If you’re a serious Nordic skier, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of this decades-old shop in Wisconsin. Though off the beaten path for most, it sits right at the center of a locale popular with dedicated cross-country skiers: the course of the American Birkebeiner, the largest Nordic race on the continent. This resilient little shop has weathered a lot over the course of its existence, including a few dry seasons that almost put it out of business.
Shop: New Moon Ski and Bike
Location: Sawyer County, Wisconsin
Year founded: 1976
Number of stores: 1
Number of employees: 13
Online sales? Yes
Q&A: Co-owner Joel Harrison
What makes your shop unique?
The number one thing is definitely our location. We sit right at the finish line of the American Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski race in North America. The community here lives for this race—it’s a unique crowd. It’s a group of people who thrive on marathon cross-country skiing. Obviously, our location is well known in the winter, but the trail used for the race is actually a huge recreational asset year-round because it’s protected by a corridor of county forest. We have 130 miles of singletrack in addition to our 100 miles of ski trail. There’s a lot to do in just a 20 miles radius.
What is the biggest difficulty your shop has faced in its 45-year history?
In the 20 years since I’ve been here, the biggest challenges have been the years when it didn’t snow. The Birkebeiner was cancelled a few times—in 2000, 2007, and 2017. Those were near-extinction years for us. At this point, I’m hyper-attuned to the sound of my gutters dripping in the winter months. To get by, we pinched and scrimped and begged and borrowed. I think a lot of the snowsports industry is like that: With our margins, it’s hard to put money away in a good year to get through a bad one. Luckily, the bike side of our business has been growing steadily. That has definitely provided a buffer for bad winters. The margins are even worse for bikes, though, and the competition is steeper. There might be a dozen shops in the country that sell Nordic equipment at the level we do, but there are thousands of bike shops at our level.
Did you experience the effects of the 2020 bike boom?
Absolutely, and for us it wasn’t just the bikes. Our skis did really well, too. My expectation was totally wrong when the pandemic hit. I thought it was going to be a lean year, but within a month of the spring shutdowns we estimated we were going to do triple our usual number of bike sales. Later, when the winter started coming, our ski sales doubled.
Which of your shop’s products bring in the most revenue?
For us it’s definitely skis, but that comes with a caveat. Skis themselves don’t do well unless we have all the accessories people need with them—the wax and poles and everything else. The secret is, people say they’re coming into the shop for one thing, but really they’re coming in to see 100 other things as well. You need to make the “story” of their visit compelling and complete. You need to have a cohesive presentation.
Have you ever sold anything in the shop besides skis and bikes?
We do have rollerskis, which are a way for people to do Nordic training in the summer. In the past, we’ve dabbled in camping and running, but we’ve always come back to our core categories of ski and bike.
Any products that have been surprise bestsellers?
Fisher made a waxless ski called the Twin Skin that uses mohair. I was initially skeptical of them. I’ve been in the sport long enough to know that the waxless craze is usually a lot of hype without much performance. But I finally let these into the shop, and now we loved them. They’re truly different, and they’re always in demand.
Any advice for new retailers who are just starting out?
Figure out how to be conservative and brave at the same time. You need to find products that are going to excite people, that people haven’t seen before, but that absolutely meet the standards of everyone in the shop. We test things three or four times, at least, before we place an order. We evaluate everything that comes into the shop and pass around each product. We’ve learned this lesson over the years: If we don’t love it, it doesn’t sell. Simple as that.