The Sparc Way

In 1973 I rode a snowboard for the first time, I’ve been riding ever since. Ten years ago I moved to Mammoth Lakes, California with two things in mind. First of all , the season in Vail had ended, and Mammoth had at least a month and a half to go. Snowboarding was the most important thing to me. I also had a half finished business plan on starting a snowboard shop with me, one of several I had written during the last year. I had worked the past season in a retail store, and felt like I had a grasp of the basics of retail. I knew the guys who ran the best snowboard shop in Vail, and the time seemed right to open my own. I had about a thousand dollars in my bank account and needed to raise some money to start a store. I finished the business plan, raised some money, and signed a lease. I opened Wave Rave Snowboard Shop in Mammoth Lakes in October of 1989 with about 1000 square feet and two employees.

Ten years later the shop has grown to five times that size and many more employees. Through that time I have always tried to stay proactive with the running of my business. I figured out that the one part of the store that could greatly affect my ability to survive was both me and my employees ability to move a lot of product. It wasn’t so much our ability to ring up gear at the register, but our ability to use selling skills to get the customer everything they could possibly need. To make sure they had a great time riding, and to make them customers for life. The challenge was then, how to educate myself and how to train my staff, who’s interests were snowboarding and only snowboarding, how to sell.

About eight years ago I began to compile information on selling. I took bits and pieces from many different places. Names like Brian Tracey, Zig Ziglar, Ed Rigsbee, Dennis Waitley and Harry Friedman were and still are great authors and speakers relating to selling skills. Many people both inside and outside our industry who knew I was way into this kind of thing helped me tremendously with helpful ideas, hints and tools. I also had many outsiders come in my store and train me and my employees. We listened watched, trained and did roll plays on selling skills.

The basic formula was always the same: The basics of customer service followed by how to open the sale, finding out what the customer wants and needs, showing the product, using different closing techniques, handling it when the customer says no, and then confirming their purchase and inviting them back into the store. It’s no secret, that’s how it goes. You just have different presenters doing it in different ways, each with their own unique twist. The main challenge to the retail stores in our industry is this; how do you get the 16 to thirty year old snowboarder to relate to these skills so that will equate to more sales, and more money in the register? This has become kind of an obsession of mine and will be as long as I have a store. It is one more chip in my favor to help the longevity of my business.

The skills that we were getting were a good base, and I knew that they were leading to more sales in my store. There was still a void, a gap that wasn’t being filled. Yes, some were using the skills, and became very good salespeople, but it still wasn’t right. I was looking for a way to have using selling skills be a cool part of the culture of my store.

There are several key elements or obstacles in the way to making this type of culture in a store happen. The first is realizing what and who we are. My staff and I range from about age 16 to early thirties. We care about snowboarding, skating, surfing, climbing and other activities. We also care about being able to pay our bills. We do not want to listen to some guy in a coat ant tie tell us how to sell. We need to be able to identify with the person who is training us. We need to be able to understand the person who is telling us how to do something differently than the way we are already used to doing it. We need to relate these skills to our real life experiences.


I began my own in store video tape training program about three years ago. I started by videotaping myself in front of the camera talking about all the selling skills I have learned over the years. I added to that different roll plays of doing the selling skills using actual situations that happen in any retail store. It wasn’t just saying the right things at the right time, or listening to the customer. It was about the psychology behind selling, about what is going on inside any customers mind. It was about how selling is going on all the time, and that there really is a formula for selling. It was about using your own personality, about never letting the customer make you feel bad. It was about being relaxed and friendly, about being cool to the customer and caring about their needs. It was also kind of boring and hard to watch.

That rough edited three hour video presentation served its purpose and worked pretty well, but I knew I had to cut out the boringness factor out of it for it to really work how I wanted. I knew what I had to do, but like anything it cost money and time. The video tape medium really seemed to work, everyone can watch TV. I had to make it exiting, interesting and easy to watch.

Around the same time, I had gotten a hold of a video series similar to what I was thinking of, that was done by someone in the mountain bike industry. I watched their series, and thought it was OK. I heard they were going to do something for the ski and snowboard industry. I knew that from what I had done in the previous years, and that if this type of product was successful in other industries, why not do my own. This type of product was going to be offered to our industry by someone else within a year anyway. I knew I could produce a video tape series on selling skills designed for our industry as good as anyone else.

All I needed to produce the video series I wanted was to invest time and money. I also knew that whatever amount I put into it was going to come back, even if I only used it in my own store. I began last summer and have been met with tremendous support from retailers, manufacturers, and industry groups, many of which made this idea materialize into a product you can buy. As with any business start up, there are the unforeseen obstacles, but my business partner and I should have our six tape series ready to ship by early July.


In the next four issues of Transworld business, you will see articles written by me on selling skills. I’m not professing to be a guru on selling, I’m just compiling information from many sources. These tapes I have produced do not tell you how to run a business, nor do they address product knowledge. Obviously every store is different, and the owner or manager needs to train their employees on the different operational sides of any business. These tapes are about selling skills, and how to use them with the customer that buys the products we sell. They are designed to be a simple tool for you to use to be more profitable in your business. This tape series is designed to take the burden off of you or your managers having to educate your staff on retail selling skills.

As in any specialty sport industry, our world is like a funnel. The manufacturers produce hundreds of thousands, if not millions of individual products. These products are purchased by hundreds of thousands if not millions of customers. The majority of these products are sold in stores by maybe tens of thousands of different sales people. All the products pass directly through them. In the next issue of Transworld Business we will go into what is covered in the first two tapes of the six tape series; customer service basics, becoming casual friends, opening the sale, and finding out what the customer wants and needs. Until then, enjoy your summer, you’ve got a lot of product to move next winter.