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UNLTD: 5 Life Lessons from a Small Town Store

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UNLTD: 5 LIFE LESSONS
FROM A SMALL TOWN STORE

Words by Meghan J. Ward
Photos by Tyler Parker Photography

Ask Dave Carlson where the name ‘Unlimited’ comes from and he’ll tell you it’s all about optimism, opportunism and having a “no boundaries” attitude. We caught up with the Banff/Canmore storeowner to get behind the scenes at one of the Bow Valley’s favourite independent retailers. We came away with a whole lot more.


 

Photo by Tyler Parker Photography.

Talking to Dave Carlson feels like talking to a motivational speaker, but not your typical kind. There’s no spotlight, fanfare or microphone here. This guy shows up for an interview wearing a hoodie and knit beanie. Being the humble type, he wants to talk about anyone, anything but himself.

He’s meeting me at Good Earth Coffeehouse in Banff, just a stone’s throw away from Unlimited Skate + Snow – also known as UNLTD – one of his two shops in the Bow Valley. The store, unassumingly tucked on the corner of a Banff Avenue block, is one of a few independently-owned joints on one of the country’s busiest small town strips. It’s a tough gig in a tourist town, but here’s one store that lives up to its name. To Carlson, the sky’s the limit, and it’s this approach to business that has made Unlimited such a staple in the community.

Carlson and his wife Jennifer have owned the store since 2002, when they purchased it from the Monod family (yes, that Monod family). The store moved to its current location after seven years in Harmony Lane, a few blocks down Banff Avenue, and in its 15 years under Carlson’s leadership, has become one of the best-kept secrets in the Bow Valley.

The key lies in Carlson’s personal philosophy, which is directly mirrored in the store’s operations. It’s not what you expect to see when skateboarding and snowboarding are still plagued with a bad rap from old-school thinking. But the industry is changing – maturing, Carlson says – and if this shop has any attitude, its one of optimism and opportunism.

Whether in business or life, we could all learn a thing or two from the culture at Unlimited:

1/ Put a Focus on the Local

Independent, locally-owned businesses work hard to provide something unique to meet people’s needs. Unlimited strives to provide carefully selected goods, from top brands, for snowboarders, skateboarders and those who just want to look great. But more than that, it is a lifestyle store that supports a mountain culture focused on the outdoors and healthy living. “We’re selling fun,” says Carlson – an idea that’ll ring true for many mountain people.

Photo by Tyler Parker Photography.

2/ You’ve Gotta Love What You’re Doing

Carlson can personally attest to the dread of working a job you don’t enjoy. “Life changes when you started enjoying what you’re doing,” he says. It seems Unlimited is doing something right on the recruitment front. In a town where staff turn over at an above-average rate, the staff at Unlimited has a family feel (with some long-standing team members in the mix). The team also embraces the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality; occasionally they’ll shut the doors for a few hours and go up to the hill together. 

Team Rider Kevin Keany. Photo by Tyler Parker Photography.

3/ Treat People Well

“We appreciate everyone who comes through the doors,” says Carlson, whose personal standards as a consumer tend to leak into his expectations for his team. In an industry where coolness sometimes trumps good customer service, Carlson is especially conscious of the fact that consumers can choose to shop anywhere. “Treat people respectfully and work hard,” he says. Walk through the doors at Unlimited and you’ll find a crew of cool, kindhearted people. 

Unlimited Tent Sale. Photo by Tyler Parker Photography.

4/ Do Things Differently Even if it Isn’t Easy

“Business can be very insular,” Carlson says. It’s easy to operate in a silo, but a bit of creativity and outreach can make a big impact. Unlimited collaborates with other businesses, such as Rebound Cycle for a biannual Tent Sale in Canmore. It’s sometimes easier to just put your head down and get through the daily grind, but Carlson sees opportunity in working together with other businesses and finding a mutual benefit.

5/ Give Back Because You Want To

Many companies have community outreach programs, and Unlimited is no exception. In addition to a variety of local initiatives, the store has a Team Riders program, where they support a crew of top skateboarders and snowboarders from the Bow Valley and beyond. It’s the perfect alignment for the store, which can support athletes with product and bursaries to help them cover, among many things, the cost of competition entry fees. 

Team Riders and staff gather at Unlimited. Carlson is found back row, right-hand side. Photo by Tyler Parker Photography.

When I glance at my watch I realize I’ve been talking to Carlson for over two hours. But the time has flown by – propelled by his positive energy and wise words about life at the store. Before we put our mugs away I ask him if he has any final thoughts about what he’s learned from his years with Unlimited. Ever the motivator, he closes with sage advice for all walks of life:

“Perseverance is huge. It’s not easy. No matter how stressed you are, choose to be calm and try to work through it; you’ll have the same result. It’s easy to take things out on other people. You choose the day you want to have.”


 

Unlimited Skate + Snow is an independently owned, local skate, snow and lifestyle boutique, with stores located in Banff and Canmore. Unlimited curates the best goods for skateboarders and snowboarders from all over the world, and proudly supports the outdoors-loving mountain culture of the Canadian Rockies.

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