Mountain Chalet gets jiggy with T-shirts

Every year, Mountain Chalet produces a new limited edition T-shirt to poke a little fun at something and keep the store's customers laughing. While some don't sell well enough to keep in the line-up from year-to-year, two shirts -- which Colorado Springs, Colo.-based, Mountain Chalet included in a care-package to SNEWS with its subscription renewal -- are generating a buzz and quite a bit of laughter.
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Every year, Mountain Chalet produces a new limited edition T-shirt to poke a little fun at something and keep the store's customers laughing. While some don't sell well enough to keep in the line-up from year-to-year, two shirts -- which Colorado Springs, Colo.-based, Mountain Chalet included in a care-package to SNEWS with its subscription renewal -- are generating a buzz and quite a bit of laughter.

We asked store owner Dan Foster to provide a little history behind the two shirts:

"Last summer the new T-shirt was the, 'Chain stores suck, support your local specialty shop,'" Foster told SNEWS. "In our market area we absorbed REI two years ago and last fall Galyan's hit town. As the first specialty outdoor shop in Colorado Springs -- this is our 35th anniversary at the original location -- we have watched the channels of distribution broaden over the years.

"About five years ago Lowe (Alpine) and North Face started selling to non-traditional locations -- Dillards, Gart Bros., 7-11 :) et al. Even though the effort was futile, we kicked both of them out of our product mix -- and both were part of our top five vendors list at the time -- to make a point."

Foster admits that his gesture was more symbolic than anything as he realized if Mountain Chalet tried to stop selling every vendor that sold to big boxes, the store wouldn't have any products on its shelves. Still, he felt a point had to be made. And it started with a radio campaign that poked fun at big boxes that Foster says was a huge success.

"The T-shirt was a Beavis and Butthead add-on to that (the radio show). The wheels were still turning and my neurons were still firing -- albeit more slowly than they used to -- and on a whim I checked out www.register.com," says Foster. "Sure enough, reisucks.com, galyanssucks.com, and emssucks.com were all available. For kicks I bought them all (along with mountainchaletsucks.com just to be fair). I haven't done anything with the domain names (yet), but just like beer bottles in my fridge, it gives me enormous pleasure just knowing I've got 'em.

"Last summer along with slow post 9/11 sales, we had our sales butts kicked by the Hayman fire. Pike National Forest is our backyard and the entire forest was closed for nearly two months during our high summer season. To add insult to injury Bill Owens, the governor, made his infamous comment from Glenwood Springs (cbsnews.com 6/21/02) that "All of Colorado is Burning" (and that it looked like nuclear winter)," Foster said.

"Anyone depending on the tourist trade in Colorado was pretty much aghast, and his statement didn't win him any brownie points with merchants and lodging providers. In addition, Colorado has a rather high (so to speak) per capita consumption of cannabis, and the governor had a ticklish situation a few years ago where pot was found growing in the garden of his executive mansion (www.coloradosenate.com -- 8/12/01)."

That got Foster to thinking again, and in short order, the "All of Colorado is Burning" T-shirt became reality. While Foster was a bit concerned he was being too edgy, and that the store's reputation might be compromised, that hasn't proven to be the case.

"Most of our customers love them, and (older folk) don't really get the marijuana reference of the dudes on the chairlift, and as a specialty shop our job is to be fresh. Plain vanilla corporate big box stores don't want any controversy and would never do shirts like these (can you see a "Specialty Shops Suck" T-shirt?!)," chuckled Foster.

"EMS quit selling Dr. Bronner's soap because the narrative on the sides of the bottle (that has been around longer than dirt) wasn't PC enough for them. Guess which store recently had to leave this market due to piss poor sales?" Foster added.

"We've been advertising them statewide in the Mountain Gazette and sales have been OK. Better than the sales is the positioning it gives us in consumers minds. Whether it's a hardware store, an independent bookstore, or specialty outdoor, there is attrition taking place as more folks shop the big boxes for commodity items. Shoppers want to be loyal to the homegrown shops and by having unique product and a sassy attitude we're differentiating Mountain Chalet from the big boys."

SNEWS View: We're laughing still. While it takes more than a T-shirt design or two to differentiate a specialty store from any other chain store on the market, it is the underlying tone of irreverence and humor, that we can confirm permeates the walls of Mountain Chalet that keeps the store's customers coming back for more. We can't wait to see what next year's neuron-fired inspiration brings to the world of T-shirt design.

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