North Conway, NH
It's the quintessential American story of hard work and perseverance: Two ski bums become friends, work for a big company, acquire a local following, and finally open their own ski shop. Stan Millen and Dan Lewis met in the fall of 1973 at Carroll Reed, then a prominent ski shop in North Conway, NH. Lewis was a ski instructor and worked at the shop in the summer while Millen worked at Cannon Mountain in the rental repair shop. Soon, they both began working full-time for Carroll Reed and amassing numerous loyal customers.
"We always tried to run the shop as if it was our own. A lot of the customers would ask us, 'When are you going to open up Stan and Dan Ski shop?' We always harbored the dream that we could do this on our own," remembers Lewis. In 1987, Millen and Lewis finally decided they had enough experience to run their own ski shop. "Our customers did two things for us: They named the shop for us and told us we ought to get out of the big business and do it on our own," recalls Millen. "We didn't have much money, we just had an idea."
Two frequent customers agreed to back the team- provided they renovated space, acquired inventory and opened by snowfall that year. Millen and Lewis transformed the neighboring post office, located in the same parking lot as Carroll Reed, into a ski shop. They won distribution rights to five brands of skis and boots- Blizzard, Pre, Kastle, Lange and Tecnica- and that's what their loyal customers skied on that season. One thousand people walked through their door the first winter. Many were loyal customers from the old ski shop while the rest of the business came from word of mouth and referrals. After buying out their financial backers in 1999, Millen and Lewis now own 50 percent of the shop each. A long way from their first season, Stan and Dan Sports now sells Rossignol, Volkl, K2, Dynastar, Salomon, and Atomic skis as well as Lange, Tecnica, Atomic, Salomon and Rossignol boots. Their softgoods brands include Sypder, Karbon, Phenix, Couloir and Fate.
What is the secret to Stan and Dan Sports' success? "It was the best training to come from a shop like Carroll Reed, and Reed himself was an icon in the sport. But we're still in business and they're not," says Millen. The two owners believe that consistency is the key to good business. You'll always find either Millen or Lewis in the shop taking care of customers and it's been that way for nearly thirty years. Two employees, Peter Moore and Dickie Denney, have worked in the store for eight years. Customers come in year after year and see the same faces and often request their favorite employee.
Stan and Dan Sports fosters a friendly atmosphere especially since most customers are called by name as they walk in the door. People often come in the shop on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons to hang out and meet their friends. Pictures hang on the wall that Millen and Lewis have been collecting for years. U.S. Ski team members and Nastar winners hang side by side- all thanking Millen and Lewis for their support. "There's a lot of history in the store, photos of ski teams and individual skiers," says Millen. "Grown up kids come in to see their pictures still hanging there. We like to show it off, it's fun for us."