Scott Holmer has always been a tinkerer. Back home in his native Minnesota he built three boats to help him navigate the land of ten thousand lakes.So it only made sense that Holmer would eventually apply his restless mind to his first love, downhill skiing. The father of two successful racers, including a son who competed for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, Holmer was at a race in Oregon when he first hit on the idea of taking the mystery out ski tuning.
Armed with a bottle of wine and handful of spare parts from the local hardware store, Holmer set out to build a tool that the average skier could use to shape and sharpen their edges just like the pros had done for years. Within a few hours, Holmer had come up with a rough but working prototype that he dubbed the BEAST (Best Edge System Tool). Fifteen years later, the tool is part of the standard arsenal for nearly all DIY ski tuners in the United States and much of Europe.
Holmer has shipped more than 30,000 of the palm-sized tools worldwide, making it the leading edge tool for both racers and weekend warriors alike. The success of the Base BEAST inspired Holmer to expand the line of tuning tools to now include roughly a dozen different BEAST products, from a tuning bench to diamond sharpening stones and BEAST lubricant for said stones. Not all of the inventions are as revolutionary as the base BEAST, but they’re all highly functional. Take the BEAST “brake retainers”—really just a pack of heavy duty rubber bands to hold the binding brakes in position on the tuning bench. Easy, but effective.
“Sometimes it takes a simple mind to tackle these things,” jokes the self-effacing Holmer, whose career has spanned from a pre-Billy the Kid era Midwest ski rep to the owner of Minneapolis’ biggest and most successful ski shop to an entrepreneur and catalog manager. As the ski industry has evolved, so has Holmer who now spends half the year hawking high-end patio furniture from his Reed Market show room and warehouse that also doubles as the world headquarters for the BEAST product, all of which are assembled on a large table by employees between other duties, including delivering patio furniture.
Recently, Holmer’s daughter was in town for a visit and sat down at the table with a screw driver and threw together a couple of dozen Base BEASTS just to keep in practice. “You don’t’ want to make 100 of these, you’ll fry your brain,” said Holmer, whose laissez-fare approach to the assembly line, or table, is the anti-sweatshop mentality.
It’s no surprise that he’s resisted the urge to chase the bottom line all the way to China, as other manufacturers have done. Holmer gets almost all of his parts from right here in Oregon and most of them from suppliers in Bend and Redmond.
Even so, he’s managed to keep the price of the number one product unchanged for more than 15 years. You won’t pay more than $19.95 for the Base BEAST, whether you get it from Holmer’s Race Place catalog or one of the many ski shops and online retailers that carry the essential tool.
Among the local suppliers is Sam Shawe of Bend’s Outback Manufacturing who produces metal plates for some of the more advanced BEAST tools. Local manufacturers like Holmer, account for just a fraction of Outback’s total business, around five percent. But at the end of the day it all adds up, said Shawe. Likewise, Kathy Hergert of Beaver State Plastics in Drain, Ore, a small town just south of Cottage Grove, said her small plastics molding business counts on small accounts like Holmer’s Race Place to keep her roughly dozen employees working.
Asked if he’s considered outsourcing his plastic work to China, like so many other companies, Holmer quickly dismisses the idea as both impractical and unnecessary. Chinese manufacturers don’t have much interest in taking on small jobs like his modest ski tuning line. If he did go that route, Holmer said he'd give up quality control and accountablility—all for just a few thousand dollars at best.
“When you deal with China, you pay the money upfront and if it doesn’t work out—tough shit.”