Industry: Built Environment
Products: Ski lift furniture and accessories
Co-owners Zack Finger and Laura Carter are transforming ski history into seating with style.
Finger was looking for a career shift when he started Last Chair Customs. "I was working in manufacturing. I got sick of making a lot of money for other people."
As a machinist, Finger worked in a wide range of industries. "I've got parts on the bottom of the ocean. I've got parts in outer space. I've got parts inside of people."
When he came across an opportunity to buy five old triple chairs retired from a lift at Beaver Creek Resort, he jumped at the opportunity and made them into slick furniture. "I started it out of a friend's garage," says Finger. "It got bigger and became a full-time job."
His differentiator? "I take it in different directions," says Finger, highlighting features like flip-up seats and magazine racks.
In March 2018, Finger joined forces with Carter, whose background is in the music festival industry with New York-based Superfly. "I come from a history of building companies and events as well," she says.
Carter is spearheading sales as well as a rental division that provides Last Chair Customs' products for events; revenues from sales and rentals are about equal. A bar made from a gondola cabin rents for about $800 a day.
Event rentals are "booming," says Carter. "We've had really large clients thus far. We've driven the whole fleet out to Los Angeles for a holiday party."
"We're definitely diving into corporations," she adds. "We're also working with local companies and building out gondolas for them." Last Chair Customs can repurpose a gondola cabin into a mobile bar or storefront for farmers markets and other events. "We're currently creating one for a coffee company."
Now based in a workshop on the east side of Boulder, Finger uses a wide variety of tools to reinvent ski lifts and gondolas by cutting, welding, bending, and routing them into new forms. "The only thing we outsource is powder coating," he says. "Every other piece of it is done in-house."
Last Chair Customs sources most materials locally. "Our steel all comes from a local steelyard in Denver," says Finger. "Our wood all comes from a lumber mill in Denver."
The mission is largely about celebrating snowsports and "the preservation of history," says Carter. She says she keeps tabs on the lifts that are shutting down to bring in raw materials with a story behind them.
"We're always on the hunt for more inventory," says Finger, estimating that he's done "100-plus chairs" in all. "Most of our business comes from customers bringing us chairs. We've really become the name for ski chair refinishing and repurposing."
When a ski area decommissions a lift, it's become standard practice to auction off the chairs. Last Chair Customs has partnered with Eldora Mountain Resort and Loveland Ski Area to offer custom services to buyers.
Eldora retired and sold 300 chairs in 2017. "We've done 50 or 60 of them," says Finger. "We work very closely with the customer to spec it out for what they need. . . . They are very customizable."
For supplied chairs, Last Chair Customs’ services start around $1,200. Deluxe retail products start at $2,500 and include plenty of "wow factor," says Carter. Its only retail partner: Vintage Ski World in Frisco.
Challenges: "We've got a hell of a backlog right now," says Finger. "Getting through that is a challenge."
Another is "surviving in Boulder," he adds. "It isn't cheap."
"Our biggest challenge is staying different and remaining us," says Carter. That gets harder with growth: "I grew Superfly from 15 to about 100 people." At Last Chair Customs, she's not looking to hit triple digits. "I'd love to have five of us," she says.
Opportunities: Carter sees opportunities in both event rentals and sales. "I still haven't seen an event rental company with ski lift chairs," she says. The goal is "to do more installations at corporations and festivals."
Sales have "been mostly residential, but we're looking to do more commercial [projects]," says Finger. "We're doing a custom-branded chair for Loveland right now."
Adds Carter: "We're very creative people. We don't want to do the same thing every day."
Case in point: Finger makes snowflake and mountain scene sculptures from old skis. "We're trying to get a smaller product out there," says Carter.
Needs: More room. "We're getting close to outgrowing our space," says Finger. Last Chair Customs' workshop is currently about 1,000 square feet, and the company needs about twice that to separate production from a showroom.