand-name patio furniture from some of the finest makers. In the fall and winter, it converts to a ski and snowboard shop, ready to outfit you from head to toe with quality ski apparel and equipment. Owner Tony Kampling says he’s reinvigorated with every seasonal conversion.

“It’s fun because it’s a complete changeover,” he says.

Each new fall/winter season brings out the latest and greatest ski gear and accessories, and Kampling and his staff are as eager to stock up on the new gear as they are for first snowfall. With plenty of groomed slopes and trails in Wisconsin and Illinois within a few hours’ drive, these shopkeepers have their hands full outfitting local skiers and snowboarders with new equipment.

The Vertical Drop has been well-known in the area for quality service and equipment since it opened in 1979. Kampling, a skier, had been a satisfied customer of the shop when he bought the business in 2005. Most of the people on staff are skiers and snowboarders, as well, and many have been with the business for more than 10 years. Kampling says his business formula for success is all about hiring and retaining the right people.

“I have great staff members who’ve been here a long time, know the products and what people need, and can talk intelligently about it,” Kampling says. “We work closely with our vendors and only stock equipment from those with good reputations and good warranties, tops in their categories, and a good selection.”

The shop handles alpine ski equipment from well-known makers such as K2, Fischer, Elan, Volkl, Atomic, Nordica, Head and Dynastar; snowboards from industry leaders including Burton; and clothing from Spyder, Obermeyer, The North Face, Descente, Burton and more.

“We sell quality merchandise,” says Kampling. “You’re better off buying things that perform well, and we carry a lot of great brands from companies that we’ve done business with for years.”

The staff members do much of the buying, and attend trade shows regularly to get a look at new products each year.
“When you’re doing the buying, you’re meeting with the vendors and touching and feeling the product,” Kampling says. You get a pretty good clinic, right there, about the features. We go to events where we can test the equipment, too. That will tell us if it’s as good as it looks or just good looking. We test everything we sell.”

Racks of ski equipment at The Vertical Drop, St. Charles.

Vertical Drop is the only shop in the area that carries cross-country skis and equipment. And if customers are interested in trying out the sport, but aren’t quite certain if they’ll really like it, they can rent equipment from Vertical Drop.

“You can rent cross-country skis, snowboards or downhill skis,” says Kampling. “If you’re a casual skier just looking to experiment, we can rent it for a day, a weekend or the whole season.”

If you’re ready to buy, this is a one-stop shop.

“You can walk in the door without ever having done the sport [skiing or snowboarding] and without any equipment, and we’ve got everything you need to walk out and ski the next day,” says Kampling. “We have all the apparel you need – long underwear, base layers, outerwear, hats, gloves – and all the equipment you need, too.”

The staff is trained in boot fitting, an important part of any ski equipment purchase. They are members of America’s Best Bootfitters (ABB) with Masters Certification from the industry’s training center, Masterfit University. Shops must meet rigorous standards to be eligible for membership, and all ABB shops have a supervising boot fitter with a minimum of 10 years’ experience and at least two staff members who have achieved top-level Masters status.

Kampling’s approach to customer service is to be a problem-solver.

“We can recommend to customers what they should think about purchasing, based on the kind of experience they have,” he says. “If it’s someone who skis locally, that person’ll need one type of equipment. If they ski out West in deep powder, they’ll need a completely different type of ski equipment. Our staff can recommend the best option.”

The staff has a passion for skiing, and that benefits the customers.

“Because the people who are selling, really everything we have, are users, they have experience and intuition to get you what you really need,” Kampling says.

As for marketing, Kampling’s approach is to get involved in as many media formats as possible.

“We’ve done radio, newsprint, magazines, direct mail, and Internet – we try to get it sprinkled around so that some way, somehow, you will hear about us,” he says.

The store’s tagline is: “Let us help you have fun this season.”

“That’s because, in both of our lines of business, what we sell is about recreation, enjoyment, and having fun,” Kampling says. “We help you relax and get outside.”

Kampling says he would like to continue to grow the business in the future, and he doesn’t have any plans to change the way it operates, for now. And that seems to be working.

But he doesn’t rest on his laurels, either. “We’re always looking for the next best thing,” he says. ❚

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