With a new season approaching and sales moving out the door briskly, it’s only a matter of time before the snow is falling, and customers will want to try out new equipment. Here are some tips for setting up and running a more efficient and profitable rental program in your shop.

Dave Wilderotter, owner of Dave’s Ski Shops in the Tahoe area has been specializing in rentals for twenty years. He runs his shops with a straight-forward approach and a bit of common sense.

“You have to assume that people don’t know anything about the sport or the equipment. They don’t even know how a buckle works; or how to tie or even lace a boot,” he says. So Wilderotter always buys equipment according to how simple it is to use. When demoing the equipment at trade shows, he has his ski staff or even his employees’ girlfriends test the snowboards, boots, and bindings in an effort to take away the regular employee’s biases and preconceived notions they might have from being involved in the industry.

After buying the right equipment, he says the most frequent issue his staff has to watch when renting it out is making sure the customer gets the right size boot. “People don’t realize they need a snug boot. They want to have it be comfortable and loose,” he says. He also sees many first-timers wear three or four pairs of cotton socks for their first day. Of course, the staff isn’t always successful in convincing the customer to wear only one pair, but they always try.

To keep boot and binding systems simple for his customers, Wilderotter always pushes them toward step-ins. If they insist on straps, he’ll rent them a higher-priced (five dollars more) demo board. He’ll explain that the extra cost is because it’s a higher-performing product. But truthfully, the higher price is for the additional time and effort the straps cause his staff when setting up the boots and bindings for the renter.

Other shops are also making the move to step-ins for the rental programs. Mount Bachelor Snowboard Shop only offers strap bindings in the demo shops, but not in the rental shops.

“Step-ins really have less on-mountain problems,” says Shop Manager Jason Engelskircher. “We see this as doing a service to our customers.”

Wilderotter also pushes linerless boots to simplify things even more. “I even count the number of eyelets a boot has,” he says. For step-ins that have separate external highbacks on the bindings, he plans on keeping them stored with the boots, so that the heel cups won’t have to be adjusted each time to fit the boots. Then the boot and binding will be attached to the board the customer wants and the only set up needed is stance width and angles.

Wilderotter also encourages customers to come by and get set up the night before riding, and all his shops are open until midnight during the season.

Engelskircher and his employees always recommend to customers that they take lessons the first few times attempting snowboarding.

For the customers who aren’t sure if they want to snowboard or ski, Dave’s offers a week-long package where renters can switch back and forth as many times as they want. And things are looking for good for the snowboard side of things.

“About half of all skiers want to try snowboarding for a day,” says Wilderotter. “Half of those stay with snowboarding.”

-John Stouffer