Asit Rathod knows Mount Hood.
Bo Grayzel grew up ski racing, so he understands the importance of finding your line and sticking with it, even when things get scary.
Grayzel launched his Portland used car rack shop ReRack in 2008, just as the economy was starting to collapse. He expanded it while the collapse worsened, created jobs as unemployment soared and pounced on opportunity when it presented itself in the form of a shuttered car dealership on Northeast Sandy Boulevard.
As of this fall, ReRack is selling new Thules and Yakimas as well as a wide variety of used racks at a bustling shop on 2240 NE Sandy and online at rerack.com. The company also serves as the official sponsor of the ReRack Rail Jam Series at Mt. Hood Meadows.
In six years Grayzel has grown the business to 15 employees by following a business model familiar to fans of Portland institutions such as Everyday Music and Powell's Books: buying as well as selling, used as well as new.
Grayzel, 44, grew up in Boston and in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where he competed as a junior racer specializing in downhill racing. He spent his last two years of high school skiing seven days a week at Cannon Mountain with the White Mountain School.
"We could go as fast as we wanted," he recalls. "We had permission to tuck all afternoon. No one would bother us as long as we didn't kill anyone."
His love of skiing brought him west to Utah after college. He settled with his wife Lindsey in Portland in 1996 and worked in tech sales for 10 years before finally deciding that he couldn't do it any more.
"I just realized that I was done," he says. "I didn't want another job in that field. I needed to reinvent myself."
His wife's work in freelance video production was super-busy, and they had two young sons to take care of. Bo started dabbling in used bikes and car racks in between family duties, buying used items online and at garage sales and reselling them after a little maintenance. He quickly learned that the used bike business was a tough one. But the used rack business was wide open.
He would find racks at garage sales, figure out which vehicles they fit, then advertise through craigslist specifically for that model of vehicle. Free installation was part of the deal — to prove the rack would fit — and each new installation improved his knowledge base.
By spring of 2008 Grayzel was renting a small space on Sandy Boulevard. The building's other tenant left town, so he expanded, posted hours, and hired his first employee. By the following summer he had three employees scrambling to keep up with demand. Selling cheap used racks with free installation went against the industry standards, but customers loved it.
And then in January of 2009 Portland's retail giant for outdoor sports, GI Joe's, went out of business and liquidated all its goods, leaving ReRack as the area's main low-cost seller of car racks.
Business was booming for ReRack in the early days, but it was a bit crazy. The first location didn't have a showroom or off-street parking. Customers would circle around the block and get parking tickets in the alley behind the shop. Grayzel and his employees would do installations right on Sandy during rush hour. Neighbors didn't like it; even the pawn shop next door had complaints.
"It was clear we were going to have to find a new space," Grayzel recalls.
Fortunately for him, all sorts of buildings were becoming available at affordable prices as the economy unraveled. Including the Timberline Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge Dealership just down the street, with ample parking, a big showroom, a huge sign facing 28,000 vehicles rolling past each day, and a vehicle bay large enough to fit an RV.
The dealership had to give up its space on Sandy in a hurry after losing their Chrysler franchise. “They got the rug pulled out from under them,” says Grayze, "and we were pretty much the first ones over there.”
He decided to buy the building. Small business loans were available, interest rates were low, and construction costs were much cheaper than usual because of the lack of work.
“Everyone was just hungry. The bank was hungry, the realtor was hungry, the construction companies were hungry.”
But it was still scary.
Grayzel and ReRack have been in their new location on Sandy for four years. When they moved in the Portland-based rack manufacturer Yakima opened them up as an account and they started selling new products for the first time.
As of this fall they are also selling new Thule racks. But they still sell mostly used products, sticking to their roots as a company built on re-use and value.
"We want to make sure that this stuff isn’t going into the landfill," says Grayzel. "And if we can’t do that we want to at least save people money on everything we sell.”
Grayzel recognizes the irony of running a business committed to sustainability while promoting car trips. But he and his employees have taken the necessary steps to become a certified sustainable business in Portland and then some. That includes solar panels on the roof that generated 11 megawatts of electricity last year.
They are also sticking to their roots as a company for skiers and snowboarders. Grayzel's first experience with racks was all about getting skis up to the mountain when he was a kid, and he is still way into skiing. He racked up 40 days on snow last season on Mount Hood, and as you can see from the photo to the left (shot by his wife Lindsey) he particularly enjoys shredding up nice, fresh power in the trees. His kids Ben and Ari ski and snowboard, his manager Garrett Shields coaches high school racers, and his employees head up to the mountain frequently.
Grayzel decided to sponsor rail jams at Meadows because his oldest son Ben is a snowboarder who loves to ride rails. He also teamed up with Yakima to support the Ram's Head Randonee at Meadows. He has held rail jams in the ReRack parking lot before, but his insurance company talked him out of making that a regular thing.
The first ReRack Rail Jam of the season is scheduled for December 20 at Meadows' Shipyard Park, with follow-up events set for January 17, February 7 and March 7.
The economy has recovered since ReRack's early days, but that doesn't mean the challenges are over. The new Thule account is "a bit daunting" in Grayzel's words, and expanding online sales is an ongoing challenge. The more merchandise ReRack acquires, the more complicated the business becomes.
Also, for all the popularity of racks in the skiing and snowboarding communities, winter remains ReRack's slowest season. To boost winter sales and start moving its new Thules, ReRack will be offering 20 percent off all new racks at its shop on Sandy starting the Friday after Thanksgiving. The sale will run through December 11.
Grayzel says ReRack is happy to expand its line of new racks, but he has no intention of becoming a company that pushes customers into buying the fanciest product available.
"We listen to people and evaluate what they need based on their vehicle and how they use it, and we offer them choices," he says. "And the first choice that we offer is still going to be a used rack if we have it.”