Kristi Mountain Sports

Alamosa, CO

Sales were strong this past year at Kristi Mountain Sports, where being “nimble” and “adaptable” as a business were keys to success.

This single door specialty shop, which began as a ski shop in 1969, has been in business for more than 50 years — and 40 years under the helm of the Burt Family. It is located along the Rio Grande in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and at the gateway of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Year-over-year sales for the shop through March were up 25 percent, led by Bike (+72%), Cross-country ski hardgoods (+74%), Ski hardgoods (+69%) and Food (+64%). Apparel was down 10% year-over-year; footwear was up 8%.

It’s been quite a year, to say the least. “ We’re tired,” says Raleigh Burt, business development manager, in describing the past year at Kristi Mountain Sports, which was only mandated to shut down for one day before modified orders allowed for it, as a bike shop, to remain open as an essential service. “We chose to stay open through the whole pandemic to support our community and customers,” says Burt. “We believed our products offered a positive impact for people because they allow them to get outside and relieve some stress in a safe, socially distanced manner.”

Adds Burt, “Working retail face-to-face with customers over the past year has been challenging and stressful. Every customer who walks in the store has a different perspective on the pandemic-some are paranoid, others are apathetic. This required a very dynamic interaction with every customer, which was exhausting. We are looking forward to returning to business as usual in terms of personal interactions in the shop within the next 12 months.”

Getting product in stock is the main concern at the store, says Burt. “We have some major inventory holes — primarily in the bike category — which will not be filled until Fall 2021 or Spring 2022. This will significantly affect our cash flow this summer.”

The store’s positive sales results this year came in part from “gambling big time in Spring 2020” when the shop did not cancel any of its pre-season orders. “When the initial lockdown ended, our shelves were fully stocked with outdoor gear ready to sell to hungry customers who were itching to go outside. Our buyers identified this surge in demand early and were able to increase our inventory in some categories before vendors ran out of inventory.”

“When the initial lockdown ended, our shelves were fully stocked with outdoor gear ready to sell to hungry customers who were itching to go outside. ”  

The biggest lesson learned at Kristi Mountain Sports over the past year-plus? Burt says it’s the fact the shop is still relevant. “I think a lot of vendors and customers look at our business and think we’re outdated and behind the times as a small brick-and-mortar retailer with no ecommerce,” notes Burt. “Over the last year, I think the small independent retailers were more nimble and able to adapt to their specific environment to continue to operate through the pandemic. Customers appreciated our existence this past year and enjoyed being able touch and try product before buying rather than being stuck making online purchases. Hopefully vendors realize the importance in the diversity of independent brick-and-mortar retailers across the country because we moved a ton of their product over the past year.”

On the vendor side, Burt says, “A lot of brands showed their true colors over the past year. We saw some take advantage of the situation by advertising heavy discounts online in an attempt to grow their DTC mailing lists. Other brands took the retailer’s situation into consideration and tried to make sure we had access to inventory that would sell at full margin to keep our doors open. I do want to give a shout out to those brands that prioritized product for shops, who did not cancel orders.”

A long-term issue the shop is facing is staffing and payroll, says Burt. “Currently, the state minimum wage is $12.32/hr., which has already created problems with us being able to hire and retain enough staff members as well as differentiate pay significantly between novice vs. experienced staff members,” says Burt, adding that a national push for $15/hr. has his store “very concerned.”

For this summer and fall, Burt is looking forward to some stability in day to day operations. “We are ready to just do business and not have to tiptoe through the social, political, public health minefield that existed last year.”