Ian Prichard and Joe Sternberg served their apprenticeships turning screws on the assembly line of renting skis to tourists. The experience convinced them there had to be a way to provide better service to customers.
The result is Black Tie Ski Rentals, which delivers rental ski and snowboard packages to hotel rooms, vacation condominiums and private homes all over Steamboat.
"We came out of the chute last winter with an extremely low price, the highest level of product and the best service," Sternberg said. "We really turned a lot of heads."
The owners of Black Tie Ski Rentals say their customers avoid the experience of having to wait in line to rent ski and snowboard equipment in a crowded ski shop. Instead, they are fitted with equipment in the comfort of their vacation property, often the night before they plan to begin their vacation on the mountain.
Sternberg managed Steamboat Ski and Sport for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. for four years. Prichard came on board as assistant manager before transitioning into a role as a full-time representative in the ski area's group sales department. They recognized a demand for a different level of service in the profitable ski rental business.
"This is more of an attempt to take care of the guests," Sternberg said. "The whole rental experience, it's just not a nice experience. Our service puts the customer in control."
Black Tie customers can begin the process on the Internet, by reserving their equipment in advance. They can supply information about their level of ability and their sizes.
When customers are ready, one of four vans from Black Tie will arrive at their door by appointment. Two ski technicians bring skis, boots and poles into the customer's vacation lodgings in large gear bags.
Robin Craigen of Moving Mountains Chalet said Black Tie has enhanced his ability to take care of his customers. Craigen and his wife, Heather, set out to pamper their guests.
"Black Tie's type of service is a perfect match for what we are trying to accomplish. We share the same philosophy on customer service," Craigen said. "It's just another piece in the puzzle of offering the ultimate seamless vacation experience."
Prichard says the vans leave Black Tie's warehouse on River Road at Tree Haus pre-packed to "fit" as many as four different customers or families. A family of four can be outfitted in as few as 20 minutes, but often, their visit with customers takes on a more personal feel.
"We often start with the children while the adults are finishing dinner," he said. "It's not unusual for our staff to be asked to share the food and beverages. It's a really nice experience.
For customers, the luxury of having their ski rentals delivered to their room doesn't cost any more than visiting a ski shop, Sternberg said. In fact, he predicts that this winter, Black Tie's packages will range from $1 to $2 less than what most ski shops charge.
Black Tie staffers also arrive with a bag packed with ski accessories, such as goggles, available for sale. However, they do not engage in selling skis and boots.
The reason Black Tie can offer personal service at competitive prices, he said, is that it doesn't have to maintain an expensive bricks-and-mortar retail space, and its employees rarely have down time. The busiest time of day for Black Tie is from 3 to 11 p.m.
Black Tie can rent junior packages including skis, boots and poles for $18 a day. Sport packages for adults begin at $28, high-performance ski or snowboard packages are $35 and demo ski packages cost $43.
Black Tie also rents helmets and ski clothing. All packages require a two-day minimum rental.
When a customer's ski vacation is over, Black Tie swings by the lodging property to retrieve its equipment. In the case of condominiums and hotels that have ski lockers, guests can leave the gear in their lockers when they check out.
Prichard said his young company is working to expand awareness of its service among property management companies and vacation tour operators. They encourage concierges to present the availability of ski rental delivery as if it were part of the services offered by the lodging property.
Prichard's experience with tour operators gives him insights into how to build relationships that advance the business beyond the limits of Steamboat. He and his partner are aggressively pursuing group business with people who package ski vacations for their customers.
"It makes them feel like heroes with their customers," Prichard said. "It really adds a level of service, which is all tour operators can grab onto."
Black Tie Ski Rentals is employing a full-time information technology director this year to help the company build and refine its Web presence.
"That's where we showcase our product," Sternberg said.
They are building a database of previous customers so they can strengthen bonds and encourage repeat business.
Sternberg and Prichard have built their inventory to 1,000 sets of ski and snowboard rental packages this winter. If everything goes according to plan, that equipment will be cycling through the modest warehouse on River Road at a rapid pace this winter.
Black Tie Ski Rentals can be reached at 1-800-821-4754 or 970-870-3172, or online at blacktieskis.com.
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