September 6-8, 2013
Orange County Convention Center
Board Demo Day: September 5
The founder of one of the largest and oldest wakeboard/waterski shops around, Tommy Phillips started Tommy’s after selling one waterski out of the back of his 1967 Chevy pickup truck in 1981.
Located in Denver, Colorado
By Shelby Stanger
From rock star to retail owner: it seems like an unlikely combo, but Tommy Phillips is an unlikely kind of a guy.
“I made $40 playing the guitar that previous night and $50 off that one ski,” he laughs.Tommy’s brother-in-law was Herb O’Brien, the waterski dealer for HO skis at the time. After Tommy sold that one ski, Herb gave Tommy eight more skis to sell that first year. The next year, Tommy sold 70 slalom skis.
“It was a pretty slam operation! I would put a peanut butter sandwich in the front seat and I’d have gallon of tap water―the jug didn’t even have a lid. That would have to propel me through the day, and I’d have to live off of salesmanship the rest of the time. When it was slow, I’d go over to Sloan Lake and sneak in a run or two.”
For the first few years, Tommy sold skis out of the back of his truck, then at a small shop near the lake. At night, he played in a band called Rockin’ Chair.
Around 1985, Tommy picked up MasterCraft and O’Neill wetsuit accounts. Both brands took off immediately. O’Neill’s wetsuits allowed Denver waterskiers to take runs for a much longer season.
“Business was slamming,” says Tommy. He quit the band and dove head first into retail.Over the last 31 years, Tommy has watched the industry grow and transform. He says he sold the very first wakeboard ever. It was from a Chicago trade show. He also introduced the current owners of Liquid Force to each other at the Denver Boat Show in the 80s.
The store has moved locations and expanded a few times. The very first Tommy’s near Sloan Lake was 600 square feet. Today, the Tommy’s location in Denver boasts more than 18,000 square feet.
“Anything you can pull behind a boat, we carry,” says Tommy. Brands like Billabong, Volcom, Oakley, O’Neill, Ronix, Radar, Liquid Force and more permeate the shelves.“If you walk in here, it is so bright with so many colors your senses will go off, and you will think you are in the coolest place on earth,” he says.
There’s always something happening at the store, too. Every January, Tommy hosts one of the largest boat displays in the country. The shop also holds a bi-annual gear swap and numerous events, promotions and contests. On the side, Tommy teaches lessons at a nearby lake.
Besides having everything anyone needs for behind a boat, Tommy says his sixteen-member staff has the best customer service out of anyone around.
“I have always felt our pro shop is the best in the world,” he says. “There are people who might be as good at boating as us, but I don’t think anyone can compete with the service and knowledge we have. All our staff rides, lives the lifestyle, and riding is the most important thing in the world to them besides maybe their families and their faith.”
It’s still the most important thing to Tommy, who is now a huge wakesurfer himself. That is, when not at the shop or playing in his new band, the Thin Ice (voted the top cover band in Denver).
As times change and business moves online, Tommy says he’ll always be the guy in the store who will come over and shake your hand. “You can’t buy customer service on the internet.” Then again, you can’t buy skis out of the back of a truck these days. Either way, Tommy is just glad his store has managed to influence so many young riders: “For me the best part of this shop is having the ability to touch young lives and watch so many kids grow.”
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