Grassroots Perspectives

The Mountaineer 2.0

The Next Frontier for Upstate New York’s Outdoor Retail Specialist.

The Mountaineer is based in the upstate New York area that’s home to the Adirondack High Peaks.

The MountainEer, Keene Valley, NY

When thousands of fervent outdoor recreationalists descended on the Adirondacks’ hamlet of Keene Valley in mid-January for the 24th Annual Mountainfest, they surely saw many familiar people and landscapes. Including the staff of expert associates at The Mountaineer.

The Mountaineer’s Mountainfest is an annual celebration of ice climbing and mountaineering featuring guest athletes, demo gear and more. This year, there was a new face at the event — the self-described, new steward of the 45-year old specialty shop and the outdoor region it serves in upstate New York.

Meet Charlie Wise. After a 25-year career in the software/green tech sector, following a childhood as the son of a career Navy man, Wise and his wife Nancy purchased The Mountaineer from the Vinny McClelland family in November 2018 (Outdoor Insight profiled the business as part of our annual “Great 8” outdoor retail series back in July 2018).

“I’ve taken more of the classic owner role—day-to-day and strategic vision,” says Wise, who, like his wife, first became enamored with the Adirondack region while visiting as a child. Following years of residence in Maryland and outdoor recreation holidays in nearby Davis, West Virginia at the front range of the Alleghenies, the Wise Family decided to migrate north to Vermont a dozen years ago, near the Bromley and Stratton ski areas, to be closer to family and the mountain range it loves.

“I’ve learned a ton stepping into retail, and I knew that would be the case,” says Wise, adding he received welcomed assistance during his first ownership year from Vinny McClelland, who stayed on in as a consultant, and the banner’s staff, all of who remained on board following the ownership shift.

While he’s always embraced the outdoor life, particularly skiing, hiking, camping and fishing, Charlie Wise sounds intent on retaining The Mountaineers’ involvement with the community and its membership in The Grassroots Outdoor Alliance while taking its utilization of technology to a higher level to improve overall operations.

“GOA is really doing the work of a large group of outdoor specialty retailers in conveying what our hopes and expectations from our vendors are,” says Wise. “And frankly, [they’re] making sure everyone is playing fair. We have that collective buying power, but GOA is also spotting and speaking to trends in the industry. The membership benefits from a huge amount of knowledge transfer among its members. The GOA is something that we’re big fans of because it really takes a lot of these big industry issues and puts them into an accessible place among peers who are doing the same thing out there.”

After conferring with another GOA member for weeks, Wise decided to invest in a new point-of-sale system for The Mountaineer, one that will provide more data on who is shopping the store and what they are purchasing.

“It provides us with some additional, better inventory data and some analytics on when the shop is busy, although I haven’t yet begun to get my hands around it since it was just installed,” notes Wise.

Already, however, Wise has gained keen insight on how the internet and online businesses impact both independent, specialty retailers and vendors alike. Also, he realizes The Mountaineer is isolated from some bearings due to its location and loyal customer base. Still, there are plans to better integrate The Mountaineer website with store inventory and make the shop more accessible to customers, including those not currently residing or recreating in the Adirondacks.

He says the “second wave of the ecommerce phenomenon” is putting a “tight squeeze” on vendors and suppliers in the space.

“It demands efficiencies from the brands we stock that may not have previously existed. And efficiencies are  a nice way of putting it,” suggests Wise, adding, “It really puts a squeeze on those businesses to drive down their costs and be hypersensitive to the point that some of them are not able to make it.”

This emerging retail business climate is admittedly making The Mountaineer’s pre-season buying and ability to spontaneously react to market demand for product “a little more challenging.”

Independent retailers such as The Mountaineer are now, more than ever, being forced to take a “crystal ball” approach with all buying and stay on top of all anticipated trends for the coming season, ranging from size to color requirements and everything in between.

Mountaineer owner Charlie Wise.

“That level of squeeze is moving deeper into the supply chain,” says Wise, noting that “pre-season intelligence” for buying is more important than ever today.

“You’ve got to get smart by having buying trend data, inventory data and some sense of who your customers are. And that’s a whole chapter for the shop that I am starting to lay out,” admits Wise.

One of the main benefits the shop has, says Wise, is customer relationships “which has made The Mountaineer what it is — our customer engagement in a pre- social networking world. You can continue that relationship, even expand it, if you understand who your customers are.”

But Charlie confirms the shop’s expanding relationship with its customers will not be about “peppering them with promotions to ‘buy, buy, buy.’” Instead, it will focus more on content such as encouraging them to get their skis waxed up before the season or telling them details about an ice climb someone recently completed in the valley.

Going forward, Wise’s involvement in the outdoors will include a role beyond that of shop owner or local recreator. He was recently recruited to become a member of New York State’s Department of Conservation, a strategic working group that address hiker pressure in the Adirondacks.

“This national trend of more and more people going outside to be in nature, and people’s definition of nature are very different,” opines Wise. “Some are out there with a stopwatch to see how fast they can get to the top of the mountain. And some are out there for a true wilderness experience.

“What I’m excited about through the shop and how we educate and outfit these users as a staff is us continuing to play an important role in terms of how this area can accommodate that kind of pressure intelligently.”

Understanding the wide range of consumers who are in the outdoor market is a key to future retail success. “There are people that want to truly immerse themselves in an outside experience, and there are those that are there to be social,” says Wise. “Also, there are those that are out there to be athletic, competitive and driven. There are a whole range of different types of (outdoor product) users and they do have varied needs, for sure,” offers Wise on the sales and service work The Mountaineer will continue to strive for under his tutelage.

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