Feature Retailer: Karl Salz

The specialty and outdoor retail industries are unique. Here, it’s not always about competition. We share a common goal: getting people in the store, but more importantly, getting them outdoors. We’re all passionate about the same things, and we love to share that passion with our customers. And when one of us—from the biggest box stores to the littlest mainstreet mainstay—helps create a new outdoors enthusiast, we all benefit.
Karl Salz, EVP and Chief Operating Officer at Sun & Ski Sports, has been an instrumental figure in the sports and outdoor retail industry for decades. It’s inestimable how many outdoor enthusiasts he’s helped create in his tenure, which has been with the biggest powerhouses in the industry. But Salz, like every other retailer and manager who’s worked with the Mann Group, has the same perspective and priorities: making customers happy.
Just like the folks at your favorite little outdoor shop, Salz got his start in the outdoor retail industry young, when he was just a kid with a hobby. Growing up in central Indiana, Salz would go to Galyan’s Trading Company for his outdoor needs which, at the time, were snow and ski related. But Galyan’s was a family tradition; Salz’ grandfather had purchased his boats and equipment from the company in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so it was only natural for Salz himself to begin his retail life—which first started on the other side of the register—there too.
When Salz returned to his hometown after college and needed a part-time job to sustain him through graduate school, a friend offered to help him get a position at Galyan’s. Salz’ position within the company grew with Galyan’s itself, which expanded exponentially, from four stores at the time of Salz’s hire to some $700 million in just over a decade. “It was really just a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” says Salz. “I was always involved in sports and outdoors stuff, so it was a great fit.”
During Salz’s term at Galyan’s in the ‘90s, it was the best in the business. They won countless awards and experienced unparalleled growth. “We were doing a lot of things right, and we had a good story to tell,” he remembers. His position in the company, and the company’s incredible success, meant there were plenty of opportunities to be recruited by other sports retailers, but Salz stayed. In part because Galyan’s was already the best, but also because of the company’s value of loyalty.
It wasn’t until Galyan’s founder retired and the company began to shift that Salz looked outside the retail giant for opportunities. Though Salz had been recruiting from the Sports Authority for years, they eventually turned the tables and began recruiting him. After 12 years at the helm at Galyan’s, Salz moved to the Sports Authority.
But Salz soon realized that his new position at wasn’t the perfect fit. Although he was pleasantly surprised by his coworkers and their mission, there was an integral piece missing. “I missed being part of strategy like I was able to be part of at Galyan’s,” he says. So when his former boss passed over a position at another massive outdoor retailer, Sun & Ski, and pushed it toward Salz, he was thrilled.
At Sun & Ski, Salz was privy to all the parts of the job he missed out on at the Sports Authority, plus the leadership there was distinctly similar to what he had loved at Galyan’s. “I got to sit down and talk with Barry Goldware, and for him it was all about the customer, customer service, people, strategy and growth,” he says. “Sun & Ski was smaller, but I had never had the opportunity to be director of stores before, and I thought that sounded great, especially with a guy like Barry (who had so much respect for Galyan, and even tried to emulate some of those aspects in his own stores)… He was a visionary entrepreneur like Pat Galyan.”
And now for another twelve years, Salz has been at the head of another incredibly successful and heavy-hitting company. His passion for the company comes from those traditional values you’ll be hard-pressed to find in the retail giants of other industries, but that are prevalent throughout outdoor retailers, like a penchant for genuine customer service.

As any manager or retailer can attest, it’s not a job that ever gets old or boring, and that’s what Salz likes best. When asked what his favorite part of his job is, Salz doesn’t hesitate: “Figuring things out and sorting through our opportunities for growth. Coming in every day, there are a variety of things that need to be tackled.” Coupled with the incredible people he gets to call his peers, plus Sun & Ski’s awesome camps (like bike, ski and water sports) provided for employees, Salz is truly living the dream.
Despite more than two decades in some of the biggest outdoor specialty retailers around, Salz knows that sometimes an outsider’s perspective is the key to success. For that, he looks to the Mann Group. Salz and Sun & Ski run into one of the same major problems we stumble upon often at the Mann Group. “We like to hire a lot of enthusiasts that are passionate about the activities they do, but they might not be the most confident working with customers yet and we have high expectations from a customer service standpoint,” says Salz. Salz brings in Dan Mann to help ensure those enthusiasts are just as passionate about customer service as they are about their favorite sports.
“We rely on Dan to help us with our strategy,” he notes. “He’s more than a trainer, he’s almost like a partner or consultant.” Having Dan and the Mann Group at their side means Sun & Ski are able to hire those employees who are passionate about their sport and have built-in product knowledge. With the proper training and strategy, they become confident in their customer service. And because Dan has such extensive experience within the industry, Salz points out, his employees see him as a credible source, not just some corporate speaker who knows nothing about the outdoors. They listen to him—and become incredible salespeople because of it.

In an industry divided by corporate retailers and little shops, folks like Salz prove that we’re not so divided after all. We all share the same goals, the same problems, and the same passions. And in a constantly shifting and changing retail world, it’s a comfort to know none of us is alone. 

Leave a comment