We’ve been sort of quiet on the website lately. It’s not because we don’t have anything to say. As usual, this time of year, it’s because we don’t have a lot of free time to say it. Ski season has definitely arrived.
A brief history of Caldwell Sport mark II (abridged)
We moved from Boulder to Vermont at the end of May. We had two trips to Europe for factory visits and ski picking (June and August). We bought a new house/shop with the closing coming at the very end of August (just in time to watch the flood waters from Hurricane Irene come up and lick our toes). We started right in with building out the new shop, and didn’t quite finish before it was time to get rolling on work.
With help from Pat and Will O’Brien and Noah Hoffman, we got the grinder moved from Uncle John’s sugarhouse down to the new shop on a flatbed trailer in the pouring rain. About three hours after we moved the grinder the sugarhouse driveway washed out in a deluge that could only be appropriately appreciated on rollerskis. Ask Pat and Noah about it sometime. According to the official Osgood meteorogical and hydrological records, it rained 4.5 inches that day. OK – that part wasn’t all that abridged (sorry).
Back in the early Summer I placed an order for new grinder supplies, including new stones. Lars has been working on a new stone compound for several years now, and the first “final” production of the new “blue” stones was finally in the works. I had tested the new stone compound previously, and have been eager to get ahold of the new materials for use in developing finer and colder structures. So, we agreed that we would wait for the new stones to be ready for shipment, which meant cutting it close for delivery – probably receiving the materials in late September. Well, it’s now late October, and due to a series of unfortunate occurrences and the vagaries of the international shipping industy, I still don’t have the new stones.
What that means is that we’ve been slow making final structure, because it’s more difficult to do good work on the old stone. We’ve finished about 130 pairs that we really needed to get done, and we’ve finished them to a very high standard. But we’ve held most of the work for the arrival of the new stones. So we’ve now got a huge backlog of flattened and polished skis eagerly awaiting final structure. Later this week Wayne Johansson is bringing his stone down from Gatineau Nordique Sport in the Ottawa area to help me crank out a whole bunch of skis. Thanks Wayne! To the left you can see some of the pending batch. I can’t get it all in one picture. That photo there is about 300 pairs of skis. OK – that part was also unabridged (sorry).
Work has been going well. It’s a small operation – a family business – so everybody has to do everything. That means that Amy handles all the accounting, billing, bill-paying, data entry, ordering, phone answering, binding mounting, wax scraping, etc. Since I’m really busy, she’s also running the grinder for flattening and polishing. It’s a pretty good system.
One of the tricks to restarting an old business is figuring out who your customers are, and how much business you’re going to do. This isn’t a big deal with service, because the overhead is fixed and there isn’t much in the way of inventory (some service wax, grinder supplies, etc). However, new skis are a big deal! When we were working in Vermont previously, we would take orders, and then go select the skis to fill the orders from the manufacturer’s US distribution warehouse. Our last year in Vermont I spent 14 days in the Fall picking skis in the Fischer warehouse in new Hampshire. The model has changed significantly since then. Now, instead of picking skis using a flex tester, I use my hands and eyes. I’ve gotten better at spotting what I want, and the manufacturers have gotten better at pairing skis. So more time is spent identifying good skis, and less time is spent identifying matched pairs. I also travel to Europe to visit factories and talk to the racing department guys who work with the skis all the time. This helps us understand what those guys are trying to do, which makes it easier to recognize when they do it well! I pick inventory from some companies when I visit the racing departments in Europe. The long and short of it is, we have to start the season with our inventory in-hand, and we don’t go pick skis to order in the Fall. All of this adds up to a considerable risk in ski inventory. We have a lot of astonishingly good skis, but it’s still a lot of skis that need to be paid for. So this time of year always produces anxiety. Do we have enough skis? Do we have too many skis? So far sales have been quite good, but we’ll keep pushing that end of things as snow season gets firmly established. About half of our profits come from service, and about half come from new skis. So you’ll hear more about this!
OK – back to work!