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From backroom hobby to family business: Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis



Key business takeaways

  • Hosting events that don’t push a sale builds trust and community
  • With a niche product, use platforms like social media or a blog to educate visitors, which helps promote your brand and convert interest to sales
  • Hiring employees whose values align with the business creates a positive work environment that supports your cause

    If you open a job posting by Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis, you’ll notice an unusual requirement: “Must be a skier.”

    It’s a fitting prerequisite for a workplace that sometimes throws a “Gone skiing” sign on the doors after heavy snowfall. Besides influencing the workplace culture, hiring employees with a passion for the sport helps maintain Shaggy’s proud 14-year family history in northern Michigan’s Boyne City by building a knowledgeable staff who creates a hands-on experience for customers. 

    The Thompson brothers, Jonathan and Jeff, started making skis as a hobby in 2005 as high school students. Creating and building was second nature for the brothers, who grew up with parents in the construction industry. When the economic recession hit in 2008 and the family’s business took a serious blow, their parents got on board with ski-making as a second income.

    In 2011, the family went all-in on the business and moved to northern Michigan to open a Shaggy’s storefront, where they sold custom skis. 

    “It was a couple thousand square feet, not even that much probably. It was right on M75 in Boyne City. We never expected the support from the community and just never expected the company to do what it did,” mom Shari said.

    Jeff and his parents, John and Shari, have maintained their leadership roles as co-owners in the company ever since—Jeff serves as lead engineer, John as chief of production, and Shari as the administrative and office manager. 

    “The greatest thing about working together as a family is you’ve got each other’s back all the time,” Shari said. “You can always count on family while other people come and go. You just always have that comfort. It’s just so wonderful… we know how blessed we are.”.

    The family named the business after Jeff’s great-granduncle, Sulo “Shaggy” Lehto, who hand carved wooden skis for family members in the early 1910s. Sulo’s family lived on the Keweenaw Peninsula, the northernmost piece of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—also known as Copper Country for its huge supply of natural copper resources. This treasured piece of Thompson family history, beyond giving the business its name, serves as a daily reminder of the brand’s authenticity and deep roots in the sport.

    The company’s namesake, Uncle Sulo “Shaggy” Lehto, in what is estimated to be the year 1908.
    The company’s namesake, Uncle Sulo “Shaggy” Lehto, in what is estimated to be the year 1908.

    Prioritizing craftsmanship and sport education

    Shaggy’s staff hosts ski factory open houses and factory tours to both promote the product and facilitate ski craftsmanship education in the community—an important step in building awareness for the amount of time and skill each pair requires. As an added bonus, they provide complimentary snacks and drinks for attendees. 

    “There’s not really any kind of a school that you could go to to learn how to do this, or a machine,” Shari said. “We never wanted to outsource anything.”

    All Shaggy’s skis are built with northern Michigan hardwood trees, mainly ash, from a lumber vendor down the street from its factory. The Thompsons’ pride in owning each step in the ski-making process inspired John (Shari’s husband and Jeff’s father) to lead vlogs and demos that show the most minute production details, driving further education around Shaggy’s craftsmanship. 

    “A lot of the bigger manufacturers, even some of the small manufacturers, have their skis pressed somewhere else, whether it’s in China or in Canada,” Shari said. “We just always wanted to do that ourselves because we want the highest quality product available. I guess it’s not just the nature of our business, but the nature of our family. This is just how we roll.”

    In addition to craftsmanship education, Shaggy’s also provides more general information for people new to the sport. Since downhill skiing is one of the most popular sports in northern Michigan—a well-known destination for many skiers across the Midwest—catering to newbies helps Shaggy’s stand out among other ski suppliers. The Shaggy’s blog provides how-to videos and articles with topics that range from basic skiing techniques to discussing the delicate differences between its ski models. 

    Building the customer community

    Many businesses like to compare their staff and customers to family. The Thompsons take the sentiment a step further with an annual celebration: the family ski vacation. Each winter, Shaggy’s invites customers, staff, and the general public to join them on Mount Bohemia for a three-day extravaganza, which consists of skiing, meet and greets with the family and staff, giveaways, scavenger hunts, and shared meals. 

    While the event serves as a unique promotional strategy, it was initially developed as an opportunity for the Shaggy’s community to take time to focus on why they got into the business to begin with: their deep love of skiing. 

    “Whether someone skis Shaggy’s or not, we come together and have a good time. The whole vibe is great. And it’s not just family members—anybody who buys skis from Shaggy’s is a member of the family,” Shari said. 

    At the end of the weekend, the Shaggy’s team hands out one pair of free custom skis to a participant. 

    Shaggy’s also connects with its customer community outside the state of Michigan through brand ambassadors, who use social media to promote Shaggy’s skis and serve as an in-person presence for the brand in ski areas around New England and in Lake Tahoe, California. Whether a customer is a new skier or a veteran, the brand is focused on selling two things: a high-quality pair of skis and the Shaggy’s love.

    Photos from Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis

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