In the fall of ’78 while finishing a computer science degree at U of Guelph, I started the Caledon Pro Shop. I had worked part-time in a ski retail shop since I was 14 years old. Let me correct that, I sold skis at K-Mart when I was 14 then got a job at a real ski shop at 15. I really enjoyed the ski industry; the people, both customers and the people in the other parts of the industry, were so much fun, so alive, I just connected with them; the products too, every-time a box came in it was like Christmas. After school everyday I would get to the shop in downtown Brampton and tune all the skis that had come in that day. It was great. I loved it. So after learning all about computers at University I set up a ski shop. It made total sense to me at the time. I could make millions working in computers, have 3 divorces and 6 kids that would end up with all the money or I could try to etch out a good living, be super happy having to go to work, have 1 wife and 3 kids that would become good skiers. I think I made the right choice.
It was a humble beginning – I set up at the Caledon Ski Club, a private club north west of Toronto – 900 sq ft and one part time employee. The Caledon Ski Club was very good to my little ski shop and me. From the start I lived by three simple words – service, service, service.
On Nov. 24, 1980 at 9:25 the store and lodge burned to the ground. Everything was lost except my determination. As it turned out years later, it was one of the best things that happened to me. I had learned some very valuable business and life lessons. Four days after the fire we re-opened for business in my very small, very old and much worn out house. I sold more on that first weekend than the whole year before, as the members had also lost their skis in the fire!
Three weeks after the fire the insurance company declared bankruptcy. Interest rates were at 23% and it took everything my new bride and I could make to just pay the interest payments. One of my new life lessons, “when you’re at the bottom you find your real friends”. That year the club members tried to buy everything from me to help support me. My friends and family rallied around me working for free. My suppliers extended payments, pulled product from other stores orders to fill mine. One supplier gave me a used ski grinder, free. I won a $2000 sweepstakes from a supplier. I had never won anything before and I was thrilled. Ten years later the president of the company told me that they had rigged the results so I would win because they felt I needed the money. Then in Sept 1981, some insurance money arrived and we could eat again.
We moved the shop into an old ‘A’ frame and business boomed. It stunk bad, the roof leaked but it was my ski shop and I loved working in it and now, it was no longer just “I”; it was now “we”. The employees now were one full time and five part time and sales continued to climb. Every summer I would build an addition onto the old ‘A’ frame, or fix the roof or try and get rid of the raccoons.
1984 – 1993 we also built and ran the Beaver Valley Pro Shop at the BV Ski Club. My father and mother had just retired from their real job and they agreed to run this shop for a year or two! Turned out to be nine years! Distance, the expansion into Mississauga and my mother wanting to retire were behind the decision to turn the shop over to a competitor. Our philosophy was, “If we can’t do a great job then don’t do it at all”, so the sad decision to leave Beaver was made.
1986 we opened our flagship store in Mississauga and changed the name of the stores to Skiis. (Why spell skis with 2 ‘i’s? That’s another story on page XX.) The store is big, bright and with the best ski tuning machinery, my dream. Because I came from service, service, service at Caledon, we put the service shop right in the front window.
But now we needed to be open in the summer and it was getting necessary to keep the good staff working all year so they could make a career out of the sports industry. We tried water skis and tennis but our hearts weren’t there. One Sunday, back when stores were closed on Sundays, we (the staff) were all out mountain biking near my house in Caledon when someone came up with the hair-brain idea of doing bikes in the summer. We all loved to bike, the business was service orientated like the ski business and at the time there was hundreds of poorly run bike shops in Toronto. We knew we could do a better job but it was going to be a hard road. So in 1988 we officially changed the name to Skiis & Biikes and worked at being the most professional bike shop in Canada with the same philosophy as the ski side of the business – service, service, service.
Christmas Eve day, Sunday 1989, the Mississauga store was closed as it was Sunday so my 4 year old and I went skiing at Caledon near our home. On our way home my wife met us coming the other way and told me a manager called and said that the Mississauga store was flooding. I left my son with Sharon and raced the 40 minutes to the store. No cell phones in those days so I had no idea what to expect. When I arrived the fire department was there and the front door was smashed and water was pouring out the front door. When I got the story I found out that the plaza cleaners had seen it and called the landlord who called the manager who called me. Because of the -40 degree weather the previous 3 days a pipe had burst in our store wall and water had poured into the store, the manager arrived, broke down the plaza utility door to shut off the water, not knowing what to turn off he also shut off the sprinklers which alerted the fire department. So Christmas Eve at 4pm my manager and I started getting rid of the 4” of water that covered most of the store. We tried to find staff to help but no one was around but the manager’s parents and brother showed up to help. We worked hard and fast to get the product away from the water and literally shoveled the water into garbage bins then took it outside to dump. We eventually found a disaster cleaning guy who would bring over a machine that would pick up the water and clean the carpets. It was a very long night. I still got Christmas celebrations in but cut them short to get back to the store Christmas evening to reset the store for Boxing Day on the 26th. Boxing Day morning we opened at 6am. The line up was down the block. We had the biggest day ever. The staff didn’t even know that we had had a flood except the clothing manager asked how the carpets got so clean.
It was 1996 and Collingwood was just starting a new development boom. We decided to open a Collingwood store in order to look after our customers when they were skiing in Collingwood. Skiis & Biikes, Collingwood, was supposed to be a small pro shop servicing our city customers where they skied, but it quickly developed a clientele of its own. In 2003 we built a brand new beautiful building for the Collingwood store right next door. You can’t miss it; it’s right beside the Beer Store. The building is split level so when you walk in you can go up a bit to the retail part of the store or down a bit to the huge service shop and a wax room that the customers can use for free. I love this store. It has great karma. There is always a buzz of excitement here. Customers are coming and going. You hear, “I need this fixed now”, or “I need a new what-ever, now” or “my boots hurt”. It’s what I love to be in the middle of; it is so similar to what the original Caledon shop was only new and improved.
The fall of 2002, we built an all-new huge store in Toronto (Don Mills). This store has everything we had learned in the pervious 24 years. One wall is mostly glass so there is lots of light and the ceiling is high, it has a very bright open feel. Again the very tech service shop is in the front window. But we picked this spot mainly because of the huge parking lot. Imagine a ski shop in Toronto with lots of free parking.
Then in 2009 we decided to go to the mecca of all skiing, Whistler, BC and opened in the original part of Whistler known as Creekside. This is a small shop but offers the best ski tunes in BC and also has high end skis for rent, tuned to perfection, so you are able to leave your skis at home.
In Jan 2010, we purchased SnowCovers in Whistler Village and Vancouver. This shop was well known for its’ bootfitting and love of ski racing so it was an easy fit.
Skiis & Biikes has grown beyond my wildest dreams and now employs 200 plus people, my sister quit years ago.
Our growth over 35 years is not a measure of our success. Our success is the thousands of families that have grown up at Skiis & Biikes. We have watched customers (friends) get married have kids and saw those kids off to university, we then see them return with a new spouse and more kids.
Skiing is a life sport and the only family sport on earth so we see people from crib to grave and we feel privileged to be a part of that cycle. Seeing three and four generations in the store getting outfitted year after year is the true measure of our success.
It’s now been 35 years and Skiis & Biikes has over 100 trained staff five locations and more than 50,000 sq ft of everything to do with skiing, snowboarding and cycling.