CEO Says Economy Remains Weak Overall

Isiah Reyes

Creating opportunities in a difficult economic environment was at the center of discussion during Thursday’s “From Defense to Offense: A Strategic Approach to Success” business lecture, presented by Craig Levra, president and chief executive officer of Sport Chalet.

The second annual business lecture was held in the auditorium directly after the State of the College Address. Levra spoke of his company’s defense during the economic hard times.

“I would say, the macro economics [environment] is not one bit brighter,” said Levra. “Arguably, it’s worse than last year.”
Levra blames the hardships on the adjustable rate mortgage crisis, which caused the “perfect storm” to brew. This hurt Sport Chalet’s chances for survival, as other companies, such as Circuit City and Linens ‘N Things, were crushed by the financial tornado.

One way this chief executive officer combated the troubling economic situation was by encouraging his employees to become certified pros in their areas. Many Sport Chalet workers specialize in certain fields such as scuba, bike repair or outdoor activities.

Employees are required to pass a rigorous test to become specialized, which is something Levra takes pride in. When a 30-day forbearance was placed on Sport Chalet by a lender, Levra wanted to put workers on full-time status to make sure the finest workers were on staff.

In contrast, Circuit City did the exact opposite when it released its full-time workers and re-hired them as part time, but the company failed anyway.

In November 2008, when Sport Chalet was entering the crisis, Levra told his head of real estate to go out and renegotiate all of its leases. After talking to 48 different landlords, he saved the company $22.5 million. Since the crisis took hold, not a single Sport Chalet has closed down.

Levra talked about advertising and increasing exposure by associating the company with the UCLA Bruins and the Los Angeles Lakers. Now that Sport Chalet is back where it wants to be, it is looking to go back on the offensive.

There are 34 Sport Chalet stores in Southern California, six in Northern California, eight in Phoenix, three in Las Vegas and one in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Levra has been chief executive officer of Sport Chalet since 1999 and chairman of the board since August 2001. He served in the position of chief operating officer, president and director. During his tenure, Sport Chalet grew from 19 stores to 55.

He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from the University of Kansas.
Sport Chalet was founded in La Cañada in 1959.

Last year, the speaker was Michael Wojciechowski, president of Kids Club.

Kristin Bruno, of the GCC instructional services department, set up the business lecture series. Some people left directly after the State of the College Address, but the auditorium was still more than halfway full.

On whether or not the lecture was a success, Bruno said, “We measure the success by the turnout that we get and the comments that we get.. We’re hoping to do it again next year.”