Monday, February 26, 2007

Is It a Contest?

There's been an increasingly ugly dynamic at the old touring center for the past several years. It started when a new rental manager took over for the one who had set up the rental shop and program for the ski touring foundation in 2000.

The first rental manager got along with everybody. There was a sense of teamwork even though rental and retail operate under separate ownership. Since the old manager left, the rental shop goes through many of the motions of cooperation, but there is an undercurrent of destructive criticism. Lately it has come out in passive-aggressive remarks implying the rental staff and ski patrollers work far harder than those useless drones in retail.

Retail staff don't launch any grenades toward touring center staff. On the contrary, we promote the lessons and rentals all the time. Perhaps we don't toss enough bouquets, but we don't throw handfuls of dung, either. We're quiet people who have already spent an hour in the car before we even start work. Almost no one in the rental shop drives more than a few minutes to get to work. They may arrive earlier, but they almost invariably leave earlier and have less distance to travel.

The retail relationship is complex. Everyone wants to be treated as an honored guest, whether they're buying a pair of socks or a full ski outfit. Some of them want to haggle. Some of them want hours of education. Any of them, at any time, could stride into the shop with a piece of gear in their hand and say, "You sold me this." Almost any retail relationship can turn out to be a long-term relationship, good or bad. And if it ends badly, rest assured the word will spread far more widely and virulently than if the service was impeccable.

The rental crew does a fantastic job processing masses of skiers during busy days. If they don't appreciate the way the retail staff handles its own very different challenges, no one can make them understand. At this point I'd be satisfied if they just shut up and mind their own business. That seems unlikely. So the hide thickens.

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