It’s a tough business, running a retail store at the base of a ski resort. Overhead costs a premium, the customer decision to spend is strongly correlated to the economy, snowfall is capricious and competition is fierce. All of it calls for a niche, and in 1986 Bob Remiger and Bob Gleason found one when they opened BootDoctors with the intent to focus on custom boot-fitting as few ski shops had before – a specialization that attracted major ski retailer Christy Sports to purchase the Taos Ski Valley-founded operation on Nov. 1.
“We’ve been doing this for 30-something years and we were ready to retire,” Remiger said, sitting at his desk in a cramped office at his flagship shop near the base of Al’s Run. “We wanted to make sure that the company we were going with was a reputable company that was respected in the industry, and was going to be sound and stable in order to continue to keep the BootDoctors going. And we also wanted to make sure that our staff was going to be taken care of.”
A couple walls away, in the heart of the shop, a handful of those employees – some with more than 20 years experience creating custom insoles and boots tailored to skier foot size, style and stance – were preparing equipment as they tended to a trickle of customers looking to prepare for snow that had yet to fall.
Other BootDoctors employees, too, were preparing for the coming season at a second store located one block south of Michael’s Kitchen in Taos, and at two other locations many miles north in Telluride, Colorado.
Remiger and Gleason train all of them to be master boot fitters. They send their best to train at the world-renowned MasterFit University boot fitting school. One graduate, Charlie Bradley, is BootDoctors’ head boot fitter and has tested gear for SKI Magazine.
To hear Remiger talk about creating a custom insole is to learn just how technical their particular brand of boot fitting truly is.
As the shop's name would suggest, it’s more than a little scientific.
“We don’t just ask you what your shoe size is,” Remiger said. “We get people out of their shoes, out of their socks. We measure their feet in a couple of different ways. At the same time, we’re also analyzing their foot for what their foot needs in terms of a ski boot. We talk to them about how they ski and where they ski so that we can get an idea of what their performance range is and what their ability is. There are a lot of nuances that you pick up over the years.”
And that’s just the start of the process. A customer might try on several pairs of boots and custom insoles made right in the store before finding the perfect fit.
At the heart of this process is a unique dedication to customer service, Remiger says, made that much more rarified by the advent of online retailing. This, partner and manager Linda Mogetz says, is the reason for selling their business to Christy Sports, a company founded on a similar premise in 1958 and that operates more than 50 stores throughout Colorado, Utah, Washington and now New Mexico.
The transition will take a few years, so Remiger and his longtime partners will still be around for a while, he said. “We’re getting an exit plan for the founders of the business,” Remiger said, “but it’s also providing an opportunity for our employees.”
Longtime employees will have the chance to move into management roles. The five retail locations will remain the same in name and design, Remiger said, but Christy Sports has also expressed interest in incorporating the BootDoctors fitting services into their own shops.
In a small-business oriented town, however, the BootDoctors folks know that some people might bristle at the announcement of the sale. Remiger said he’s already heard some of the naysayers, but he maintains that Christy Sports isn’t a big, bad corporate business eager to expend the BootDoctor’s identity.
“Christy’s is buying us because we know what we’re doing," he said. "So the BootDoctors is going to remain the BootDoctors. That name is not going away – probably ever, as long as Christy’s is still around, and if anything it might expand.”