They're young. By the time they're 40, they're either in another business, or they've moved up to management. The good ones ski as much as possible. Weekdays they go to local areas; rare weekends they travel further, and at the end of the season they take a month or two out West.
They make anywhere from $3 to $9 an hour, and work six days a week including nights and weekends. Most of them have other jobs in the summer.
They love what they do. They look at it as an extension of a hobby. It is this love that comes through when they work, not their sales technique. They make sales because they know their products and they are enthusiastic about them.
They are the area's ski shop personnel. The best of them attend summer clinics and are certified by manufacturers to repair, adjust and fit equipment. Others attend clinics run by manufacturer's representatives, the traveling salesmen who sell selling as much as merchandise.
They know their wares, and they know their customers. Each one has his or her own way to catch customers who are overstating their skiing ability. h
"It's easy to buy more ski than you can handle," said Dave Christmas, 22, who has been working at the Ski Center in Spring Valley for three years. "People constantly buy equipment they can't get full potential out of," Christmas said.
Christmas said many of his customers know a great deal about skis. They read the bench test articles in the ski magazines, and often try skis before they buy. "I learn a lot about skis from my customers," he said.
Zsolt Csiszar, 21, of the Ski Chalet, specializes in boots. He said he can tell how well someone skis by the skiing position they assume when trying on boots. If they flex ankles and knees and lean forward they are skiers. If they bend at the hips and keep their legs straight, they are beginners.
Church Laporte, manager and chief ski salesman at Irving's Connecticut Avenue store, asks people where they ski. "If they ski Killington, they ski better than if they ski locally," he said.
None of the ski sales people interviewed have had training in sales techniques.
Most good ski sales people attend clinics during the offseason to learn how to work and repair skis and boots.
In addition to the special clinics, manufacturer's reps run clinics for ski shop personnel when they visit the store to make a sale. Early in the season there can be a seminar a day.
"You don't have to go to all of them," Laporte said. "These things are pretty much all made the same."
Christmas disagreed. "Each ski is different, and you have to know what the differences are if you are going to be able to sell the right ski to the right skier."
Laporte said his store caters to beginners. Many of their skis are "makeups," skis made to the specifications of Irving's buying department. Other large sporting goods chains do the same; Herman's, with 80 stores, is a leader in makeups.
"We have a meeting every Saturday morning and they stress service all the time," said Nancy Porten of the Ski Haus. Other sales people in specialty stores agreed.
"We don't have a lot of mechanics," said Laporte. We have a mechanic at Tyson's Corner, and we send all our work to him. He's certified by the manufacturers."
Manufacturer certification can be a guarantee for binding mounting.
The sales people agreed that most customers follow their advice. "People ask for skis and boots. They don't ask for a particular kind usually," Christmas said. All the sales people agreed that men are more likely to buy based on the information sales people give them. Women want to color-coordinate more than the men do, and often will go for color rather than performance. The salesmen shrugged their shoulders at that notion, but Porten understood. So do I.