Ski coach pursues his passion with tuning shop
For 25 years, Greg Schiltz toiled at the CUNA Mutual Group, using his free time to raise a family and pursue his passion of alpine ski racing.
When he was laid off by CUNA several years ago – in one of the many rounds of cutbacks at the insurance company – he found another job in the same industry. But his heart wasn't in it anymore.
"CUNA treated me and my family very well," said Shiltz, 52 and a long-time coach. "In fact, my wife still works there.
"But I wasn't excited about staying in the insurance business. Still, I dabbled with that for another year after leaving CUNA."
Then he took the advice of several friends who told him to do something he enjoyed.
More informationThe result is the small GS Ski Tunes & Race Shop at 6810 Watts Road, across the street from the Woodman's grocery store on Madison's west side. The retail area and tuning area in the store covers just 1,000 square feet, but he has warehouse space where he can expand.
- WisBusiness interview with Greg Schiltz
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"The shop is the result of all the networking I've done over the years in the ski industry," said Schiltz, who started the Tyrol Basin Junior Ski Team three decades ago after returning home from college in Michigan. Four years after that, he got the Wisconsin Junior Alpine Racing Association going.
Then, 15 years ago, he started the Southern Conference of the Wisconsin High School Alpine Racing Association, which includes teams from Waunakee, Edgewood, Verona, Memorial and Middleton. (It now includes snowboarding competitions.) And several years ago, he got a middle school race program off the ground.
He now coaches the Memorial High School boys and girls ski teams. He also serves as a soccer referee when the snow melts, among other things.
"I figured there was more than a good foundation there to start something that would lead to a livelihood," said Schiltz, who opened his shop in 2011 and made money his first year.
"I'm realistic, however, that something like this takes time," he added.
Schiltz also manages three buildings owned by his family, which helps him balance his work and keep him busy when there is no snow on the ski slopes.
Schiltz said he got his passion for skiing from his father, an avid athlete and skier himself.
"One winter, he decided to take us out to Vail, Colo. back around 1971 or 1972 because he thought it looked like fun," he recalled.
They didn't have skis and no one in the family had skied before then. But they loved it.
"We came back home, took some lessons up at Cascade and that's how it all began," he said.
After a race at Devil's Head resort near Baraboo, he was hooked. He ended up racing all the way through college.
"It was a lot of fun being around those people," he said. "Up to that point, I was very much gravitating towards hockey. After that race, though, my whole outlook towards skiing changed.
"It was something that caught my eye and my heart went with it, too. The passion was there and from 9 on, I've continued with it."
Schiltz credits Dave Helgesen, a ski racer and his first coach, for teaching him about working with kids.
"Dave, who died recently, taught me a lot about the mental aspect and keeping it fun," said Schiltz, whose three children (now ages 20, 24 and 27) grew up skiing and racing.
Schiltz is also quick to laud Don and Sue McKay, who run Tyrol Basin.
"Without their support of my seemingly crazy, zany ideas to expand racing, none of this would have been possible," he said. "Without them, there wouldn't be any of these teams."
Schiltz said he figures about one-third of his tuning business comes from the race teams he's founded and continues to help run.
"It's because of all these organizations that my ski shop got off the ground so quickly and made money," he said. "I couldn't survive without racers referring skiing friends and snowboarders to me and my shop."
Schiltz said his competition comes from Madison-area stores that sell ski and snowboard equipment, mount bindings and offer tuning services.
"Since I am pretty heavy into the race community and promise 24-hour turnaround services, I've got my niche covered," said Schiltz, who also sells used ski clothing and gear on consignment, as well as discounted equipment that is a year or two old, but unused.
He's also learned that there is a lot more to running a snowsports shop than just waxing bases and sharpening edges on skis and snowboards.
"I'm learning every day," he said. "I do guerilla marketing by attending local ski sales and sending out flyers to ski clubs, offering discounts and things like that.
Schiltz said the biggest thing he's learned in his first year of business is that he needs to wear a lot of hats and budget his time as a shop owner.
"There's marketing, promotions and keeping track of records and being organized every day," he said. "When I slip up, I'll lose out on opportunities. I'm taking some lumps, but friends are offering me plenty of advice.
"For me, it's just taking time to implement great ideas. I'll consider anything people throw at me and fine tune it. It's a huge learning process."
-- By Brian E. Clark