In the workshop at Parlor Skis, Boston-based custom ski maker, I am immediately transported to a slope side shop. The humming of skis being tuned, the smell of the wood, the music pumping, and the sheer number of men in overalls forces me to remind myself that I’m actually in East Boston, not in the mountains. After meeting and getting to know Mark Wallace, CEO and founder of Parlor, I’m confident that evoking this feeling from visitors was completely intentional.
“Come out and see us!” Mark pushed from the moment we connected. When we arrive I immediately get it. For Parlor, the experience of building skis is the magic, the product you walk away with is just one part of what their selling.
Mark describes Parlor Skis as an “experience-based custom ski brand.” In addition to making handmade skis, each pair is custom made with client participation in process. The skis you purchase from Parlor are not only made to your specifications (like weight, height, etc.) but also your skiing ability. Parlor’s understanding of the terrain its clients typically ski is a huge competitive advantage for the brand and is often why they get rave reviews on their product.
What’s more, clients actually get to help design graphics on the skis. So if you want your skis to feature a picture of Biggie Smalls or Jason Varitek knocking out A-Rod (both real examples) you can do that. Talk about a conversation starter for any chairlift ride.
Mark is a skier, obviously, but not just any recreational skier, a semipro skier. He grew up in Maine and then moved to Utah before he went on to Williams College where he skied for its division one racing team. After Williams, Mark entered the semipro circuit which meant months of travel in the U.S., Europe and South America – so to say he’s experienced every type of skiing terrain is an understatement.
“I had a really good run [skiing] but I was lucky enough to have perspective – I saw my ceiling and I didn’t want to be 35 years old and have no job experience.”
So after three years, Mark decided it was time to get a “real job.” He fell back on his experience in construction and became a project manager for a construction management company that built restaurants.
“I knew I loved building things,” he said. “Construction management gave me that perspective. And while I never thought about the inside of a ski when I was racing, as soon as I started unwrapping it, it was very clear that this was going to be my way back into the industry.”
Mark’s idea for Parlor didn’t hit him at the top of mountain (although that would make for a pretty cool story) he came up with the idea like many startups, over beers with friends. A small group then started making small batches of handmade skis in a funeral parlor. No seriously, you read that correctly, the team built Parlor in an actual unused funeral parlor for 5 years. Hence the name, Parlor Skis.
“When we first pulled this together we were Parlor handmade skis,” said Mark. We thought that was the tagline and we thought everyone was going to think it was so cool that we were building skis by hand and they were going to buy them.” It turns out that’s not the case.
What the team found out quickly is that their clients wanted to get involved in the building of their skis.
“Our first customers always asked if they could come to the shop,” said Mark. “They really wanted to understand what we were doing and how we were doing it.” It was then that Parlor found its big differentiator – they offer the experience of building skis.
Today, Parlor offers ski building classes where they pull back the curtain to help others learn and participate in the building of Parlor Skis.
“Offering classes started out as an experiment and they just took off,” Mark stated. “It was really just a matter of listening to what our customers wanted – our classes were sold out last year.”
Today, Parlor Skis has made a name for itself not as a ski company for New England but a New England Ski Company for all – catering to clients who ski exclusively out west and those who ski locally to Boston.
“We hear all the time that people don’t think they are good enough for custom skis and it’s just crazy. Expert skiers can ski on anything – I like catering to that intermediate crowd because when they get on a pair of skis that are built to their style they are the people who see huge improvements in their skiing ability. Those are my favorite clients,” said Mark.
“If I can take someone who was borderline [on skiing] totally stoked on the sport – that’s the most rewarding part of my job,” he added.
Want to get the opportunity to meet Mark and the team at Parlor Skis for a custom fitting? Stop by our joint pop-up at 144 Newbury Street November 22-27.