Wednesday, June 29, 2011

APS Spinsheet Chesapeake Racer Profile - Kyle Gross & the APS Story

Here in Annapolis on our local radio station, WRNR, it's advertised as "where the sailors shop." Those who know it well have described it as a "candy store for sailors." Far-flung sailors may think of it as a mail order or online catalogue for gear. Annapolis Performance Sailing (APS) has been one or all of those things in its 20 years in business.

On a muggy June day, I parked my bike outside APS - in the Eastport section of Annapolis, one block from the water - and stepped into the air conditioned store, where Mike Lindsley greeted me. I checked out some Patagonia board shorts as I waited to meet Cat Walton and Bryn Bachman, who are both tasked with pieces of the marketing puzzle. Walton walked me through the bustlings shipping area to the kitchen. I discovered that within my first few minutes at the store, I had already had contact with sailors of the E-Scow, Vanguard 15, J/22, J/80, J/122, Farr 40, and TP 52 - and those were only the ones I had spoken to of the dozen I had seen working.

A few minutes later, Kyle Gross came in and shared the story of how it all came to be. When he was a St. Mary's College sailing team member working in the boat house in 1990, he says, "I saw how difficult it was to source parts. Especially dinghy parts that came from the U.K. There just weren't any good retailers. That's where the seed was sewn, and it just kind of rattled around in my head. As I saw graduation coming, I thought, 'Hey, I'm giong to open the best dinghy shop and have all this hard-to-find stuff.'"

After college, Gross was finishing up his degree and working in Eastport at Black Dog Boat works with Bob Stein, who was a huge help by lending him power tools and his truck. In 1991, Gross got his start in a small storefront for which he built all the shelves, fixtures, and displays himself. For a couple of years, he was the only employee. APS now employs 30 sailors in peak season.

Spinsheet: When you first started your store, did you have a vision for what would come next?
I had a vision, but I didn't have any money. Some stores just stocked items that flew off the shelves. I wanted the store to be a complete resouce. If you were to buy a particular cleat, you could also get the base, wedge for angling, fair leads, and all accessories, in all sizes. Some of it would collect dust on the sheves, but I wanted to make customers for life.

Name a trend you've seen sailing over the years.
The customers' ability to participate in the sport has shrunk. Disposable time can be harder to find than disposable income. We have to be super efficient. We operate under the assumption that anyone ordering from us will be sailing the following weekend.

What would your advice be for a young person considering opening a sailing-related business?
On the record? [laughs] Love the lifestyle first. It's the most compensation you're going to get. It's a lifestyle choice. It's a passion choice.

We notice you have some job openings. What is the top benefit of working for APS?
The culture here is very team-oriented. Everybody looks out for each other. At the end of the day, when everyone is running to catch their boats, they're not going in separate directions. They sail a lot together.

Do you have time to go sailing anymore?
I get out on the water a lot, whether it's under power or sail, but I haven't been doing a lot of competitive sailing. I just bought a Sunfish for my two daughters. That's my priority.

What gear to you depend upon?
I love my Dubarry boots on a boat or in snow. Musto MPX GoreTex and padded sailing shorts.

How will you celebrate the 20th anniversary of APS?
With a backyard barbeque from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 10 at the APS Storefront (104 Severn Avenue) with food, drink, and extended store hours. A thank you to our regional patrons and all performance sailors visiting Annapolis. Stop by to join in our celebration. To learn more about the Anniversary Celebration, call Cat Walton at 800-729-9767, ext. 140 or email catw@apsltd.com.

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