November 9, 2017
By Hannah Johnson
Indisputable truth: Nothing crushes an outdoor experience—or a day on the slopes— quite like a crappy-fitting boot, and the hot spots, blisters, aches and pains that come along with it.
Just ask, Cortney Valavane, manager of Christy Sports in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her ace-in-the-hole is a 25-year-old assistant manager, Jake Nelson.
Jake Nelson is a finalist in our Shop Star program. We’re teaming up with The North Face to bring a few exceptional young retail employees to the upcoming Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show for an immersive outdoor industry experience.
Nelson, was hired in 2014 to work in hard goods, and within the year was trained on how to fit ski and snowboard boots by the store’s assistant manager, as well as regional manager Davin Holz, who is well known in the area for his expertise on the skill.
But Nelson took it upon himself to take his art to the next level.
“He did lots of research on his own time to increase his knowledge base,” Valavane says. “He studied shop manuals and got to know specs on the boots, learning how they worked with different fits.”
Invest in education
Valavane says that education and training opportunities are both key to the cultivation of talented staff like Nelson. In addition to boot-fitting trainings with assistant and regional managers, Christy Sports employees like Nelson also attend yearly clinics with vendors and sales representatives and participate in on-snow tests for the next year’s equipment.
“We use these training and educational opportunities to build a level of knowledge that really set ourselves apart from some of the competition close to us,” she says.
Valavane also says that sometimes it pays to encourage employees to get outside experience. In the summer of 2016, Nelson left Christy Sports to intern at Moment Skis, learning about building and designing skis, an endeavor that Valavane supported.
“I encourage employees to have other avenues outside of the store where they can make other contacts and have new experiences,” Valavane says. “If there is an opportunity to work with manufacturer or another company, that will benefit the shop in the long run.”
Creating a cult following
Nelson’s dedication to boot fitting and recognition among customers has been crucial to the success of the store’s boot-fitting operations, and Valavane says that Christy’s boot sales have increased since he joined the team. Nelson has also passed his knowledge and passion along to fellow employees, training them alongside the assistant and regional manager.
He puts in the time, too. It is not uncommon for Nelson to come in before or after a work shift to cater to a customer’s schedule, Valavane says.
“Jake is very respected,” says Andrea Fetzer, the store’s soft goods supervisor. “Whether they are just getting into skiing or have been a boot fitter themselves, people realize his technique is special.”
Amazon can’t touch this kind of service
In an industry that is increasingly facing competition from online retailers and websites like Amazon, Valavane considers having knowledgeable and personable boot fitters like Nelson an advantage for the store.
“Boots are one of those things that are very difficult to buy online unless you’ve been fit in a store,” Valavane says. “The average person who’s buying boots is not going to know right away what model is right for them.”
“When buying online, you won’t get the full experience and have someone custom fit your foot,” adds Fetzer. “Jake’s personal touch on customer service is definitely a leg up on purchasing something online and not having any interaction.”
Nearly four years after joining the Christy Sports team, Nelson has established himself as a leader within the store. This season, he was promoted to assistant manager and assistant hard goods buyer for the region. Valavane says that the key to fostering young talent like Nelson is instilling confidence, knowledge, and excitement into their work experience.
“Jake has been able to mentor and motivate newer staff and give them a higher level of knowledge, as well as help them create relationship with our customers,” she says. “If you see someone who has level of interest or potential, give them every opportunity you can for them to grow. Get them connected with more experienced people you may have access to, have confidence in them, and tell them they can do it.”
Valavane believes that nurturing a new generation of talented outdoor retail employees will insure that the future of the industry will be in good hands.
“It is only going to increase business and keep the industry alive,” she says. “All of us here are really passionate about skiing, so continuing to keep our knowledge level high and staying excited about what we do will translate into the customers’ experience in the store.”