In the heart of Ketchum, Idaho, blocks from Sun Valley, the oldest ski resort in North America and a land seriously steeped in ski heritage, lies the Board Bin, arguably the oldest snow and skate shop in the Northwest, and ground zero for the area’s thriving shred scene.
Like most people in town, Jim Slanetz is a transplant, who began snowboarding on the East Coast in 1982 before opening his first snowboard shop, Board with Life, in Burlington, Vermont to avoid getting a real job. Slanetz sold the shop in 1986, and diligently funneled the proceeds into supporting his shred habit in the Alps. When the funds ran dry, Slanetz moved to Sun Valley and opened the Board Bin in 1988 with his business partner and wife, Karin Reichow.
“Our first shop here in Ketchum was in a heated garage and we lived in the back,” explains Slanetz, who is a fixture on the mountain and knows every inch of it. “I think we opened at 1 pm everyday so we could ride in the mornings.”
As the Board Bin celebrates its 25th anniversary, we caught up with Slanetz at the 2012 TransW0rld Snow Conference for a tour of the shop, a look at what’s trending, and the highlights of the last quarter century.
Looking back, what have been some of the best moments for you over the years?
For me, the biggest highlights have been the events we put on and rallying the community behind us to get the Ketchum Skate Park built. Another high point is that we have great employees in Dave Kelso, who has worked for us almost 19 years, and Lydia Wills, who has worked for us almost 14 years. [They] have allowed us to spend time with our kids Ziggy,13, and Shea, 10, and even live in Garmisch, Germany for a school year.
My friends back in New Hampshire are always way more impressed that we’ve had movie stars such as Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, and Robin Williams shop at our store.
How did this season go for you?
This season was about the same as last year—not great but decent enough. I think most retailers that are still in the game have made the necessary adjustments to keep their businesses viable. We are lucky in Sun Valley because with the great park and unbelievable snowmaking, conditions were really good even with this year’s meager early snowfall.
What’s your customer mix look like as far as locals compared with tourists?
We are about 50/50 in the summer and winter, but in our spring and fall slack seasons it’s the locals who keep us alive.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen since ’88?
As the longest running specialty board shop in the Northwest, we have seen a lot of changes in the industry and sport over the years. Locally owned shops are key to keeping boardsports thriving. This year we have been involved with putting on our annual skate contest, a rail jam, a banked slalom, a Go Skateboarding Day picnic and a grand opening celebration for the new section of the Hailey Skate Park. We are also working with the city on an expansion of the Ketchum Skate Park. These type of things naturally happen with a local shop and dedicated board community. Internet retailers and big box stores will never be able to have the same effect on local scenes.
On a somewhat related topic I think our industry, as do most in the open market, have way too many product choices. We should really be somewhere between Communist Russia and where we are today. There are far too many consumer choices confusing retailers as well as consumers. Simplifying lines would be a benefit to all players on the product chain. It would also allow smaller retailers to be more competitive with online stores that are able to carry a wider range of products.
How are inventory levels looking after the winter?
A little high especially on outerwear. I am a firm believer that it is OK to mix in last season’s softgoods with in-season merchandise. Good product is good product and often snowboard companies are so forward in their styles that it takes us here in Idaho a little while to catch up, so last year’s outerwear sometimes does better a year later.
You guys have a really broad mix of skate, snow, and apparel for guys, gals, and groms. What have been your three best performing categories over the last year?
With two great Dreamland built skateparks in the valley our skate business is fairly consistent. Shoes are also a category that remains strong. Our biggest growth has been in the kids category for both boys and girls.
On the product front, what have been your three best selling brands and SKUs so far this year?
We do really well with our shop apparel—Board Bin and Sun Valley/Ketchum T’s and Hats.
The three next best SKUs are:
2. Toms classic canvas slip-ons
3. Volcom youth stone socks
Snowboard-wise we do well with Yes, Lib Tech, and Never Summer.