"Jordan Jones (left) and Amy Dannwolf (right) met on the track team of Boston University. \ Image: Casey Day"
Outside Business Journal

Retailer Spotlight: Powder7 in Golden, Colorado

College entrepreneurs turned ski moguls blend web and in-store sales to give customers the best of both worlds

Ryan Wichelns

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In 2007, new business owners Jordan Jones and Amy Dannwolf still had a lot to learn, including when to not go on vacation. Thinking their online ski business would slow down for the holiday, Jones and Dannwolf (now husband and wife) decided to spend their long Thanksgiving weekend out of the country, leaving their only employee, Ofer Barniv, to hold down the fort.

When Cyber Monday rolled around, the couple was hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, while Barniv was buried in online orders, singlehandedly processing and shipping all of it. “We had no idea that Cyber Monday existed,” Dannwolf admitted now. Barniv kept his cool when the bosses returned later that week, but Dannwolf estimates Barniv shipped close to 40 pair of skis in one day, many times their normal tally. For a new business without a well-oiled process, that would have been an extreme one-man job. She knew they wouldn’t be able to do that again.

For the crew of Golden, Colorado’s Powder7, learning on the job has been a way of life. The owners met at college in Boston where Jones was earning extra cash by searching out cheap gear to resell on eBay. “If he found a pair of running shoes in City Sports’ basement for like $20 and he knew they were worth $75, he would buy them and resell them on eBay,” said Dannwolf, who quickly picked up the trade. The shtick continued out of Jones’ mom’s basement after they graduated, and they began to specialize in used demo skis that they picked up from local mountains.

In 2007, they made the move to their first warehouse and added new skis, boots, and accessories to their lineup of used skis. In between hauling car-loads of boxes to the post office (it took some time for them to realize UPS did pickups), they expanded beyond eBay and taught themselves code to build their own website. “We read books and Googled,” said Dannwolf. “We were pretty scrappy.”

Dannwolf and Jones recently instituted a policy that entitles employees after 5 years to a paid \
Dannwolf and Jones recently instituted a policy that entitles employees to a paid “sabbatical” after five years with the company to use on something like a ski trip. (Photo: Courtesy)

“We are 50 percent tech startup and 50 percent ski shop.”

While the web looms large in Powder7’s DNA (and represents roughly 80 percent of their sales today), when the option to open a small storefront in their second warehouse presented itself, Jones and Dannwolf didn’t expect to do too much business in the space. They looked at the small show floor as a fun add-on to their online business. Today, it’s a piece that sets them apart.

“I think ski shops and the ski industry were just stagnant and stuck to the older ways, where as we’ve been pushing to see how we can use technology to make selling skis better,” Dannwolf said. She refers to her storefront as a 3D version of Powder7’s busy website. With touch-screen computers and staff help, customers can use dropdowns and other features of the site to fine tune the exact parameters they want in skis. From there, customers can whittle out a few choices from the shop’s massive warehouse stock, then fondle their new toys before forking over the cash.

According to Dannwolf, while customers shopping at traditional shops can only check out what happens to be on the wall, the expanded options at Powder7 make for a better chance at success. “We can really dial in a person’s experience so they’re actually getting the best skis for them, and we do that through technology.”

Powder7 uses a finely-tuned process for shipping skis ordered on the web. // Image: Courtesy
Powder7 uses a finely-tuned process for shipping skis ordered on the web. (Photo: Courtesy)

“It’s kind of like shopping for shoes.”

The on-site warehouse is a treasure trove for in-store customers. While most shops have a limited amount of floor space to work with, Powder7 stocks between 40 and 50 different brands, Dannwolf said, likening it to shoe shopping. “We display only a fraction of our available new models in our showroom,” said Dannwolf. But when you peel back the curtain to the warehouse, you have immediate access to a massive stock of inventory—both new and used stuff—like you’d get in an online shopping experience. “We have a lot of customers who leave happy because we have something for everyone.”

Since starting out with just used skis, Powder7 has since added new products and accessories like boots. // Image: Courtesy
Kiosks set up around the floor give customers access to the store’s website and much larger warehouse stock. (Photo: Courtesy)

“If you can do something faster, why not do it faster?”

“We hate queues,” Dannwolf said. “We don’t see the point. If you can do something faster, why not do it?” Today, a staff of 20 and a finely-tuned system for processing and shipping online orders keeps the product moving out the door, which is a far cry from Barniv’s experience ten years ago. But just to be safe, Jones and Dannwolf no longer plan their vacations to fall over Cyber Monday.