Sturtevant’s is an anomaly in this day and age of point-and-click online shopping. Mostly because the company’s employees would rather interact with you face-to-face; and go out of their way to do just that. “We’re a brick and mortar storefront-oriented company,” said Tracy Gibbons, President of Ski PNW, the current corporate name that oversees Sturtevant’s, Ski Mart, and SkiBonkers. “That’s how we started and that’s what we feel we know best.”
Sturtevant’s, the iconic Bellevue sports store that seems to have been around forever, hasn’t ignored the online world. They do indeed have a website, it’s just not where their energy goes. “I’d say about 90 percent of our sales are in-store,” said Gibbons, “Ten percent online.” Not exactly Jeff Bezos’ business model.
“We feel consumers really should be coming in and talking to the staff and getting more information on the products that they’re buying,” Gibbons said. “It’s a healthy investment to get the equipment and it’s important to have a two-way conversation about what products are best for customers. We feel that’s a better solution than online. We still feel the customer wants to have that interaction.”
Evidently Gibbons knows what she’s talking about because this strategy has been keeping the business in business for over 40 years. It started in 1977 when Duncan Campbell and Al Quinn opened Sturtevant’s in Bellevue in the location of what had previously been Sturtevant’s of Sun Valley. When Duncan and Al bought the location, they kept the Sturtevant’s name but dropped the Sun Valley. As of now there are three stores in the Puget Sound area under the LLC: Sturtevant’s and Ski Mart in Bellevue and Ski Mart in Tacoma.
But there’s another “store” that they run, and it makes considerable contributions to their bottom line despite the fact that it’s only open four days a year: SkiBonkers. SkiBonkers is another Northwest institution that acts as the official kick-off to ski season, even though it takes place about two months before there’s enough snow on the mountains to make a decent mogul. Running over Labor Day weekend, SkiBonkers is a winter sports sale that does not take place in an actual Sturtevant’s or Ski Mart store. In fact, the company usually doesn’t know where the sale is going to take place until about two months beforehand.
“Property managers will not commit to us until usually 60 days ahead,” said Gibbons. “They’re trying to lease space on a long-term basis whereas we only need it for a week or ten days. We did the sale in a tent for years for that reason. Usually in the Northgate or Southcenter parking lots.” This four-day Valhalla for winter sports enthusiasts takes a village to run. They draw from the sales staff of their three stores as well as hire about 50 part-timers. Vendor reps take up the rest of the sales floor slack. How big is this sale to Sturtevant’s? Between 7 and 10 percent of their annual sales comes from these 96 hectic hours.
And SkiBonkers didn’t even used to be a Sturtevant’s property. Back in the day there were three big ski sales: SkiBonkers, Sniagrab (Bargains spelled backwards) and the Sturtevant’s anniversary sale — all on Labor Day weekend. Sniagrab was Osborn and Ulland’s baby while SkiBonkers was with Olympic Sports. When Olympic Sports went belly-up, Sturtevant’s swooped in and snapped up the golden goose that was SkiBonkers. “We were awarded SkiBonkers I believe in May of 2005 and we had to turn around and put on what was basically a million-dollar tent sale in four months and that wasn’t anything we’d done before,” Gibbons said. “We paid a little bit for the name but had to buy a lot of Olympic Sports inventory as part of the deal.”
Sturtevant’s is still going strong but sees even more opportunity for growth, mostly due to the area’s skyrocketing population. “We’re super excited about the growth in the Puget Sound region and we’re trying to figure out how to help those people become winter sports enthusiasts,” said Gibbons. “When people move to Colorado they think ‘I should learn to ski,’ but it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when they move to Seattle or Bellevue.”
Get them away from their computers, their video games and virtual worlds and into an actual, physical Sturtevant’s store and they’ll most likely be carving turns before they know it. Forty-one years of success says so.