Park City, Utah (and 22 other locations)
Only skiers who know the pain of uncomfortable ski boots could dedicate their lives to making other people's feet happy. Not only are Bob and Russ Shay successful businessmen and bootfitters, they're two of the best in the ski industry. A manifestation of two brothers, Surefoot is currently North America's largest ski boot retailer, the world's largest retailer of custom foot orthodics and SKI's National Gold Medal Ski Shop Champion of the year. Bob and Russ Shay have literally made a mountain out of a molehill; building a chain of 23 stores since their first venture in Park City, Utah 20 years ago. In 1998, Bob Shay was named Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the Year for Retail Stores, giving Surefoot the unofficial nickname of the "Nike of the ski boot business." The Shays take that as a complement. Although Bob's title is CEO and President and Russ is Vice President, "the best way to put it," says Bob, "my brother and I are partners. And we are very committed to skiers and athletes. We believe the better your feet perform, the better you perform."
The Shay brothers began working on boots long before they owned a shop. In college, Bob custom-fit his ski racing teammates out of his garage. After that, he worked on racers' boots at Stratton Mountain Ski Academy in Vermont, where he also coached. "My own feet were extremely painful in ski boots," remembers Shay. "Everyday I had to take them off at lunch. I'd go to shops and they wouldn't do anything about it."
The Shay brothers went into business with the specific purpose to provide better fitting boots. It's all they do. "The philosophy starts with the customer's need to be happy. That's how Surefoot started- there weren't places to get comfortable boots," says Shay. In 1982, the Shay brothers broke into the boot world with RightFit Sports. After a divorce from a third partner, the brothers started a new company called Surefoot. Now there are 23 stores around the world (including Switzerland, Australia, Colorado, Idaho, New York, Canada and California) and over 200 employees. "The first requirement when you come to work for us is that you love skiing," says Bob. "We treat people as people we work with, not just employees. We pay as well as we can and give them an opportunity to grow." And grow they have. They have sold close to a million pairs of ski boots throughout the years.
Not only has Surefoot received accolades for their business savvy, but also for how their business looks. Chain Store Magazine recently voted them "Best Store Design." The décor in every Surefoot echoes efficiency: The high-tech chrome and black interior showcases the boots while computers control the state-of-the-art fitting process that provides each customer with the perfect fit.
If it's not the perfect fit, Surefoot offers a guarantee; "We believe we have the highest technology and training there is," says Bob. "Ninety-six percent of the time it's right and if it's not, we'll repair it, replace it, or refund it." Surefoot also understands that skiing is an expensive sport and offers a "Growing Pain Policy" for kids which includes a 50 percent discount on a child's next pair of boots if he or she outgrows their current pair in two years, and orthodics are half price.
Not only is Surefoot the official service center for the U.S. Ski Team, outfitting and aligning over 100 racers, the company can boast that the talented feet of Lance Armstrong, Bonnie Blair, David Duval and six Olympic Gold Medallists are supported by Surefoot orthodics.
On the horizon for Surefoot: "We've introduced new technology to make custom golf and bike shoes," Bob explains. "You walk in the store, we scan your foot and a shoe is produced to fit your foot. It's the first 360-degree custom shoe ever made."