Jans marks 30 years of business
August 27, 2010
The Jans 30th anniversary celebration on Sept. 4 could be an inspiration to anyone recovering from hard times. The company might never have been started if founder Jan Peterson hadn’t been hit by a truck.
In the 1960s, Peterson was in advertising when he learned of a job opening with a sporting goods company on a particularly bad day. He quit his job and managed a new store in Park City for Wolf’s an employer he’d worked for in high school.
About a decade later, he returned to the office after a year of recovering from a serious automobile accident near McPolin Barn when he discovered the company had changed policies and become more "corporate." Peterson said he didn’t feel at home there anymore.
With a loan from fly fishing companion Tommy Matthews, he started his own business the following year in 1980.
Several people from Wolf’s signed up to work for him and nearly half a dozen are still with him after 30 years including Scott Cote, George Sideras, Pam Sandberg, Karl Jacobson and Tim Gabe.
His kind of retail business can’t be run from a corporate level, Peterson said, adding that success is not about price; it’s about people and product.
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"It’s a personality business in a lot of ways," he said. "Consequently, it’s the people you have who make you better."
For example, Jans has no "clerks," and it is forbidden to ask, "May I help you." Instead, the staff is supposed to strike up a conversation with customers and ask how their day of skiing went or compliment their parka, he explained.
"I tell people I want them to greet everyone who walks in the door as if they’ve been invited to your home for the evening. Make them feel welcome, make them feel comfortable," Peterson said.
People seem to like it; customers have supported the company for 30 years and allowed it to expand into a total of 12 locations. Employees seem to like it as well; more than a dozen have been with Jans for over 20 years, he said.
One of those is president and CEO Russ Coburn who joined the company in 1980. Like Peterson, he switched careers to sell sporting goods and hasn’t looked back.
"The excitement has always been employees who live and breathe the sports: skiing, cycling, fishing So our customers are pretty much the same since the late 70s, early 80s," Coburn said.
Tom Noaker worked for Peterson in the late 1980s and said it didn’t really feel like work.
"It was a fun place because of the people there. I think (Peterson) set the tone for that, he enjoyed himself a lot," Noaker said. "We sang Christmas carols together on the sales floor a couple of times."
When Coburn took over there were only four stores that employed 26 people. This year the company employed about 210 people, he said.
That growth has come because they are committed to the community both its recreation and its people, Coburn said.
For example, Peterson started what has become the Youth Winter Sports Alliance and its fundraiser the Jans Winter Welcome.
"Fundamentally, it’s about getting involved which we’ve done from the very beginning," Peterson said.
Although Jans is partnering with Marmot to open a store in Aspen, the company’s 11 other stores are all in the Park City area. That’s because it’s difficult to maintain the same level of commitment to the community if you’re spread thin, Coburn said.
"We want our people to enjoy the sports with our customers," he said. "Employees are so loyal to this company because they enjoy the quality of life. They know they could live in a big city and probably make more money, but they enjoy spending time with the customers they’ve come to know over the past 10 or 20 years."
The 30th anniversary celebration is open to the public and will take place Sept. 4 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Park Avenue store. General manager Jack Walzer’s band Lash Larue will play at 2 p.m.
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