Mark Twain once said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” That philosophy rings true for Shawn Solem, owner of Zombie Boardshop in Burnsville. Shawn was an avid snowboarder and skateboarder since he was a kid. Still a teenager, he worked in various boardshops and resorts, and in 2005, he snagged the opportunity to open his boardshop in Burnsville. “It’s what I love to do, and I decided to make a career out of it,” Shawn explains.
Zombie Boardshop sells everything you’d need for the sport: a variety of wake, snow and skateboards, equipment, and apparel. They carry several major brands but also have unique lines other shops don’t carry in Minnesota. For example, they’re the only shop to sell Karua Snowboards – a brand Shawn discovered while snowboarding in Austria. They also are one of the only MN retailers to offer Interior Plain Project – a midwest-influenced snowboard brand that began in Minnesota.
Retail makes up only part of the business. The entire basement at Zombie Boardshop is dedicated to board tuning, repair, and refurbishing. “We get a lot of customers that come from all over the midwest – IA, Ca, ND, SD, WI – and we draw from all over the metro. In 2010 we expanded our store and our offering. That lets people know about us better just driving by,” Shawn says.
Shawn’s confident it’s their customer service and expertise that’s driven their success.
Adam and Ellie, two long-time staff at Zombie Boarshop, share in Shawn’s enthusiasm. They started working at Zombie as kids in ‘06 and ‘07 and have never left. Both of them skateboard, surf, and snowboard, bringing their expertise to assist customers every day.
Their staff knows every product inside and out because they’ve tried them all. “We’ve had a chance to ride every board in this shop, and we can tell you the difference and offer a product that meets the customer’s needs,” professes Shawn.
“We hardly do any advertising; it’s word of mouth. But what sets us apart is our service. We’re fair, we don’t try to oversell, and we try to give customers exactly what they need. We deal with many families new to the activities, and they don’t really know where to start. Our goal is to get a customer on a board they’re going to have fun on. And then, later on, they can upgrade or get advanced equipment. I focus on fun – it’s fun every day. Our customers love our passion for the industry and what we do. I think that says a lot about our business.”
Their prime location has also contributed to their success. Burnsville built a nearby skate park, and Buck Hill resides just down the road. That’s allowed Zombie Boardshop to put on several partnered events. “We create a community and enthusiasm around the industry. I’ve made a lot of friendships because of it, like Adam and Ellie. We love creating passion in another generation of kids. We’ve helped build a great community with friends and customers that have been coming here forever. Kids to teens to parents – they’re all getting on snow. It’s wild to see.”
Up until last spring, Shawn was leasing their building. In March, they bought the building but had to close due to the pandemic. Before COVID, Zombie Boardshop hadn’t dabbled much in online sales since their business model focuses heavily on personal service. They worked to get ramped up on the web, and in early April, they began offering curbside service. “I just set up a table, and it was me helping customers outside. It was really odd,” remembers Shawn. “It’s not what we’re used to. We missed the experience of doing what we do. People are driven to buy online, like Amazon, but you don’t get any experience, such as seeing everything and talking to industry experts. I see web offering the exact opposite – I don’t ever want to be that online retailer with no customer experience.”
In the spring, they were able to open up and get everything going. It was challenging to lure staff back when people were getting paid more to stay home. Supplies also ran short because of COVID. “Luckily, we sell stuff that lets you get outside and social distancing. Business went crazy this summer,” says Shawn.
During the holidays, Zombie Boardshop has increased donations. They participate in Bridge for Youth, a non-profit that provides safe shelter for homeless kids and kids with challenging lifestyles. For every pair of socks sold, they’ll donate a pair to the organization.
They also plan to purchase gift cards from independent restaurants, and for every snowboard sold, the customer will get a gift card to a local restaurant. “We want to try to stimulate local restaurants and remind people to support local every way they can.”