grassroots perspective

South Dakota Standout

Granite Sports, Hill City, SD
Cathedral Spires, just one of several epic hiking spots near Granite Sports.

Granite Sports is a small-town climbing shop located near one of the nation’s most famous tourist attractions. The South Dakota shop is the oldest outdoor specialty store in the Black Hills. Situated 10 miles from Mt. Rushmore, Granite Sports carries gear and clothing for rock climbing, hiking, backpacking and camping. The 2500-square-foot shop’s mix of climbing gear and lifestyle offerings includes brands such as Patagonia, prAna, Petzl, Black Diamond, Smartwool and more.

Owner Pat Wiederhold has an interesting perspective on the business. He says he initially bought the store as a real estate investment. But this specialty shop in this touristy town became a labor of love for Wiederhold and 12 years later he is all-in as an outdoor specialty shop owner. Here, Wiederhold shares his thoughts on the climbing business and what’s resonating with his customer base.

On the store and his background…

“I have owned the store for 12 years. The store has been here for 20 years. I have a pretty varied background. I initially bought the store as a real estate investment. I ended up liking the stuff inside the store so much that we continued to run it.

“We are in a small town. It is about 1000 people. We are 10 miles from Mt. Rushmore and about 12 miles from Crazy Horse monument, so it is very touristy. And for us, that is a good thing.”

On climbing’s popularity and when business is strongest…

“We have a pretty substantial climbing section in our store. The climbing business is steady. It is becoming more popular with a younger group. Kids have access to try it out in climbing gyms and at colleges and they are more interested now in getting out on some rock. Climbing is not as fringe as it was 15 or 20 years ago.

“Summer is our big selling season. We do 75 percent of our business between May 1 and the middle of October. Then we do some nice Christmas business. We don’t focus on winter sports in the store. There is skiing about an hour north of us, but winter sports are not a big deal for us.”

On “lifestyle” trends in outdoor…

“Lifestyle is big for us. Our bread-and-butter is apparel and footwear.”

On popular brands…

“Luci Outdoor solar lights have been popular. We just bought in Cotopaxi bags and every bag is unique and they are well made. The last couple of years Kavu bags have been super popular for us, too. Chaco sandals have made quite a resurgence the last four or five years. Those are some brands that stand out here. HydroFlask is also really popular in our store — you think ‘it is just a water bottle,’ but we sell a ton of them.”

On co-existing with the competition

“There is an outdoor store in Rapid City, 30 miles away, and there is a Cabela’s and a Scheels nearby. But those stores are just different than we are. There is some overlap, but it is a bit different. Actually Scheels sends people to us a fair amount when they have a customer who is looking for a climbing product that Scheels doesn’t have. We do have some local competition and then we have some competition online.

“We also get pressure from brands selling direct to consumer. But we can not control those things. We can only control what we do and so we try to focus on the customer experience. People who want to save five bucks shopping online will shop online, but most people appreciate the customer service we offer and appreciate getting taken care of.

“We are as much in the customer service business as anything else, or at least we try to be. We are really into gear. Bottom line, if you take care of your customers, they will frequent your store.”

On community…

“We sponsor the Black Hills Trail Running series, which is six or seven trail races around the area. We do a 5K in the spring, the Run for the Rangers, which is for the local high school here and we provide scholarships to kids who run track and are going to college. This is our 10th year and we have donated about $30,000 in scholarships. We ask vendors to donate swag that we give away at the race and we have given away I’d say up to $10,000 worth of door prizes. Everybody chips in and all of the vendors are super generous. It’s a pretty fun thing.”

Granite Sports packs a lot of gear into its 2500 sq. ft. space.

On the store’s e-commerce initiative…

“We have a new online store. It is at granitesports.biz and we run it as a separate store from our brick-and-mortar. It has separate inventory. It is limited compared to what is in the store. We do it all offsite and it allows us to carry stuff online that is not in the store. The idea is to capture tourists who come in the summer that still want to do business with us. It has just been a year since we started selling online, but it continues to grow. We think it will be a nice complement to our brick-and-mortar business, but we don’t realistically think we are going to be backcountry.com.”

On finding new brands and evolving the business…

“Every year we try to look at picking up some new brands that we like that are quality or are up and coming. We find brands at trade shows or sometimes through our reps who pick up new brands, or occasionally someone says ‘hey you should look at this brand.’

“I am always amazed by the shoe business. It changes all the time. It just keeps growing and it is ever-changing. For example, five years ago Toms was our biggest brand and now it is not in our top 20. It just ebbs and flows.

“Certain apparel brands are consistently popular for us every year, such as Patagonia, Smartwool and prAna. In footwear, Hoka One One and Altra have become super popular last three or four years.

“We just try to go to the trade shows and keep up with things. We find things we can dabble in so we have something a little bit different for our customers when they come back.

“And in 2019, we hope to grow our online business, as well.”

On the importance to consumers of brands being eco-conscious…

“It’s not the most important thing to them, but the majority of our customers are appreciative of the brands that try to be conscious about the impact they have on the environment. People don’t come in and say ‘I won’t buy this unless this brand plants 27 trees.’ But if we carried brands that were clearly not appreciative of taking care of the environment, then the consumer would not buy it. We are a Midwest store, so I must say, our customers are more conservative than they might be in, say, Colorado.”

On the best things about being an outdoor retailer…

“The best thing is the people that come in here. The people that use our stuff are happy people. We get to meet a lot of great people everyday. They are out and they are active and they are enjoying themselves. The products are great, but the people are really great when they are happy. It is fun to talk to happy people.

“As long as [the industry keeps] encouraging people to get outside and be active, we’ll be fine. When we get away from that or maybe get too wound up in politics, we lose sight of why we are in the industry to begin with. It is fun to use all these ‘toys’ and go out and play. There are not a lot of jobs that you can say that about.”

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