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HOW I MADE IT: CRAIG LEVRA

Coaching the Sport Chalet team

The chairman and CEO of the 50-year-old sporting goods chain looks for new opportunities.

July 26, 2009|Andrea Chang

The gig: Chief executive and chairman of sporting goods chain Sport Chalet Inc. Founded 50 years ago, the La Canada Flintridge company today operates 55 stores in four states, with most locations in California. For fiscal 2009, Sport Chalet posted sales of $372.7 million, a 7.4% drop from a year earlier, and a net loss of $52.2 million.

Education: Bachelor's and MBA degrees from the University of Kansas.

Personal: Lives in La Canada Flintridge with his wife, Robin, and their 15-year-old twins, Chase and Samantha.

Business savvy: Levra held three jobs to pay his way through college. He served as student manager of the school's football team, ran a 60-unit apartment complex off campus and sold University of Kansas logo merchandise out of the trunk of his silver-and-black Oldsmobile. "I missed a lot of parties," he said.

All in the family: Even though Levra grew up around sports (his father coached high school, college and professional football), he wasn't much of an athlete.

"I loved being around football, I just couldn't play it," he said. "I mean, I was bad. I was the slowest, shortest player on the team."

On the path: After jobs at a handful of small companies and with the United States Football League, Levra joined Sports Authority in 1992 as a buyer for camping and water sports. Five years later, after working his way up to become vice president of store operations, he left the company for Sport Chalet.

Big break: Sport Chalet founder Norbert Olberz met Levra in Las Vegas and tried to persuade him to become head buyer of the company.

"At the end of the hour, he asked me if I wanted a Jagermeister, and I had no idea what a Jagermeister was," Levra recalled. "I said, 'Sure, how bad could it be?' Down it went. It tasted like jet fuel."

After Levra took the shot, Olberz upped his offer and asked him to become president of Sport Chalet.

Cutting back: Faced with tough economic conditions and caught in an increasingly tight market for sports gear, Sport Chalet has scaled back its store openings, offered more markdowns and reduced inventory and costs.

"Clearly we are still navigating through an economic environment unlike anything we've ever seen," Levra said. "You can say 'It's nasty, woe is me,' or you can say 'It's nasty and we can do great things.' "

Boot camp: Before work every day, Levra attends a one-hour military-style workout called extreme boot camp. Class starts at 5:30 a.m. and includes sprints, long-distance running, upper-body weights, crunches, jumping rope and climbing stairs. Participants are split into platoons and divisions based on skill level.

"You bring water and you get ready to work," said Levra, who started keeping a food journal and gave up candy.

Looking forward: As other companies fail or shut locations, Levra said Sport Chalet was eyeing opportunities to open new stores.

"There's no reason why we can't grow. Every retailer is thinking the same thing: How do we take advantage of this environment? The amount of real estate is there. The trick is knowing exactly when to pull the trigger and go."

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

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