From sand dunes to snow banks, Maui North co-owner, Kim Manion has experienced her fair share of landscapes and outdoor sports. After years of traveling and living abroad, she and her family settled in the beautiful North Country where we celebrate an average high temperature of 53 degrees.
Playing and enjoying the outdoors in this brisk weather requires dedication, interest and, above all, the proper gear. Manion can not only set you up with the latest gadgets, jackets, and boots, but if she has her way with you, you’ll have your feet strapped to a set of skis pointing down the nearest mountain. Given her certification as a level 3 PSIA/AASI Ski Instructor she’ll also have you going from the bunny hill to a double black diamond in no time. Her motto is, “enabling people to have fun in a way that’s accessible.” That is precisely what she and her team at Maui North are doing.
From Maui’s humble beginnings in a storage shed on Lake Champlain to their current downtown Plattsburgh location overlooking the beautiful Saranac River, “Maui” (as the locals have grown to call it) has created opportunities for everyone from newbies to enthusiasts to enjoy the outdoors in all sorts of weather. Manion’s approach is simple: get people in the store so she can get them outside.
With our region’s inclination for cold weather, the outdoor recreation opportunities are limited only by the customer’s imagination. Manion’s job is to provide as many opportunities for people to get outdoors as she can.
“People come to see me for reasons ranging from looking for new equipment to their doctors telling them to get more exercise,” Manion explained. Getting people into the right snowsport equipment is her goal—a goal that seems fulfilling and natural. “My favorite is working with customers and helping them improve their experience.” Whether it be the right fit for a ski boot, a snowshoe, or a new board, Manion has made Maui a winter oasis for the new skier to the elite racer.
Given her innate ability to create accessibility to snowsports, customers will find a range of equipment and programs available to them at Maui North. One of its most popular programs for skiers of all levels its leasing program. Maui’s customers can come in, get fitted with the season’s newest gear and lease the equipment for the season. At the end of the season, the customer has the opportunity to purchase the gear at a discounted rate. Although the majority of the participants are younger skiers, this benefit is for anyone wanting to try out the sport or try out new gear.
Maui’s customers’ options expand beyond just boards and bikes. They carry a range of snowsport equipment including snowshoes, hiking gear, and other outdoor recreation equipment. Beyond equipment, customers can also take advantage of the range of gear maintenance services offered in the shop.
With the growth in online shopping, one thing that’s lost in the experience is local expertise. “There’s no one online that tells you to store your boots closed or to remind you to dry them out overnight if you’re on the mountain multiple days,” Manion explained. Competing with online prices is part of the industry challenge; however, her approach is “off-the-charts” customer service.
“We work hard to match online prices, but it’s not enough to just sell equipment. We’re here to work with our customers, taking the time to understand, and to be the local expert,” Manion added. In addition to the latest gear, a range of services for those who are heading outdoors also adds to the off-the-chart experience. Each time a customer comes through the door they can expect a one-on-one interaction that will be both educational and valuable.
In having a local shop guide you through the process of purchasing equipment or get- ting exposure to a new sport, you’re building a relationship that has local resources and knowledge. “I love to share my passion for the sports we represent here,” Manion said. “When people come in and they want to know where to bike or ski, we’re a resource for them. That’s not something you can get shopping online.”
Not everyone is comfortable exploring a new sport alone. Manion and her team have created community groups and occasions to introduce new people to the sports Maui North represents. This not only creates a strong customer base, but it also provides a community service. Over the summer Manion created a bicycling group for women called “Women on Wheels.” It was a chance to get new people introduced to group riding in a fun and friendly environment.
As a key part of Manion’s community build- ing experience, this winter she’s looking to create another group to introduce new- comers to skiing called, “Chicks on Sticks.” “This job isn’t just about selling gear; it’s also about education. If I can help someone learn more about the sport, that’s what makes this exciting,” Manion said. “This is about giving people skills and tidbits of information they can use to enjoy the outdoors more.”
More Than Just Business
As a former business advisor, Manion will be the first to admit that managing a small busi- ness is always a juggle between new products and generating sales. The community she’s creating around the sports she’s passionate about seems to be the perfect match to lead Maui North into a growing downtown marketplace. Ski and snowsports have seen a slight increase in popularity since 2010 and that popularity continues to grow. “There aren’t many new technologies in snows- ports, so what we focus on is how we do business,” Manion explained. “As the resort town shops are seeing their sales dip, local shops like mine are seeing a bit of growth. So it’s a chance to focus on how we can do business better.”
When you get a chance to stop in at Maui North, take a few minutes to imagine yourself hiking over a snow-covered trail in a wooded forest or taking turns down Whiteface. As Manion would say, “We live in the North Country. Seize the opportunity to enjoy the winter.” We have five months of it.