Team Onion's Alpha
One of the crew is sleeping under the desk in the office. Another is meandering around the shop, greeting customers based on the likelihood of getting some free food. And the third is hooking up a family with the right wheels for an epic day on the trails.
Sounds like your typical gaggle of mountain bike shop employees, right? Well, not exactly.
The sleeper is Tallulah, a five-year-old French bulldog, and the greeter is Vidalia, a seven-year-old English bulldog. Together the two are known as Team Onion.
And the charismatic seller? That’s Todd Fischer, owner of Silver Star Ski & Sport (1825 Three Kings Dr, 435.645.7827). You could say that Fischer is the alpha of Team Onion, but he knows he’s not the reason why out-of-towners make his shop their first stop in Park City.
“When people come in to the shop, the first thing they do is ask, ‘Where are the dogs?’” Fischer says with a laugh. “People ride down the [Spiro-Armstrong] trail in summer or ski down in the winter just to visit them. It’s become quite the thing to do.”
Vidalia and Tallulah are not only shop attractions but also part of Fischer’s brilliant yet unplanned marketing campaign. Team Onion gear and apparel—from calendars to T-shirts and bike jerseys to flasks—can be purchased at the shop, constituting a sizable portion of its overall sales. The bulldogs’ lovably ugly mugs are all the rage on social media, too.
Take a look in the dressing room. There are framed photos sent from all over the world of customers wearing Team Onion jerseys and shirts. There’s even a photo of Vidalia lovingly licking the late Robin Williams’s face. “I think it works [as a marketing strategy] because it happened by accident,” Fischer says. “If you would have asked me in the very beginning if I would eventually create a mascot like this, I’d have said, ‘You’re crazy. There’s no way I’m going to put my dog on a T-shirt.’”
Fischer moved to Park City in 1998—“for the snow, like everyone else”—and worked as a bartender at the now-closed Town Lift Bar and Restaurant. With his easy charm and big smile, it’s not hard to imagine him slinging drinks and telling stories over the plank. He does the same thing now, but with bikes and skis instead of cocktails and, of course, better hours.
A man of many talents, Fischer was a golf professional at Tuhaye Golf Course for a summer and a half. He went on to work two formative positions at Deer Valley Resort: a ski host and a sales clerk at Cole Sport. “I think Deer Valley is one of the best-run places ever,” he says. “I try to model a lot of what I do at the shop, in terms of customer service, from what I learned there.”
In 2005, Fischer became the director of owner relations at Silver Star Development. Investors were trying to attract a retailer to run the proposed ski shop, but by 2007, with the recession, there were no takers. So, they asked Fischer if he’d manage the shop if they put up the funds. He said yes and was the general manager until August 2013 when he and his wife, Kate, purchased the business outright. Despite being the owner, Fischer is still a fixture at the store, where he works just about every day.
The Chicago native is warm and high-energy. He manages his empire from a cluttered desk that probably sees more use from the sleeping Tallulah than from him. The shop floor is where he feels most in his element. “I love our customers. A lot of times this is their first stop after a long travel day, which, as we all know, are never the best days,” Fischer says. “Just about every single time, though, we can turn around their vacation and get them stoked about being in Park City.”
The self-proclaimed “Greatest Shop on the Planet...as voted on by us, the dogs and a few other people!” is open year-round, seven days a week. In the summer, the store rents mountain and road bikes, as well as stand-up paddleboards. During the winter, Fischer rents skis and snowboards and sells hard and soft goods.
What you won’t find at Silver Star Ski & Sport, which unfortunately is standard at many sporting goods stores, is “shop-tude,” that condescending air of elitism from the employees. “We sell fun, so we keep it fun,” Fischer says.
Right now, the sun is setting and Jimi Hendrix blares over the speakers; it’s “classic rock Saturday.” A few customers stop in to drop off rentals or procure another bike or paddleboard setup for tomorrow. They banter with Fischer a bit—after saying hello and petting Vidalia, of course.
Tallulah is now awake, as indicated by the happy grunting coming from the office. She waddles over to Vidalia and Fischer, making the Silver Star Ski & Sport rock-star team complete.