Backshop Basics: Tips, tactics, and tools to make the most of your backshop

The backshop is more than just a smelly troll-hole where you stick your personality-challenged employees. Last year ski and snowboard repair work generated 30-million dollars in sales just in specialty stores, according to SnowSports Industries America research guru John Packer.

“When you consider snowboarding is 25 to 30 percent of the market, it becomes clear that snowboard repair work probably accounts for a total of fifteen- or twenty-million dollars in sales a year.”

Anecdotal evidence also indicates that backshop work has perhaps the highest margin of any department in a snowboard store. A ten-dollar edge-and-wax job requires about a buck fifty in materials and around twenty minutes of staff time. Typically, a full base grind and wax runs 30 dollars and carries an even bigger margin.

Shops of all types and sizes have proven themselves successful in the backshop game. For example, more than 4,000 boards each season pass through the backshop of The Shop in San Ramon, California about three hours from Tahoe–and according to Owner Kevin Watts, all the waxing, edging, and repair work is done manually.

Across the country in Scottia, New York, Goldstock’s Sporting Goods owns one of the most high-end machines, a Wintersteiger Micro 71. The store, which bills itself as the country’s oldest ski shop, takes in an average of 40 pairs of skis and five snowboards per day to be tuned or repaired.

Although these stores are nearly opposites in terms of size and product mix, both report backshop incomes accounting for around ten percent of total store revenues–a figure echoed across the country.

Finally, backshop work also provides many intangible benefits beyond the monetary rewards. So don’t cower from the fume zone, keep these tips in mind and make the most of this underrated department.

Remember, It’s Mostly Customer Service Mark Leobe, president of The Boardroom in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, says his store has recently moved its location and now needs to build its client base back up. He says his backshop will be the key factor in this.

“Our competition is Garts and ski stores,” he says. “Even though we’re the only pure snowboard store in Jackson Hole, it’s the backshop and our technical snowboard knowledge that differentiates us from everyone else. That definitely drives customers to us.” The Boardroom takes in about ten snowboards a day and has a Grindrite edging machine.

According to Leobe, a key function of his backshop is in the initial sales process: “I would be embarrassed to let someone walk out the door with a new board still in its shrink wrap. Factory waxes aren’t sufficient, so we hot wax and de-tune every new board, and explain up front and in a clear manner that a snowboard must be regularly maintained.”

AZP, with stores in Tempe and Flagstaff, Arizona, has a Grindrite ST600 belt sander and a couple of Toaster waxers. According to Owner Dennis Strieter, the AZP backshops produce up to 50,000 dollars in revenue a year. “The backshop is an extension of our shop’s position as a knowledgeable, friendly, and professional snowboard operation,” he says. “It extends our general reach into the community. We probably see 80 percent of boards we sell several times a year.

“Of course if people trust our technical expertise, they’re going to trust our opinions on all the other products we sell,” he continues, adding that customers are always encouraged to hang out and watch the backshop process. “Once we show a kid how to wax their board a couple of times, they’ll usually buy their own waxing kit from us.”

Hooked Through Education Selling backshop services usually starts with the initial sale. While some retailers complain that snowboarders don’t understand the need for waxing, more say once they’ve had the first wax job and edge sharpening, they immediately notice the difference. AZP subscribes to this theory and is a big believer in giving out coupons for free waxes with the purchase of a new board to get riders hooked on the benefits of tuning.

At the Boardroom, Leobe confronts a different customer-education problem altogether: “I have to convince many snowboarders they don’t need a base grind. With light scratches, a low-cost fill with P-Tex and a good wax job is often superior to a 30-dollar grind.”

Know Your Local Market The local market is perhaps the greatest factor to consider when setting up a backshop.

AZP in Tempe and The Shop are both several hours from snow, so local snowboarders tend to ride fewer days and are likely to come in for waxes more than edges. On the flip side, AZP keeps its edging machine in Flagstaff where riders hit the slopes more often and tend to thrash their equipment more frequently. AZP Flagstaff offers a 24-hour turnaround on backshop work, because Strieter says, “A seventeen year old doesn’t know what they’ll be doing in three days’ time.”

Interestingly, Goldstock’s does more than ten percent of its backshop jobs on snowboards, despite the fact that snowboard account for only five percent of sales. McKeoun says this confirms statistics that show snowboarders ride almost twice as much as skiers ski.

Few Barriers To Entry Surprisingly, setting up a backshop can be relatively inexpensive, thanks in part to a variety of leasing options available from the major backshop suppliers.

Streiter’s total outlay for his entire backshop serving two locations was around 10,000 dollars. Leobe bought a demo model edger for only 2,000 dollars.

Of course, proper training is a must. But even here there are a few cost-saving tips retailers should follow. Train every staff member to handle simple wax jobs. For the more skilled work or for running the variety of tuning machines available, most shops pick one or two reliable employees to train.

“Even the Micro 71 is not complex to own, especially if you understand a little bit about electronics,” says Goldstock’s Manager John McKeoun, about this machine’s ease of use. “You get better results once you know the limits of the machine and have played around with the ways of using it and seen the different results. But after eighteen months, I still haven’t once had to call a tech rep.”

Buy The Machine That’s Right For You For every size of snowboard retailer or rental operation, there’s an appropriate configuration of backshop gear–which many retailers may find surprisingly affordable.

A rudimentary backshop operation can be set up without any outlay of cash except for the purchase of a standard iron, wax files, and scrapers. However, the outlay of a few hundred dollars on the types of handtools offered by a company such as Sun Valley Ski Tools may be well worth the cost–especially when you factor in the time savings involved.

Recent additions to Sun Valley’s line includes a base-bevel adapter which allows edge filing increments of a half degree (compared to the whole degree increments on most machines).

The company also introduced a snowboard vice last year selling for 295 dollars that has exceeded sales expectations. A rotobrush system for 129 dollars allows backshops to give their customers treated wax finishes.

Another highlight in the backshop world is The Toaster, which is made by Skins and distributed by Grindrite. The Toaster is a parallel array of heavy blocks that looks similar to a Xylophone. A strip of waxed plastic from a roll is placed face down on the board and the toaster is placed on top and heated. When the plastic is peeled away it leaves a ready-for-the-hill wax finish. The consumer can keep the plastic paper on the board–protecting the finish–until it’s time to ride. The system is also effective for “sucking” old wax out of the board, says the manufacturer.

The global market for grinding, waxing, and edging machines is dominated by Grindrite and by Wintersteiger. Since last season when Wintersteiger took over distribution of Fontaine machines, both companies now offer similar products at similar prices.

Surprisingly, backshop tuning machines are terribly high-tech. Ease of use, accuracy, and durability are the key selling points according to both Grindrite and Wintersteiger. Stan Woliner, president of Grindrite, says his company is still servicing machines sold in 1971.

On-Hill Tuning Retailers and resorts now can buy a package deal of tuning tools that can be easily set up next to a chairlift. Both Grindrite and Wintersteiger offer programs that include a hot belt waxer and an edge grinder, both running on 110 volts, complete with a tent and banner.

The Wintersteiger package includes its Trim 35 base edge grinder with optional heated water tank (individual price 2,500 dollars) and its Wax Jet 55 waxer (individual price 2,995 dollars). Grindrite’s models are the ST4900 wide waxer and ST100 edger with similar options.

In-Shop Models If you’re a mid- to large-sized operation, look to purchasing a wide-belt sander.

Both Grindrite and Wintersteiger offer quality wide-belt sanders with plenty of options. Wintersteiger’s SNB55 sells for 5,000 dollars and Grindrite’s ST600 sells for 7,000–although an optional auto feed will push that up to the 10,000-dollar mark.

Either of these machines, combined with a hot belt waxer would be sufficient for the backshop of most medium to large retailers or those with several locations. Total outlay: 8,000 to 10,000 dollars before options.

Once a shop’s backshop volume passes the 1,500-board mark, most opt for a Grindrite ST18000XL or Wintersteiger Micro 71. The price-tag on each is near the 23,000-dollar mark, and both offer belt and stone grinding as well as the normal options such as edge grinders and autofeeds.

While larger, higher-capacity machines are available–for example the ST3200 and the Micro 91 (both 30,000 dollars)–these machines are really for only the highest-volume backshops such as major chains or large ski areas.

Work The Deals Purchasing a machine that’s been part of the demo fleet will dramatically reduce the cost of getting any of these machines into your backshop. Otherwise, both companies operate lease-to-own programs with three-year terms being the most common. But as Woliner insists, the durability of the machines means retailers should see them in terms of a twenty-year investment.

 

SidebarTools Of The Trade

Hand tools your backshop shouldn’t be without.

Per Bench

1. #3 Phillips and #2 Pozi Drive screwdrivers–fifteen dollars total.
2.
Base and side-edge file guides or multi tuners–twelve to twenty dollars.
3.
Hard chrome edge file (eight or ten inches)–five to ten dollars each.
4.
Gumu stones (gray and red)–five to seven dollars each.
5.
P-tex repair candles (black and clear)–two to three dollars per bundle.
6.
Steel scrapers–$3.50 to five dollars each.
7.
Panzar file or Versa plane–five to nine dollars each.
8.
Diamond stones (four inch)–twelve to fifteen dollars each.
9.
Wax scraper–$1.95 to $4.50 each
10.
File brush and card combo–around seven dollars.
11.
A 240-grit shop roll–eighteen to twenty dollars each.
12.
Variable-speed drill–65 to 85 dollars.
13.
Combination whet stones–eleven to twenty dollars each.
14.
Repair torch–$17.50 to twenty dollars.
15.
Vise system–89 to 250 dollars, depend finish–until it’s time to ride. The system is also effective for “sucking” old wax out of the board, says the manufacturer.

The global market for grinding, waxing, and edging machines is dominated by Grindrite and by Wintersteiger. Since last season when Wintersteiger took over distribution of Fontaine machines, both companies now offer similar products at similar prices.

Surprisingly, backshop tuning machines are terribly high-tech. Ease of use, accuracy, and durability are the key selling points according to both Grindrite and Wintersteiger. Stan Woliner, president of Grindrite, says his company is still servicing machines sold in 1971.

On-Hill Tuning Retailers and resorts now can buy a package deal of tuning tools that can be easily set up next to a chairlift. Both Grindrite and Wintersteiger offer programs that include a hot belt waxer and an edge grinder, both running on 110 volts, complete with a tent and banner.

The Wintersteiger package includes its Trim 35 base edge grinder with optional heated water tank (individual price 2,500 dollars) and its Wax Jet 55 waxer (individual price 2,995 dollars). Grindrite’s models are the ST4900 wide waxer and ST100 edger with similar options.

In-Shop Models If you’re a mid- to large-sized operation, look to purchasing a wide-belt sander.

Both Grindrite and Wintersteiger offer quality wide-belt sanders with plenty of options. Wintersteiger’s SNB55 sells for 5,000 dollars and Grindrite’s ST600 sells for 7,000–although an optional auto feed will push that up to the 10,000-dollar mark.

Either of these machines, combined with a hot belt waxer would be sufficient for the backshop of most medium to large retailers or those with several locations. Total outlay: 8,000 to 10,000 dollars before options.

Once a shop’s backshop volume passes the 1,500-board mark, most opt for a Grindrite ST18000XL or Wintersteiger Micro 71. The price-tag on each is near the 23,000-dollar mark, and both offer belt and stone grinding as well as the normal options such as edge grinders and autofeeds.

While larger, higher-capacity machines are available–for example the ST3200 and the Micro 91 (both 30,000 dollars)–these machines are really for only the highest-volume backshops such as major chains or large ski areas.

Work The Deals Purchasing a machine that’s been part of the demo fleet will dramatically reduce the cost of getting any of these machines into your backshop. Otherwise, both companies operate lease-to-own programs with three-year terms being the most common. But as Woliner insists, the durability of the machines means retailers should see them in terms of a twenty-year investment.

 

SidebarTools Of The Trade

Hand tools your backshop shouldn’t be without.

Per Bench

1. #3 Phillips and #2 Pozi Drive screwdrivers–fifteen dollars total.
2.
Base and side-edge file guides or multi tuners–twelve to twenty dollars.
3.
Hard chrome edge file (eight or ten inches)–five to ten dollars each.
4.
Gumu stones (gray and red)–five to seven dollars each.
5.
P-tex repair candles (black and clear)–two to three dollars per bundle.
6.
Steel scrapers–$3.50 to five dollars each.
7.
Panzar file or Versa plane–five to nine dollars each.
8.
Diamond stones (four inch)–twelve to fifteen dollars each.
9.
Wax scraper–$1.95 to $4.50 each
10.
File brush and card combo–around seven dollars.
11.
A 240-grit shop roll–eighteen to twenty dollars each.
12.
Variable-speed drill–65 to 85 dollars.
13.
Combination whet stones–eleven to twenty dollars each.
14.
Repair torch–$17.50 to twenty dollars.
15.
Vise system–89 to 250 dollars, depending on features. • The total is between 269 and 490 dollars per bench, with the vise system being the big variable.

Larger One-Per-Shop Items

1. Base welder with compressor and speed tip–750 dollars.
2.
Two repair pistols (150 watt minimum)–120 to 140 dollars.
3.
Two wax irons–nineteen dollars each.
4.
Dremmel tool or flex shaft attachment–40 to 150 dollars.
5.
Binding screw box (various lengths and thread configurations)–75 dollars.
6.
Binding replacement parts–75 to 200 dollars. (Price will be dependent on how many makes you decide to service.)
7.
Thread lock for mounting hardware–seventeen dollars.
8.
Two rolls each clear/black three millimeter welding wire for base welder–fourteen dollars each
9.
Repair sticks (eleven millimeter) for repair pistols (four bundles each clear/black)– $3.50 to $4.25 each.
10.
Epoxies–50 to 80 dollars, depending on type and cure times selected.
11.
Epoxy supplies (sticks, cups, gloves, etc.)–25 dollars.
12.
Chisel set–25 to 36 dollars.
13.
Soft-blow hammer–eighteen dollars.
14.
Replacement edges and hardware–twenty dollars.
15.
Miscellaneous hand tools, clamps, pliers, etc.–100 dollars total.
16.
Snowboard helicoil kit–45 dollars.
17.
Replacement T-nuts and installation tools–40 to 100 dollars, depending on style and size.
• On average, all these items will cost approximately 1,700 dollars.
pending on features. • The total is between 269 and 490 dollars per bench, with the vise system being the big variable.

Larger One-Per-Shop Items

1. Base welder with compressor and speed tip–750 dollars.
2.
Two repair pistols (150 watt minimum)–120 to 140 dollars.
3.
Two wax irons–nineteen dollars each.
4.
Dremmel tool or flex shaft attachment–40 to 150 dollars.
5.
Binding screw box (various lengths and thread configurations)–75 dollars.
6.
Binding replacement parts–75 to 200 dollars. (Price will be dependent on how many makes you decide to service.)
7.
Thread lock for mounting hardware–seventeen dollars.
8.
Two rolls each clear/black three millimeter welding wire for base welder–fourteen dollars each
9.
Repair sticks (eleven millimeter) for repair pistols (four bundles each clear/black)– $3.50 to $4.25 each.
10.
Epoxies–50 to 80 dollars, depending on type and cure times selected.
11.
Epoxy supplies (sticks, cups, gloves, etc.)–25 dollars.
12.
Chisel set–25 to 36 dollars.
13.
Soft-blow hammer–eighteen dollars.
14.
Replacement edges and hardware–twenty dollars.
15.
Miscellaneous hand tools, clamps, pliers, etc.–100 dollars total.
16.
Snowboard helicoil kit–45 dollars.
17.
Replacement T-nuts and installation tools–40 to 100 dollars, depending on style and size.
• On average, all these items will cost approximately 1,700 dollars.