Cracks, racks and entrepreneurial will
January 18, 2016
Following the path of convention isn't a common trait among many independent-minded entrepreneurs.
Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, drafted his company's business model on a cocktail napkin in a San Antonio restaurant.
Snowmass Village resident Scott Vold had a similar experience at the now-defunct Bentley's at the Wheeler. Vold already had a business — Fas-Break Windshield Repair — when a friend suggested that he also sell and install sports-equipment racks on vehicles.
"We joked and said we could call it Cracks and Racks," Vold said last week from his Aspen Business Center office. "I decided it was a really good idea, so I started pursuing what it would take to be a niche retailer of car racks, and I changed the name to Cracks and Racks."
The catchy name, comically risque in the same spirit as Beaver Liquors in Avon and Master Bait and Tackle in Silverthorne, has become ubiquitous on local commercial radio. Local musician Steve Cole, with a low-voiced country twang, sings an accessible tune with more hooks than your dad's tackle box: "Cracks — and Racks — we're on top of your car."
"People used to joke about it, and some thought it was a strip club," Vold said, adding that he has trademarked the name.
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Vold's business turned 20 years old this month, dating back to when he opened Fas-Break Windshield Repair on Jan. 3, 1996.
From Chart House to Cracks & Racks
Armed with a bachelor's degree in actuarial science from the University of Iowa, Vold wouldn't apply his education toward its intended profession in risk assessment in insurance, finance and other fields.
"I thought I'd be one of those corporate consultants helping big companies put together pension plans and insurance benefits," he said.
But the U.S. economy was receding at the time, and the first Gulf War was fresh in the country's rearview mirror. Work was difficult to come by in Chicago where Vold was raised, especially for someone who was admittedly an average student right out of college.
So, Vold moved to the Aspen area in 1992 and picked up work in the service industry, busing and waiting tables at the Chart House. Once a ski videographer, Vold, now 45 and married with one son, began detailing cars in the fall of 1995. Soon after, he was doing windshield-repair work, fixing chips and cracks.
He borrowed $1,000 from his father to start the business. The work was good and could be trying, too: Vold recalled having hands so cold one time they'd gone numb from fixing the windshield of a car parked in front of Little Annie's.
But he grinded it out, getting what he called "my first big break" when Budget car rental came knocking in 1997.
"They asked me to come by every day and service all of their rental cars, and that turned out to be a great a little account," he said.
That same year, Vold not only was repairing windshields — he also began replacing them.
A few years later, the business morphed into Cracks and Racks. Vold had focused on expanding his business slowly. Starting too quickly, he said, could have been fatal to his venture.
Failure wasn't an option
All the while, Vold brimmed with confidence, chiefly because he believed in his idea and wasn't afraid to break a sweat.
"I just never felt I would fail," he said. "It never occurred to me that I wouldn't be successful. It just never crossed my mind that I would fail when I started."
Today, Cracks and Racks is composed of two service bays, a retail floor, an office and storage. Vold leases the property at the Aspen Business Center, where he has had several locations.
"Honestly, I don't know if I would have been successful if I had started a business that required six or seven employees out of the gate," said Vold, who has two full-time workers at Cracks and Racks. "I don't think I could have done that."
In 2002, however, Vold found an opportunity to expand, and he opened a second Cracks and Racks in Carbondale.
But the time commitment took its toll, Vold recalled.
"I never had free time," he said.
Vold would meet his to-be fiancee in June 2006 and had an option to renew the Carbondale lease in April 2007. He opted out.
"It was more of a personal decision than a business decision," he said.
Businesswise, however, the decision worked in Vold's favor.
"I learned a lot from the store in Carbondale," he said. "I started focusing heavily on our e-commerce platform. When the economy went south, our e-commerce business grew exponentially. We were able to reach out to a broader audience."
The Cracks and Racks website went online in around 2004 or 2005, Vold said. By then, the retailer was a dealer of Yakima and Thule ski racks, along with rear mounts, luggage racks and other cargo-storage accessories for vehicles.
"We started picking up new brands and more lines of stuff, always focusing on the high-quality products," he said. "We didn't want to be serving people with shoddy Wal-Mart-type stuff."
Even with the e-commerce business, Vold said Cracks and Racks still relies heavily on its local stable of customers.
"About 98 percent of people who come here are locals," he said. "I've met all of the characters around town. For me, the best part of it is seeing people. … And regardless of what you pull up in, I'm going to treat you the same whether you have an '83 Pinto or you pull up in a '15 Ranger Rover Supercharged."
Vold spends time doing office and administrative work, but he also works on vehicles himself.
"I like being on the floor; I like answering the phones," he said. "I'll go in (a bay) and do a windshield or put a rack on a car. I feel it's important to do anything I can. I'll take out the trash and clean out the toilets. I'm not above anything."