Five questions for… Toby Phipps, managing director, Skismart

Toby Phipps of SkiSmart
Toby Phipps of Skismart

What does your firm do?

We’re an online business offering top-brand ski and snowboard clothing for hire. Skiwear is a classic “rent, don’t buy” item – expensive, and typically used
just once a year. Our customers are a mix of families, first-timers and young people who want to have skiwear from recognised brands. The rental model means premium clothing is now affordable for all.

What’s been your greatest achievement so far?

Establishing and growing a business in a completely new arena; in the US, hiring skiwear is the norm, but we’re the first company to do so here, so we have had to promote the concept itself. A big step forward was winning a Small Business Sunday award from Theo Paphitis in 2016. We’re now seeing a very high level of repeat business, with customers returning each year, and referring others, so there is healthy momentum.

What about your biggest challenge?

From year to year we have improved dramatically on our stock profile, ensuring we hold an appropriate range of styles and sizes to meet demand. This requires a forward view on winter sports fashions plus detailed analytics around our customers’ needs.

The logistics have also been a challenge, but we now have partnerships that ensure we can get items back from rental, and have them professionally cleaned and dispatched to the next customer within five days. This efficiency is vital in a season that runs for just four months a year.

What are your plans for hitting your targets this year?

We’ve branched out into the student market, which has added volume and balanced out demand – such groups tend to travel outside the peak periods of Christmas, February half term and Easter. Turnover is on course to double this year.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give fellow entrepreneurs?

Invest in what you love. Bring in core experience on finance, marketing and logistics as needed, so you can see above the parapet and nurture the business.