Black Tie Ski Rentals celebrates 20 years at Steamboat


Ian Pritchard, who started Black Tie Ski Rentals with Joe Sternberg in 2002, celebrates 20 years in business this winter.
John F. Russell / Steamboat Pilot and Today

If Ian Pritchard was in the music business, he might just be thanking country-western singing legend Alan Jackson and his family for helping inspire Black Tie Ski Rentals over two decades ago.

“We were working at the Sheraton ski shop at the foot of the Steamboat ski area, and we had a request to go up to a certain VIP’s room to do a fitting because he didn’t want to be tracked down by autograph seekers. “said Pritchard, who started Black Tie Skiing with Joe Sternberg in 2002.” That person was Alan Jackson, and we all got to go, and it was a great experience. … It was a bit like light bulb moment.

It was then that Pritchard and Sternberg came up with the idea for their company, which turns 20 this winter. It was one of the first ski and snowboard rental delivery companies in the country, giving customers the option of getting the gear they needed without going through the traditional rental shop on the first day of a ski vacation. .

“We didn’t need the expensive storefront,” Pritchard said. “We could do it from a van and just make it a better experience for people. “

At first, the pair stored a few hundred pairs of skis in a one-car garage, and when customers called, they gathered what they needed and headed to homes, condominiums, and hotel rooms to outfit. their customers have the right equipment.

Pritchard said the idea was to provide a more convenient way for people to rent skis. Black Tie was able to find an audience in Steamboat Springs and quickly discovered that the model worked in other ski towns as well.

Three years after starting the business, Pritchard switched to licensing other owners at other ski resorts. He continued to own and operate the Steamboat site until about five years ago, when he sold the business to Brian and Brett Savino’s father-son team.

Black Tie has branches in Canada, California, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and North Carolina, and this year the business will expand to 18 locally owned and operated branches with the addition of ‘a branch in Boone, North Carolina, and another in Whitefish. , Montana.

“I think the key to our success is staying true to the independently owned and operated model, and that’s what makes us truly unique,” ​​said Pritchard. “We are the only delivery service that has really found a way to make the licensing model work, so there is a lot of pride in all of our owners and all of our locations, which are mostly field boots in their own. stations. “

Pritchard said the key is finding owners with local connections and then allowing those owners to own the business.

“It really is the magic sauce in our recipe,” said Pritchard. “It’s not a corporate entity trying to impose a model on everyone. We give all owners a lot of freedoms. I am offering recommendations, not requirements.

Brett Savino said he ran around five ski rental vans during the height of the ski season. It also offers an amenity center at the base of Steamboat Resort where guests can store their skis overnight, and trained professionals can check with them to make sure the skis and boots are properly fitted.

“When you rent from us, it’s not just, here’s your heaven and go have fun,” said Brett Savino. “The customer is able to come back with us and we make sure you have the best possible mountain experience. “

Prichard bought Sternberg from the company in 2012, and the two remained friends until Sternberg’s death in February 2018. Today, Pritchard focuses on the licensing side of the company.

“I’m still very passionate about the idea of ​​finding differentiators,” said Pritchard. “We can no longer say that we are the only ones doing the delivery – there are certainly other players – but we were the first, and we think we are doing our best with our customer service. But even on top of that, we still need more, so this is where we really focus on the technology.

Last year, the company streamlined the rental process by implementing a fully digital, paperless rental process that allows customers to sign waivers electronically. The company also added foot scan phone app technology that allows customers to scan their feet. This year, Black Tie will be implementing text communication capabilities to organize gear adjustments and returns.

“We appreciate that Black Tie is an innovator in the industry,” said Brett Savino.

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