Pete Wagner is a golf engineer turned ski aficionado, as the owner of the successful grassroots and eco-friendly custom ski shop Wagner Custom Skis in the true skier’s mecca of Telluride, CO. He takes time from the slopes to talk pro gear and how to make it against the Rossignols of the world.

Alister & Paine: How do you compete with the ‘big players’ in the industry?

Pete: We’ve been successful by connecting with our customers and establishing good relationships with our customers in ways that large companies can’t. We create an experience that is superior to the traditional process of buying from a retailer.

We’re making the exact product that the customer wants, we’re not creating something for the masses. We’re offering a smarter way to buy skis, tailor made for the individual. It’s the service people like Bode Miller have been getting for years. It’s the ability to get pro skis at a recreational level.

Alister & Paine: What is a Ski DNA?

Pete: We look at physical information, such as your height, weight and age and then we look at what your goals are as a skier, where you ski, terrain preferences, etc. With that information we come up with a design optimized for the customer.

Everything we build is completely unique, based on the length, width, side cut, the overall stiffness, flex profile, the materials, graphics, etc. The main benefit is performance. We’re helping people ski better by getting them on a product that will help improve their balance, comfort, control and efficiency.

Alister & Paine: Have you always skied?

Pete: It’s an unlikely story but of all places I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. As I’ve grown older I find that skiing is something that’s become a bigger and bigger part of my life. No matter where I am in my life there’s always something that inspires me about skiing.

Alister & Paine: I heard Wagner Custom is a pretty eco friendly factory?

Pete: The basic values of our company are minimizing our carbon footprint. We’ve gotten recognition from Solar Today Magazine regarding our factory because we’ve got a large solar thermal system that heats our factory and all of our electricity comes from wind power.

As a company and as a dorky engineer I take the engineers perspective on having a sustainable business model. By no means are we perfect, but we do care and put a lot of effort in our attempts to be green.

Alister & Paine: How did you grow the business?

Pete: By focusing on an organic growth strategy. Minimizing our investments in capital expenditures and trying to be really smart about sales and marketing initiatives and letting word of mouth drive our sales. We made it easy for our customers to spread the word about our business and our products, rather than invest a lot of money in large advertising campaign and fancy equipment we kept things a little bit more grassroots level.

It’s helped create authenticity in our brand and it’s validated our brand and what we do every day, which is helping people have more fun when they ski or board by making sure they have the right equipment.

Alister & Paine: How are you different from the large manufacturers?

Pete: In the ski industry there’s a lot of credit based risk that’s been going on for years that’s put a huge burden on the entire industry.

We don’t build any product until the order is placed, that allows us to stay really nimble and flexible and not be producing excess inventory, and that allows us to manage costs a lot better.

We call it the upside down business model because it’s basically the opposite of what the big players have been doing.