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The Story of a Successful Family Business

November 02, 2020 7 min read

 

KUNSTADT FAMILY HISTORY

Our love of sports goes way beyond the recent history of our successful family business. Eric’s, Ron’s and Monica’s paternal grandparents have been accomplished athletes as were their parents. Granny was a competitive skier in the 1930s while grandpa excelled in gymnastics and kayaking. The next generation continued in the family tradition, with their father Peter having been a member of the Czechoslovakian National Ski Team in the 1960s and continuing his ski racing career well past his 70th birthday. Pete is considered elite in the Canadian Masters Alpine competitions. Mother Susan has developed a unique reputation of being one of the most tenacious and well respected fitness instructors in the city of Ottawa. It is a small wonder that Eric and Ronnie became accomplished alpine ski racers and later, progressed to the sport of Ski Jumping where they both earned their spots on the Ontario Team. Monica, while being an excellent skier, never chose to become a ski competitor, but indulged in competitive rugby, volleyball and other sports. Our pride and joy, the grand kids (there are seven of them by the last count) are all very accomplished Alpine skiers and they all are on their path to becoming prominent Alpine ski racers. In the summer, Monica’s boys are involved in competitive football, rugby and basketball, Eric’s kids bike, swim and play soccer and water polo in the summer. Ronnie’s daughter Olivia water skis with her cousins in the summer.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

The year was 1988 when we decided to offer stringing services to others. As the seasons changed, we switched to tuning skis as we were preparing for the ski racing season.

Eric and Ronnie were serious tennis competitors in the 1980s. So good were they at the game of tennis that it was necessary to have their tennis racquets restrung multiple times per week, which resulted in considerable expenses. A more economical solution needed to be found. An opportunity presented itself as a small sports store in the centre of Ottawa went out of business and offered all their equipment and inventory for sale. We gave the young lady an offer, haggled a little and finally became the proud owners of a used racquet stringer and all the string that was in that store. We set up a tiny workshop in our home (we all lived under the same roof and Monica was just a little girl). Ronnie, having worked for a now defunct sports store in Kanata, had the necessary skill to teach us all how to string tennis racquets. Soon after, we decided to offer stringing services to others. As the seasons changed, we switched to tuning skis as we were preparing for the ski racing season. It was just natural that we chose to offer our ski tuning services to the public and voilá, Kunstadt Sports was born in the basement of the Kunstadt family home. Right from the outset, we recognised the importance of quality personal service. We picked up and delivered racquets and skis to our new customers and our client base was steadily growing.


AUGUST 1993 – THE GRAND OPENING IN KANATA

And one day in August 1993, we got an opportunity to rent a small corner of the building in the strip mall on Hazeldean Road in Kanata. A new sports store in Kanata was born!

These formative five years were great. The boys were in school, Pete worked full time as an engineer at a local nuclear technology company and after hours, we all worked on whatever was needed to sustain our fledgling little business. Every March Break, we all flew to Whistler B.C. and happily spent all the money we have made over the year. By summer of 1993, we felt that a change of location was required. And one day in August 1993, we got an opportunity to rent a small corner of the building in the strip mall on Hazeldean Road in Kanata. That was the beginning of a proud new sports store in Kanata. Of course, no distributor would entertain the idea of providing an unproven, unknown new store with new inventory. We started buying up used bike and ski equipment, serviced and cleaned it and offered it for sale. Our favourite slogan was (and still is to some extent) “USED BUT NOT ABUSED SPORTS EQUIPMENT”. Dr. Bruce Firestone, a well known Ottawa entrepreneur, and the founder of the Ottawa Senators hockey team, took a liking to our humble effort and acted as our mentor and supporter. We owe him a vote of gratitude. Our business was slowly gaining recognition. It wasn’t long until the media discovered that we had something unique and we started to receive some more serious attention by reputable sports equipment suppliers, some of whom began to be willing to take a chance on us and let us have some spanking new inventory. We did not disappoint and those early bold suppliers ended up laughing all the way to the bank, back in the 1990s.

THE EVOLUTION OF OUR STORES

Right from the outset, our Kanata store was steadily expanding in the 1990s and eventually, we were able to acquire the whole building and arrange it to best match our business requirements. Eventually, we even expanded it by about a third, in the early 2000s. In the late 1990s, Kunstadt Sports took advantage of an opportunity to open a very successful boutique and ski rental operation at Calabogie Peaks. When a sports shop with locations in Arnprior and Renfrew closed in about the same period, Kunstadt Sports acquired their inventory and goodwill and opened a store in downtown Renfrew. However, when an opportunity has arisen to open a store on Ottawa’s Bank Street South, the logical conclusion was to close the Renfrew store and focus on Ottawa. Not long afterwards, it became necessary to discontinue the Calabogie venture in spite of it being a very successful venture. We also had episodes of running tennis boutiques at The Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club and The Rideau Tennis Club (Now the Rideau Sports Centre – RSC), two of the oldest and most respected tennis clubs in the Ottawa area. The acquisition of the “Glebe Store” on Ottawa’s Bank Street, took place in the late 2000s when the previous occupant chose not to extend their lease. Suddenly, we had a concentration of Kunstadt Sports outlets near Ottawa’s centre and so we decided that the tennis boutiques must yield to our (at the time) three core Ottawa stores. In October 2019, a wonderful new retail space became available in Chelsea, QC. It was time to expand again and today, we are the proud operators of a shiny new sports store in the province of Québec. Today, we are proud to serve the sporting public in our four major Ottawa area stores as well as in our well established on-line store. We have come a long way from the tiny operation in the Kunstadt family basement!

OUR STRENGTH IS OUR STAFF

Ours is a true family business. Not only are all members of the Kunstadt clan active in the business, we also consider our staff to be a part of our extended family. This certainly helps maintain the family atmosphere in the stores and highlights the high priority given to personalized customer service. Our employees are athletes who are personally involved in sports that we cater to. We employ accomplished skiers, bikers, tennis players and fitness enthusiasts. Our servicemen are true mechanics, licensed in their relevant fields. We speak our customers’ language. And we recognize our employees’ achievements. 

THE HOUSE BRAND CONCEPT

We are very proud of our innovative spirit. It manifests itself among other things, by the emergence of Kunstadt branded products for example. We have been very successful offering a line of Kunstadt skis in a variety of lengths and featuring adult and junior models. These skis were made to our specifications by a highly recognized ski manufacturer. Similarly, we now offer a line of Kunstadt hybrid bicycles manufactured by one of the world’s most experienced and reputable bike manufacturers, to our exacting specifications.

SPECIAL NEEDS ASSISTANCE

Our technicians are skilled mechanics with multiple skills. When a neighbour of Pete’s approached Kunstadt Sports with a request to design and produce a custom tricycle for his severely handicapped young daughter, our techs got on with it without delay. Soon after, we could see the proud parents jog on the streets of Kanata accompanied by their daughter on her tricycle. When she grew out of the specialized contraption, we adapted an adult tricycle for this girl’s special needs and she is mobile once again. 

We are strong supporters of the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiers (CADS). Our technicians assist CADS in adapting skis to customized sit skis and provide a variety of other important services.

SPONSORING OTTAWA MASTERS SKI RACING CLUB

Being avid ski racers ourselves, we have been principal sponsors of the Ottawa Masters Ski Racing Club ever since its inception. Presently, we are the sole corporate sponsor of the organization. We encourage our staff to participate in the weekly Masters races at local ski resorts. Our team’s presence at all Masters’ events is quite unmistakable.

KUNSTADT OPEN TENNIS TOURNAMENTS

In August 1996, on Ron Kunstadt’s initiative, we hosted the First Annual Kunstadt Open Tennis Tournament at the Glen Cairn Tennis Club in Kanata. The relaxed fun atmosphere mixed with a very professional tournament organization, attracted increasingly high quality tennis players not only from Ottawa, but also from other areas of Ontario and Quebec as well as the occasional participant from faraway places. The Kunstadt Open Tennis Tournament became one of the “do not miss” tournaments which attracted numerous highly accomplished tennis players. We have been instrumental in putting this unknown tennis club in Kanata on the map of reputable tennis tournaments. The Kunstadt Open Tennis Tournaments continued for 21 consecutive years. At the conclusion of the 21st Kunstadt Open Tennis Tournament, we decided to move on and let others do the honours.

HELPING POLITICIANS STAY IN SHAPE

Kunstadt Sports actively participates in the Annual Parliament Ride. Under the leadership of a Vancouver MP, a group of parliamentarians and their staff assemble on the lawn of the Canadian Parliament once a year and, following a few speeches outlining the importance of physical fitness, the group embarks on a short but scenic bike ride through the downtown of Ottawa. Kunstadt Sports provides bicycles for those who need them. A Canadian ski legend, Nancy Greene-Raine, now a retired senator, has been a frequent participant and supporter.


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