JULY 2018

The Great Eight:
Culture & Community

Standing out from the crowd in today’s hyper-competitive retail landscape is no easy feat. In the outdoor retail world, competition comes from all corners — big-box stores, the internet and, increasingly, brands themselves selling directly to consumers. To stand out, stores need to be special. This year, our annual Great 8 Retail list focuses on eight true specialists. These eight retailers are unique in their own way, but a common thread across the board includes what we call “The Three Cs”  — community, culture and curation. The people behind these shops are not only a part of their communities, they know how to create their own community within their stores and beyond. They don’t just live and breathe the outdoor culture, they help define it. And when it comes to curation, they are experts in selecting, merchandising and selling the right products to their customers. Retailers on this year’s Great 8 list range from young upstarts to grizzled veterans. They excel in a range of ways beyond traditional retail — some are big on events, others focus on education and some are super-tuned in to social media. They’ve all got special stories to tell.

Find out more about each of these specialists.

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Grassroots perspective

Dreaming, Planning, Living

Women Taking the Lead
Emily White with her mom in Alaska.

Emily White, Co-owner, Roads Rivers and Trails, Milford, Ohio

Emily White co-owns Milford, OH-based Roads Rivers and Trails with her husband Joe White and Joe’s cousin Bryan Wolf. They opened the now thriving store as three 20-somethings with a dream in 2010—they used 13 credit cards to get the business off the ground. Here, Emily White shares her perspective on the industry.

On her passion for the outdoors

“I started as most others do, with cross-country road trips and summers camping with my family. The sound of a tent zipper is still the best way to wake up in the morning.”

 On the best kinds of adventures

“My first backpacking trip was meeting Joe (husband) and Bryan (cousin) in January on the Appalachian Trail in sub-zero temps during a winter thru-hike. In 2015 Joe and I tried our first Hut-to-Hut trek in the Swiss Alps. The Haute route is an established trail and each day you end up in a picturesque Swiss mountain town surrounded by mountains eating and drinking the best food and wine you’ve ever had. The trail was not easy … but the combination of the scenery, the challenge and the food was truly my perfect adventure.”

On her path to store ownership

“When other girls were playing with dolls, I was playing business. I had always dreamt of having my own business. I really love working. I spent 11 years (right out of high school) with a local family-owned high-end jewelry company. I worked my way up to management while getting a business degree. Despite my success, I never had my ears pierced and I wasn’t happy with the path it created. I was a country girl at heart. I needed an escape, an adventure to truly be myself, and I found that at RRT.”

On the best things about owning an outdoor store

“I love helping customers and I’ve been told my enthusiasm is contagious. I have customers come in regularly to show me pictures from the trips they took and thank me for helping them. One woman bragged once that because of our training, trip-mates were asking her for help, when it was her first time out. We offer free classes and trip planning. The goal is not only to make people more confident to plan trips, but to increase the chances of a great experience in the outdoors.”

On how outdoor brands design for women

“Outdoor brands are getting much better at catering to female figures and fashions. The motto used to be pink it and shrink it, but women are not built like men and not all of us look good in pink. Brands like Arc’teryx and Rab have taken big strides in making clothing that really fits a woman’s figure. Other brands like Kuhl, Aventura and prAna are making quality clothing for women in plus sizes, too. There’s a small percentage of my customers that are under a size four and a larger percentage that are size 12 and up. It’s good to see this shift in production and marketing.”

On opportunities for women in the outdoor industry 

“I understand that gender inequality exists and that there is a lack of female leadership in the outdoor industry. However, I own Roads Rivers and Trails with two men, and since we opened in 2010 I have been offered more board positions, committee positions and interviews than both of them combined. I can’t help but to wonder if these things have been offered to me because I’m a female in the outdoor industry.

My male counterparts are just as talented and intelligent as I am — if not more. It’s almost as if the scales have been tipped in the wrong direction. I might not be the person to ask this question, but I’ve only seen my gender work in my favor — not against me. My tip for women would be: Set your goals high, invest tenacity in your work and if your path doesn’t exist, make one. Dream – Plan – Live.”

On the women who inspire her

“I am a combination of the women who raised me. My mother taught me to find the joy and beauty in everything around me and she instilled in me a sense of adventure. A flower-child of the ’70s, she gave me her enthusiasm for life and a glass-half-full view of the world. To this day, she inspires me in the way she greets a stranger or goes out of her way to help a long-lost friend. She is my guru. The other woman, a close family friend, gave me my tenacity. She taught me that with hard work and determination I could be anything I wanted. She came from nothing and made herself into one of the most successful women I know. On top of this, she also taught me patience and grace in all thing business and personal. She taught me to handle chaos with a steady hand and a clear mind. She is my mentor.”

On Dreaming, Planning, Living

“We follow the Dream – Plan – Live motto. This motto represents our life and our work. It is a cyclical practice of continuing self-growth and exploration. The motto is a call to action wherein one process fuels the next, as one adventure sets dreams for another. We offer free presentations on trips to help fuel the dream, maps and resources to aid in planning and the gear to help you live it. We believe that once you step foot into the cycle, you’ll never really get out of it — and it’s a great way to live.”

GrassrootS perspective

Climbing Upwards

The Water Stone Outdoors family living it up. | Photo Credit: Michael Turner

Maura Kistler, Co-owner, Water Stone Outdoors, Fayeteville, West Virgina

Located in a once bustling coal town, Water Stone Outdoors has been part of Fayeteville, West Virginia’s revitalization since the shop opened its doors in 1994. Maura Kistler co-owns Water Stone with her husband Jim and their business partner Kenny Parker. The shop is well known for its climbing expertise, quality gear and friendly advice in the New River Gorge of West Virginia. Here, Maura Kistler offers her perspective on the industry.

On being a small town, West Virginia retailer

“The bottom fell out on the coal industry here in the 1950s and this town went radio silent. The white water rafting business picked up here about 40 years ago. Then the climbing business moved in, too, and then mountain biking took off here. We started our business here about 25 years ago when the town was still pretty much boarded up. We have watched this town come back to life. It’s Appalachia. The change has been slow and incremental, but also unmistakable. We are getting somewhere. It is gratifying to see and be a part of it. The outdoor community here has gone through a long process of assimilating into the community at large. There are amazing outdoor resources in this area.”

On her own outdoor roots

“I didn’t grow up in a particularly outdoorsy family. Back then you just kind of were outdoors. I remember when I was little being in a state park in Iowa and running down a trail. You figure out early on what makes you feel good, even if it’s not an articulated thought. I started hiking and backpacking and camping in high school. My husband and I started dating in college and he was a rock climber. I started rock climbing in 1981 and found this sub-community and was enamored with it. I loved being in the climbing tribe. Then I got into kayaking and whitewater and there’s another outdoor sub-community that was just fabulous. In my teens and twenties I started identifying as part of that outdoor community and we have built our lives around it.”

On women who inspired her

“I had a poster of Lynn Hill, that classic Patagonia poster on the Insomnia route. I had it on my wall. She was such a badass and she always will be. I dreamed of climbing 5.11 and there she was on the jug grinning with her braids and her adorableness. I also read a lot of mountaineering literature and there were a lot of super badass women. Arlene Blum’s book  about an all-women’s ascent of Annapurna, that was one. There were always women on the forefront in the books and climbing literature I was reading.”

On being a woman in the outdoor community

“I always felt it was welcoming. I trained as a raft guide and that company had a strong history of women guides. One of the reasons I love the outdoor community is I felt as welcome as anybody.”

On outdoor brands catering to female consumers 

“We are way past shrink and pink it. The brands have gotten smart about it and are designing some terrific women’s-specific product. I see it all as positive. I don’t pick it apart. I have lots of issues with brands, but how they deal with women’s stuff is not one of them.”

On re-thinking specialty retail 

“We are rejiggering our business model and doubling down on things that are hard to buy on the internet, such as footwear. Climbing shoes are our biggest category and we are doubling down there. We are shuffling our product mix and focusing on categories that customers need to try on and touch. We are also doing consignment now, which has been fabulous. Consignment makes sense and it feels good. We are not heavy consumers. We preach ‘buy good stuff and wear it out.’ And if you don’t wear it out, let us consign it and let someone else wear it. That’s how this community operates.”

On what her shop’s mission is

“We build community. It’s so gratifying. We have come a long way in the last 25-30 years to creating a new iteration of Fayetteville that is linked to our local history, but it’s like Fayetteville 2.0. It is now very outdoor recreation-oriented and it is working. West Virginia is so special. There is so much affordable, family fun to be had here. It is a great place to turn tentative people into outdoor people. It is our job to reach our hand out and  hold people’s hands. Our tagline is ‘quality gear and friendly advice.’ It is our mission to create outdoor people.”

On the outdoor industry tribe

“The Grassroots Outdoor community — that’s where we go to find our people and talk about our issues. We love the outdoor industry. And it’s been tough especially with the corporatization of outdoor brands. But we are finding our way. It is a different marketplace today.”

On championing smaller brands

“It’s the job of outdoor specialty to find the next generation of outdoor brands that value what we do. We will build partnerships with those brands that are looking to partner and work with brick-and-mortar specialty retailers. Brands like E9, Sherpa Gear and Rab — they are great to work with. You want to feel you are a partner with brands you are selling. Of course it has to start with superlative product. We are always looking for brands that meet our standards. I hold the outdoor industry to a high standard and I always will. ”

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Mon, Aug 28, 2017
Vol 1, Issue No. 33