How do you take America’s oldest ski shop into the 21st century without sacrificing its charm?
In the early 1900s, Joe Lahout turned his general store in Littleton, N.H., into Lahout’s Ski Shop. It quickly became a fixture in the White Mountains ski community, serving generations of outdoorsmen and their families, as well as legends from Jean-Claude Killy to Bode Miller.
But as the small business — which claims the title “America’s Oldest Ski Shop” — approached its centennial, it found itself behind the times with no digital or brand presence, losing ground to more nimble competition. Could a fourth-generation family business that started pedaling goods from a horse and wagon survive in the modern world without losing the authenticity that made it special? Joe’s grandson Anthony believed it could.
The younger Lahout is a Double Falcon with an undergraduate degree in Finance and an MBA concentrated on entrepreneurship. With a background in action sports and brand marketing, including past roles with Spyder Active Sports in Colorado and Smith Optics in Idaho doing athlete and media relations, he knew what it took to compete in the global sportswear marketplace. When a corporate shift hit the ski apparel company, Lahout saw an opportunity to come home that felt right.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
“For some time, I had been brainstorming, organizing and documenting my ideas on branding and tastefully modernizing the shop,” Lahout explains, “and a hole finally opened to pursue them.”
He wrote, produced and marketed a short film about his grandfather and the shop’s origins that was picked up by the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Denver Post, Outside Magazine, Freeskier Magazine, SKI Magazine, and Huckberry Journal, as well as exclusively debuted by media giant Teton Gravity Research. A portion of proceeds from all film-related merchandise benefits the Mt. Eustis Ski Hill, an area for financially challenged ski families of the North Country.
“The film generated such a positive response, I knew we had to have our shop ethos everywhere,” says Lahout. “I resurrected our website (www.lahouts.com) and designed our first clothing line. Though we only produced select items in the inaugural collection, we were taken aback by the demand.”
Lahout cites the educational climate at Bentley as something that shaped him, both as a person and as a professional.
“The competitive classroom environment at Bentley is a mindset that I take with me every day,” he says. “Professors knew how to push our buttons without crossing the line. They understand if they create camaraderie within our projects and presentations, the class will benefit as a whole.
“That environment is not common at most colleges,” Lahout adds. “Students elsewhere either walk all over each other to be the best or don’t care about their standing. It’s different at Bentley. We want to push the boundaries with our peers yet still remain friends at the end of the day. When you know the other team is going to bring their best, everything is elevated.”
Now he’s in charge of elevating his family’s legacy, and future.
“As we approach our 100th anniversary, several brands have reached out about brand partnerships,” says Lahout. “Discussions have started with ski, apparel and even footwear companies. Apparently, 100-year-old businesses are hard to come by! We are grateful for the exposure the film has given us, but we want to make sure these collaborations feel right. They have to align with our store culture, as well as our dedicated staff and customers. It is challenging to make each partnership genuine, instead of just a way to generate attention.”
KEEPING AN EDGE
While his major was in finance, Lahout says Bentley’s blend of business and the arts and sciences prepared him to “wear many hats” at his new job.
“Running a family business has never been more complicated. But anytime you can be comfortable with the fundamentals of business, you have an edge in the workplace. Though I work in a creative world, knowing how to manipulate a budget or cost evaluation makes me invaluable to a team. If you invest the time, the core business background at Bentley will prepare you for any environment, especially in progressive fields.”
At a business built on family, Lahout knows how important people are. In that way, his experience at Bentley didn’t disappoint.
“The relationships I walked away with after graduation are one of a kind,” he says. “Many of my friends from high school and out West went to similar universities yet have nowhere near the friendships I still have with classmates and professors. Whether through ski trips, Red Sox games, music festivals or competing in an Ironman relay, I am connected with Bentley year around.
“The environment at Bentley is unique. Its size allows you to create a genuine relationship with your classmates and professors, all inside a competitive environment. It challenges students to push each other. It raises the creativity, aptitude and preparation from everyone involved.”
Lahout is now full-time at the shop, handling marketing, media and brand relations.
“No day is ever the same. It has been humbling to come back home to see how complex and layered a family business can be. One day we will be traveling for an apparel buy, the next we will be designing/merchandising point-of-purchase fixtures for a new product. We need to understand our customers’ needs and as how to communicate digitally with them when they are not at the store. Working in a family business is complicated, yet this rapid, digital age introduces so many more variables. How do you modernize America’s Oldest Ski Shop without losing the charm? It forces you to multitask, problem-solve quickly and wear a retail/marketing/sales hat all at once.”