Sports Chalet – “From Defense to Offense: A Strategic Approach to Success”


Sports Chalet – “From Defense to Offense: A Strategic Approach to Success”

As part of GCC’s Business Lecture Series, Craig Levra, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sport Chalet, Inc., delivered a compelling, convincing account of how his company met the challenge of making difficult business decisions in the recent economy.

Echoing the sentiments of the GCC speakers, Levra spoke of viewing down times as “opportunities to do great things” rather than taking a “woe is me” attitude. He emphasized the work ethic and dedication of Sport Chalet’s founders, La Canada residents Norbert and Irene Olberz, who started with one small store in 1959. The company now has 55 stores in four states, with 25 stores opening in the last five years alone, and has been listed as one of the top 200 small businesses in America by Fortune magazine.

Leading the audience through the see-saw events of the last three years, Levra described several factors that brewed a “perfect storm” for fiscal disaster for Sports Chalet: the national economic picture impacted the sporting goods business drastically; most Sports Chalet stores were located in counties where foreclosure rates were extremely high; for five straight years, the winter seasons were slow due to low snowfall rates; and the national presidential election contributed to consumer uncertainty, as it always does.

Reeling from all this negativity, Levra and his team took defensive steps such as improving inventory information, renegotiating every lease in the corporation, making significant reductions in payroll (but at the same time making more employees full-time so that their investment in the company increased), and cutting costs at every imaginable level (including how many trash cans each store purchased).

“To balance out these defensive tactics, we made offensive moves to become a profitable company again,” said Levra. “We added talent to our merchandise team, many of them experts in their fields so they are the ‘go-to’ people for specific sports and activities. We now offer training sessions and classes in many sports to our customers, so we not only sell the equipment but also teach how to use it. And we also package trips and tours, another added service.”

All of these changes, along with a conservative budget, strategic marketing and a growing e-commerce business, have turned Sports Chalet around. “What was the worst of times has turned into the best,” said Levra. “I’m actually looking forward to paying taxes again.”
Last updated: 5/24/2010 11:31:03 AM