An Australian Sports Institution

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-By Robert Hoshowsky

Many successful businesses adapt and change over the years, starting out on one path, and eventually taking another direction. Few, however, have shifted gears so dramatically as Larry Adler Ski & Outdoor Pty Ltd, one of Australia’s best known and most respected shops for outdoor enthusiasts for over 30 years.

The family owned and operated business was founded by Dudley John Adler, who was nicknamed ‘Larry,’ after the beloved American musician Larry Adler, largely regarded as one of the world’s finest harmonica players. Deciding to keep with the name, Adler’s story is unique. Originally from South Africa, he trained as a pharmacist in the United Kingdom before returning to South Africa. His life changed forever when he decided to venture to Norway, where he fell in love with skiing and met many others who shared his enthusiasm for the sport. In the early Sixties, Adler settled in Australia, where – while working as a ski instructor – he met his future wife. A few years later, he opened a pharmacy, but was still being approached by his former ski pupils, who kept asking him for advice on what skis and boots were best to buy.

In 1976, after years of questions from fellow skiers, Adler decided to stock hats, skis, boots and poles in his pharmacy. “That’s where it all started from – his was the only pharmacy/ski shop in the world, 100 metres from the beach, and approximately five hours from the snow,” says Scott Adler. The youngest son of Larry’s four children, Scott grew up in the family business, and today serves as Chief Financial Officer of Larry Adler Ski & Outdoor. By the early 1990s, the demand for ski-related products was so great that the pharmacy division of the company ceased operations.

Family Business

Now 35, Scott Adler was born the same year the company was formed. Scott inherited a passion for skiing and the great outdoors from his dad, who at 83 is now retired, but still active, coming in regularly to tune skis and chat with customers old and new. “He loves it,” says Scott. “He was always the hands-on side of the company, dealing with customers and suppliers.” The younger Adler is quick to credit his mother, who is the company’s Chief Executive Officer and still handles much of the business end of the company, including dealing with finances, marketing, and managing staffing.

Scott still remembers helping out at the store while in his early teens, and working every weekend while still in school. At 19, he traveled the world, gained more first-hand experience at ski shops in Canada, the United States and Austria, and became a qualified ski instructor before returning home to Australia. Today, his sister, Skye, handles marketing and online sales; brother Craig is the company’s jack of all trades and store manager, while eldest brother, Larry, runs the same successful Internet company that designed the company’s award-winning website.

National Ski Team

A favourite ski and outdoor shop to clients not just in Australia but internationally, Larry Adler Ski & Outdoor also has the privilege of being the official boot fitter for the Australian National Ski Team for the past three decades. In many ways, this hallmark is a reflection not only of Larry’s many years of experience in the industry, but of the company as a whole, and its abilities to provide the finest quality ski and outdoor goods and service to all customers at a competitive price.

The company was selected to work with the Australian National Ski Team, says Scott Adler, in part due to his father and his early training as a pharmacist. “Years ago, because my father was a pharmacist, he took a medical approach to how to fit ski boots, and he got the recognition as being the best boot fitter in Australia,” says Adler. “As a result, all these elite athletes who needed a high-performing boot that was fitted well always used to come to my father, and effectively we became the official boot fitter of the Australian National Team, and are able to fit or adjust all their ski boots. It came about because of my father’s ability to fit ski boots, and he’s trained all our staff about the medical side of fitting ski boots.”

This extensive staff training, Scott says, has helped to build a strong sense of trust in everyone who comes to Larry Adler for a fitting. “We are by far the largest ski boot seller in Australia,” says Scott, “and control over 15 per cent of the retail ski boot market, even though we only have six stores. We are known for our boot fitting, we do extensive training with all our staff, and most people who want to get a pair of ski boots will come to us. We even have people flying from Tokyo down to us, let alone Western Australia, across to Sydney. We are extremely well-known for that.”

Today, Larry Adler Ski & Outdoor has locations in Kent St Sydney, Chatswood, Collaroy, two in Jindabyne, and a location in Niseko, Japan. Additionally, the company offers sales through its interactive website at www.larryadler.com and is building up a significant worldwide Internet presence on Facebook and Twitter. Since skiing is such a hands-on sport, Adler credits the company’s website with driving a lot of traffic to its bricks and mortar stores.

“With the ski industry, a lot of people want to touch and feel and double-check that everything is right for the activity, because the last thing they want to do is buy something which looks pretty online, but might not be that warm or that waterproof,” he says, estimating that 10 per cent of customers go to the company‘s website prior to visiting one of the stores, where they make their final decision and purchase.

In the past, Larry Adler, like many companies, relied on regular mail to send flyers to inform customers of special offers and new products at its locations. With the advent of the Internet, the company moved towards emailing information to members about advance notice of upcoming sales, product reviews, weekly snow reports, special events and more though their sizeable e-Club membership. Free to join, e-Club not only provides valuable information to customers, but members receive a $50 Christmas voucher, as they did with the traditional mailing list.

Along with products, the Larry Adler website offers a great deal of complementary ski and outdoor-related information such as weather reports and ski conditions, along with information on travel agents. “We try to be interactive, and help people with all the information they may require,” says Adler of the website, which will be upgraded in the future to accommodate the company’s extensive product lines and new technologies. “It is a nice new medium to communicate with, and it will be interesting to see how it all goes over the next couple of years.”

Full Rental Service

Along with Facebook, Twitter, and LarryAdler.com, the company has Rent a Ski, at www.rentaski.com.au, which offers not only rentals but the ability to create entire packages for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers and racers, along with snowboarders, information for kids and families, group bookings, specials, and much more. Rentals can be booked not only online but in-store. Rates are competitive, and new and experienced skiers can rent skis, boots, poles, helmets, jackets, and pants for a weekend or a week, pick up equipment in-store, or have it delivered to their accommodation via the company’s convenient concierge service. The company also offers a popular ‘Kids Ski Free’ plan. If both parents – or two accompanying adults – each hire their ski, boots and poles or snowboard and boots for six days or more, Larry Adler equips two children for the same up to 12 years of age with ‘carve’ skis, boots and poles free of charge (offer does not include clothing). If the child wishes to upgrade to a snowboard package, they may do so for the difference in price.

“Because ski rental is such a large part of the snow industry right now, we actually created a slightly separate brand for our rental division, in the hopes that we can branch or franchise that side of the company,” says Adler.

Wide Selection, Exclusive Products

Along with experienced and friendly staff, another reason customers keep coming back to Larry Adler is for the selection. The store offers everything for skiers and outdoor enthusiasts, from ski boots, poles, bindings, helmets, tuning equipment and waxes to clothing for men, women and children, including jackets, pants, thermals, socks, gloves, scarves and neck warmers, and accessories like bags, sunglasses, sun care products, warmers, hydration products, and much more. The selection of outdoor products is just as extensive, and includes footwear, shirts, fleece, shorts, headwear, outdoor equipment, packs for all purposes, sleeping bags, tents, bedding, camping accessories, fuel, flashlights and headlamps, cooking stoves, hammocks, furniture, water sports equipment, and more.

At Larry Adler, customers can purchase a number of exclusive products, one of the foremost being custom-fitted ski boots from Strolz, a manufacturer of high-quality boots based in Lech, Austria. “We are the biggest dealer for them outside of Austria/Germany,” says Adler of the company, a partner for over 20 years. “Compared to mass manufacturers, where they have several different shapes for different feet, Strolz went backwards, and said, ‘Let’s make it so it can be customised to fit all different shapes of feet.” Clients can come into Larry Adler, where qualified staff make a custom, one of a kind foam mold of the feet. “The boot is exactly matched to the customer’s foot shape,” comments Adler, who says the store has all the tools and parts on site to create the boot. “Including the measurement stage, the customer is only in the store for 90 minutes in total, and the boots are ready in just two days.” The end result is a superior-fitting quality boot, leather lined, with a durable and fashionable polyethylene shell.

For Larry Adler Ski & Outdoor, the company’s future lies in its past. Scott Adler would like to see more locations in the next few years, “a combination of bricks and mortar stores, and online business,” he says. If the past is any indication, the company will be satisfying the needs of Australia’s skiers and outdoor enthusiasts for generations to come.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 19, 2018, 2:06 PM AEST