Small Business Success Story: The Elephant’s Perch
A tourist town institution succeeds by treating all clients as locals.
The year 2020 marks 44 years in business for Bob and Kate Rosso’s Ketchum, Idaho, outdoor recreation shop, The Elephant’s Perch. Named after an iconic climbing peak in the Sawtooth Mountain Range, the retail store faced an uphill grind when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Sun Valley tourist town.
But being part of the community’s fabric is why the Rossos are tougher than Gore-Tex®. They see area residents as kindred spirits, passionate about staying active in outdoor sports, and treat those from out of state just like locals.
Symbiotic Relationship with The Community
Bob says The Elephant’s Perch is part of the town’s tourist ecosystem. “We’re really a very small community. We’re all part of delivering a fantastic experience to those who visit this town,” he says.
When visitors drop into the store, the staff openly share local intel on recreation opportunities.
“The thing that makes our store unique is that we try to treat guests like locals and fill them in on information. They want to check how the cross-country trails are riding,” says Kate.
The Rossos’ Zions Banker, Region President Tracy Groll, describes Bob and Kate as the “epitome” of the Ketchum community.
“They spend countless hours unpaid supporting the Boulder Mountain Tour and the Wood River Library Foundation. That’s what makes their business so successful, both locals and tourist alike recognize the passion they have for community,” Groll says.
Kate agrees the connections they’ve forged contribute to the store’s success. “In our business nowadays, with online shopping and everything, you have to stand apart. The way you can do that is by being involved in the community and supporting local organizations and charities,” she says. “That’s what brings our customers to us. They say, ‘I could buy it online, but I want to buy it from you.’”
Dry winter skiing conditions had already impacted the Wood River Valley before the pandemic hit, just before what would have been a busy Spring Break season. In mid-March, Sun Valley Resort closed the mountain abruptly. The Elephant’s Perch closed on March 17 and reopened two months later, on May 15.
“It was a very unsettling time, because we had to close really quickly. It was really worrisome to all our employees. And for us it was very stressful not knowing what would happen, how we would pay bills,” Kate recalls.
As a result, she altered her approach to inventory. “I cut back buying severely on clothing, because there was a lot of uncertainty about whether people would even be able to try on clothes in the dressing room. We let the shipments sit 24 hours [to avoid possible exposure].”
Bob boosted employee moral by encouraging outdoor activities. “I just am one of those kinds of people who get out there and do things. My way of coping with it was to inspire all of us to get outside and get away from the fear. For us to jump on our bicycles or our skis is a way we can cope. Just yesterday, a whole group of us hiked to the top of Baldy because we love being active,” he says.
Bob says his community connections with Groll made him feel supported through the process of applying for a U.S. Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.
“Tracy and Zions have always there for us as a supporter and a sponsor. We had them behind us, and that was comforting to me,” he says. “It took us until the second round [of funding] to get our PPP and our Zions Bankers worked their tails off. There was a pretty celebratory round of emails once we did get it.”
A Conservative Approach to the Future
Kate is optimistic about the future, but says she’s taking a touch-and-go approach. “I think there is uncertainty, and we’ll move forward conservatively, but we’ll move forward. We’ll be a little lighter on our feet, not commit too far ahead of time,” she says.
She adds that the shop’s Nordic and backcountry skiing focus buffer the risk of potential resort closure. “We focus on Nordic skiing and backcountry skiing, so we don’t need chairlifts to make our customers happy. Trails will be groomed, and people will be able to get out,” she says.
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Heidi Prokop is senior vice president and Communications Manager for Zions Bank.