Jeff Buckman, the current President of Buckman’s Inc & Buckman’s Ski & Snowboard Shops, has worked at the business for his entire life. Started by his dad in 1971 out of necessity, Buckman’s Inc began as a small side business when he couldn’t find somewhere to buy pool chemicals locally. A plumber and heating engineer by trade, Buckman Senior used his own premises to store the pool chemicals in the summer and then, faced with the empty space in the winter, was encouraged by an employee to utilize it for ski supplies.
“When I left high school, I went to work for my dad, and he suggested that we try to make a bigger business out of the ski side, with me concentrating on it. So, I was a plumber by day, and at night and on Saturdays I worked in the ski store. One customer led to another, and that one ski shop founded in the early 1970s is now seven ski shops and a large online business, providing everything from Chapstick to skis and snowboard and
apparel! We also have a large ski and snowboard rental business along with a ski and snowboard service repair center.”
In the ski retail world, Buckman’s Ski & Snowboard Shops was one of the first to launch an online store, and it has continually added new domains through acquisition, right up until April 2023 when it obtained www.skis.com and www.snowboards.com. “We are looking forward to developing those,” reveals Jeff. “The products are delivered by us, but the URLs remain as they were, so customers can visit those two sites in the same way they always have, and we get to reach more people with more products!”
He goes on to detail the evolution of the pool chemicals side of the business. “We decided to go into wholesale for these, rather than retail. There were a couple of products that the pool industry just wasn’t servicing properly, that were hard to find or had long delivery times. So, we concentrated on those, and the business grew to the point where we’re now delivering these products up and down the eastern third of the United States.”
Jeff’s description makes it sound simple, but in fact the business offers around 15 different types of pool chemical, with sodium hypochlorite being the main one, which it manufactures in its own facilities, as well as purchases from other producers. “We buy in large quantities, and then repackage it into various sizes, from one gallon to five-gallon drums, to 5,000 gallon tank trucks,” notes Jeff. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve been switching to more automated solutions in the factory, including conveyors and robotics. We want to be as efficient as possible, as well as overcome the common issue of finding enough labor to undertake the more manual roles.”
Managing waste, installing LED lighting and solar panels, as well as recycling are all part of the manufacturing philosophy for Buckman’s Inc as it continues to look for both efficiencies and greener options. “In 2012 when it was installed, we had the largest roof mounted solar system in the State of Pennsylvania,” adds Jeff. “The manufacturing of sodium hypochlorite uses a lot of electricity, so it made sense financially to embrace solar power, as well as benefitting the environment, and the same principle applies to our refilling and recycling policy. It works both ways – for us and the earth.”
Having created two very different yet complementary businesses that balance out seasonal demands, Jeff unites them through extraordinary levels of customer service. “This has been something that we have emphasized forever, and we really do take it to the next level. I will give an example from the chemicals side. One of our drivers was running late and the customer was extremely upset about it. Our technology meant I could track the truck and reassure the customer he was 20 minutes away, but because it had caused the customer a problem, I told him that order would be free of charge, to recognize the inconvenience. That customer ended up calling back and apologizing, acknowledging he was having a bad day, but if we cause a problem, or make a mistake, we do whatever it takes to correct it.
“On the ski side, we’ve met customers at the airport with their skis that needed mounting the day before, to ensure they make their flight,” he continues. “We do whatever is needed to take care of the customer. It’s the best advertising we can do, and they will recommend us as well. We want the customer to think ‘wow, that was really great’, and in a market where we’re selling things other people sell, it’s a unique selling point (USP) to have this level of service.”
As a result, whether it’s a Patagonia jacket or five-gallon drum of sodium hypochlorite, Jeff’s team constantly looks for ways that it can help customers, or in his words ‘be their hero’. “One of the products we carry for pools are pouches of water balancers. Customers sometimes want bulk loads of these, and for those customers, we will keep ten percent extra in our warehouse, and then when they need it, we have it. We find that customers often don’t forecast properly, and if we can ship out product they need straight away, it sets us apart, it makes their lives easier and it makes us shine.”
While this approach does require extremely high levels of planning and forethought, the business is also flexible enough to make quick decisions should opportunities arise. Jeff’s approach to company expansion is discussed in a book he has written (details at the end of the article) – he no longer does three- or five-year plans, as he strongly believes the Lord presents opportunities when the time is right, and the business is always poised to act as and when necessary. Jeff notes that this was the approach taken when Buckman’s Ski & Snowboard Shops acquired www.skis.com. “We didn’t know it was available, but when we found it was, we made an offer, they made a counteroffer, and boom, it was done in around two weeks.”
Eye for innovation
Alongside this attitude to acquisition, Buckman’s Ski & Snowboard Shops also continually develops its skiwear product range, always with the end user in mind. “We’ve launched an accessory line that continues to grow, under the brand name Winter’s Edge. We found that in the ski industry, people go away for short trips and forget items like gloves. But local shops might be charging $125 dollars for high end ski gloves, and they are only looking for mid-range basics. So, our range is medium-priced, with $39 gloves, and $55 pants. We’ve found that it’s been well received and is breaking new ground for us, because we’re now selling to ski areas and ski shops, not just our own outlets.
“Furthermore, we have found that sporting goods stores, and agricultural and hardware stores have caught on to these products, and we see demand growing there. Right now, we’re being featured in 60 stores, and have a test going on over the winter with three companies to see how the products sell. These three companies represent over 800 stores, so if the test goes well, our products could be found in all of those in 2024-25! We’ll hang on for the ride and see where that goes.”
It’s clear the Buckman’s Ski & Snowboard Shop team has its finger on the pulse of what customers are looking for – another range of recent product innovations from the brand is aimed at the skiwear rental market, but tractor and supply stores are looking at them, too. “We went to the rental world and asked them what their issues were with rental clothing, and we created a product range designed to solve their problems. Rental outerwear needs to be robust; it is not going to be treated with respect, it is going to be washed a lot, and it must be easy to wear, comfortable, and long lasting.”
This ability to stay ahead of the market is going to stand both sides of Buckman’s in good stead for the future, with Jeff’s son Brad having taken over the day-to-day operations from his father, with Jeff and his wife Nancy remaining as ‘Buckman’s Ambassadors’ and Jeff on-hand to offer advice and recommendations. This slight stepping back allows Jeff to concentrate on other areas, such as his mission projects and work on advisory boards.
In just over five decades, Buckman’s combined business has grown from $46,000 in sales to more than $125 million. It is an outstanding example of sustained growth and adaptability, and as it heads into the future, Brad looks set to continue to navigate opportunities, meet evolving customer needs and explore new market segments. As our conversation draws to a close, we circle back to Jeff’s book, Making Your Business God’s Business. While his own specific approach is based on biblical principles, it is fair to say that regardless of faith, some of the methods he uses are applicable to all businesses. “Looking after vendors, serving customers and being kind to staff, and being honest; all of those sorts of values are relevant to everybody,” he concludes.