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WB grabs another slice of retail/rental pie

Sale of Summit Sport opens up competition questions



Whistler Blackcomb has taken another chunk of the local retail/rental market, confirming its plan to purchase independent retailer Summit Sport on Dec 16.

The sale comes 16 months after WB purchased the nine-store Affinity Sport outlets, a deal that has proved to be beneficial for the company. Combined, with Whistler Blackcomb branded stores, Affinity stores and now Summit, the company has the lion's share of the local marketplace, whether customers know it or not, prompting the question on the Whistler Politico Facebook page: Does WB need competition?

"Summit is a great operation and a great brand and we plan on continuing it as is at this point," said WB president and CEO Dave Brownlie.

Brownlie would not confirm which side put the deal on the table first.

"It's a private transaction so we don't really want to talk about how it was initiated," he said. "But suffice to say, there's lots of opportunities that are brought to us or we look at, and we evaluate those to see whether they're a fit for our company and in the best interest of our shareholders and Summit is clearly a business we're in. It's a great fit and we're excited to have as a part of our business."

Brownlie could not say what percentage of the local marketplace Whistler Blackcomb now controls.

"It's certainly a competitive business and there's a number of operators including ourselves and I'm sure it will continue to be competitive as we go forward," he said.

Summit, started in 1987, has two locations — a prime spot in the Hilton Whistler Resort, steps from the base of the mountains and another near the Fairmont Chateau Whistler at the Aspens location in the Upper Village.

The company has been operating in Whistler for 27 years.

"It wasn't an easy decision and (I have) mixed feelings," said Summit founder, co-owner and president Ian Van Gruen, adding that the deal grew organically as opposed to being started by one side or the other specifically.

"It has been a huge part of my life, it's pretty much defined my adult life in many ways, certainly business wise. But nothing is forever, and I decided the opportunity was there and you should take it while you can."

Van Gruen will stay on for a few months to help with the transition and then he and his junior partners Brett Milner and David Reid will leave the business.

But the staff are staying on and it will be business as usual at Summit said an emotional Van Gruen, adding, "they are like my family."

"The nice thing, and the sense that I am getting with our dealings with Whistler Blackcomb is they don't want to change it," he said. "They acquired it for a reason, and the reason is the type of business that we run, and nobody is leaving, so I would say I am pleasantly surprised by that."

As for the future he said, "I don't like to sit still, so I don't see myself doing nothing."

Brownlie reiterated Van Gruen's comments on service at Summit.

"At the end of the day Summit has great locations to service the customers... and they've done an excellent job and our goal is to continue to build on that," he added.

He also hopes that it will contribute to the company's bottom line, just as the Affinity purchase has contributed to rental and EBIDA (Earnings Before Interest, Depreciation and Amortization) growth.

"Absolutely. It's been very positive to our retail/rental business," said Brownlie of the Affinity purchase.

Despite the pros from WB's perspective, community members took to social media to express some concerns about the changing face of retail in Whistler and the move to the "generic."

"The irony in all this is that it was the competition between Whistler and Blackcomb that made the mountains keep evolving," wrote Steve Andrew. "Now that it's one mega corp they are doing their best to kill any competition... funny how that happens."

But adding Summit to the mix will create more variety at Whistler Blackcomb stores, countered Brownlie.

"This actually opens up other opportunities to increase variety further," he said. "It's about increasing variety and improving service."