Text and photography by Kim J. Gifford
“I’ve kind of always looked at us as the Cheers of sporting goods — you know the place where everybody knows your name?” says Stateline Sports Senior Manager Dave Dupree. “I’m not sure who is Norm and who is Cliff, but it’s the type of business where even if somebody is not necessarily shopping for something they always feel comfortable and want to stop by.”
No doubt this is due in part to the fact that Stateline Sports is a 36-year-old staple in the Upper Valley, drawing shoppers from communities in the core area and far afield. Owner Jon Damren notes that it is not unusual to see three or four generations of family shoppers come into the store.
“One man, now in his 40s, has a group of friends who went to Hanover High School, and he said that whenever they’re back in the area, they bring their kids to Stateline to be fit for their hockey equipment,” he says. “There is a certain amount of continuity that expands even beyond the Upper Valley.”
Damren’s tale is not unique. Ian Brown, 57, and his son Tristan, 20, of Bethel, Vt., have been buying their hockey gear at Stateline Sports for pickup games and leagues for years. “We love the personal attention and a chance to get our skates sharpened while trying on gear,” says Brown.
Stateline Sports originated in 1983 when business partners Bob Vanier and Damren, who had been working together at Tommy Keane Sports in Lebanon, N.H., decided to fill a void left in the market by the closing of that business. Vanier passed away in 2011. The store continued and now employs approximately 14 full- and part-time people. Some, like Dupree, have been with the business almost since its beginning. Dupree came on in 1989.
“We did the numbers once and figured between all of us, we had something like 150 to 200 combined years of sporting history. That’s taking care of a lot of skates and a lot of soccer shoes,” says Damren. “Through the years, there may be changes in equipment, but the basic premise of the business doesn’t change. It’s a matter of keeping the kids having fun and being safe and trying to fit them with the appropriate gear for the level that they play.”
This attention to fit and safety may play a large part in Stateline’s success in this Internet age.
“In this day and age of social media and being able to shop on their phones, it’s easy, especially for older kids, to get something online, but there’s a really good chance it’s either going to be the wrong item or the wrong fit and it’s going to end up costing more in the end. All things that could have been avoided by walking in the door of a store five minutes from their home,” Dupree says. “By focusing on the younger kids and their families, we hope to establish a connection that keeps them coming back for years.”
Caring about the Customer
The staff at Stateline is also careful to avoid upselling, another factor in the store’s success. “If someone doesn’t need a piece of equipment we’re not going to sell it to them just because we can,” says Dupree. “On occasion people will come in with a bag of softball gear or a whole hockey bag and they’ll ask, ‘Can you tell me if these fit?’ It would be easy for us to say none of it is right, but that’s not the way it goes here. We take the time and make sure everything fits and if it does they walk out with their equipment, if it doesn’t they get something new. Again, no pressure.”
“We sell the proper gear for the right level and we always try to keep it affordable. And, that combination has always been a pretty good formula for us,” agrees Damren.
And, just like Cheers, the personal touch goes a long way in bringing kids and families back to the store. Mackenzie Liu, 15, of Norwich, Vt., is a fine example. As the state championship approaches, she stands chatting, skates in hand with Stateline staff. They cheer her, anticipating a victory.
“We really care about the kids. We watch the sports pages and see the kid’s names in the paper,” says Damren. “It’s great to have them come back in after seeing them in the paper for scoring a goal. I think it’s a throwback to the old kind of business.”
For kids, parents, and grandparents alike, Stateline Sports seems to be the place not only to meet a wide array of sporting good needs from swimming, lacrosse and hockey to softball, baseball and soccer and a large variety of footwear, but also to feel comfortable in the process — the kind of place where they can be assured of walking away not only with what they need, but always “being glad they came.”