lot has changed for Next Adventure since the store’s founding in Portland, OR, 21 years ago — its business model, the outdoor industry, retail, even Portland itself. But some things, co-owner Deek Heykamp, says, never do change.
“We’re a very, very different business than we were. But the nice thing is that we haven’t had to reinvent ourselves; we’ve just had to grow with the vision we already had.”
That vision? Heykamp says it’s simple: “Making the outdoors accessible to everyone and making sure we can fit anyone’s budget.”
That mix of knowing when to hold firm – and when to go with the flow – has been a recipe for success.
Childhood friends (and the sons of mothers who were themselves childhood best friends) who had grown up into outdoor adventuring buddies, Heykamp and co-owner Bryan Knudsen founded Next Adventure together after Heykamp saw potential in Portland for the kind of used gear shops like Greg Shaw’s Second Ascent and Second Base (now Ascent Outdoors) and Tom Coleman’s Recreation Outlet that were thriving in Seattle.
“Bryan and I came from very humble means and we were accustomed to looking for used gear and making the best of what we could find,” Heykamp says. “There are lots of stores that service the high-end needs and the amazing gear. [But] I would have loved to have a store like ours growing up.”
At first, Next Adventure was 80 or 90 percent used gear sourced at garage sales, with the balance in closeouts. But as the business took off, Heykamp says, the percentage of closeouts began to climb. By five or six years in, he says, customers came to them with a request.
“We started to have people say, ‘Listen, I bough this stuff and you’ve earned my business — now I want some high-quality gear, and I want to buy it from you.’ It was a big jump in our evolution when our customers started to grow up with us.”
Making the switch to carrying in-line product wasn’t always easy.
“There was a lot of pushback from the industry,” he says. “It can be misunderstood, our place in the market. It’s taken a while to win over some hearts and minds, [but] we do our best to represent our brands in the way that they want to be represented.”
But even as it embraced full-price, first-run retailing, Next Adventure hasn’t abandoned the secondhand model, Heykamp says. Next Adventure operates a 4500-square-foot bargain basement and it accounts for fully 10 percent of its sales.
The mix has proven to be a successful one — make that a very successful one.
we haven’t had to reinvent ourselves; we’ve just had to grow with the vision we already had.”
Heykamp says the store has never comped down: Their worst one or two years, he says, saw them grow sales by six percent, and he’s forecast double-digit growth in 2018. Part of the rise, he says, is attributable to Next Adventure’s new doors and reinvestments in the e-commerce site, part comes from living in one of America’s fastest-growing cities, but part is that the business keeps growing.
“We just haven’t felt we needed to slow down, really,” Heykamp says. As the store has evolved the number of categories it sells has diversified. Today, Next Adventure sells kayaks, paddleboards, ski, snowboard, telemark and gear for adventure motorcycle touring, among others. Heykamp says the unifying factor – and what makes the mix work for Next Adventure – is that they’re all born from personal obsessions.
“I’m a big whitewater kayaker and sea kayaker and the paddlesports launch started because I wanted to go kayaking,” he says. “Our powder skiing initiative started because I want to go powder skiing.”
Growing the store’s selection has meant growing the retail footprint, too. As Next Adventure expanded its kayak offering in the early 2000s, they treated it as a seasonal business, flipping the space over to make room for ski gear in the winters. Realizing the store would “never be taken seriously as a kayak store [as a] popup for the summer,” Knudson and Heykamp found a space a four-minute walk away they used to open the Paddle Sports Center, which they operate almost as an annex to the main Grand Street location.
The Scappoose Bay Paddle Center in nearby Warren, OR, came into the fold a few years later, when the retiring owners approached Next Adventure. The location gave Next Adventure an on-water rental and demo space as well as a sales location.
And even now things are growing. Speaking to Outdoor Insight on June 4 – the 21st anniversary of the store’s founding – Heykamp says he’s spent the morning breaking ground for a new building in Sandy, OR. Bought a few years ago from another retiring owner (this time the owner of a ski rental shop), the location was originally planned as a satellite location to support the main store, Heykamp says. But as they’ve incorporated the store, he says, “We’re really learning that it’s gonna be its own satellite store.”
The staff has grown, too. Opened with just three employees, today Next Adventure employees 158.
Heykamp says his employees are the font of the store’s success. “We are so blessed with staff that really cares,” he says.
And as their staff has grown, so have their civic obligations. “We take our responsibility seriously, and whether that’s supporting underserved communities or being on steering or planning committees, you’ve got to put your time where you mouth is,” Heykamp says.
He adds that engagement with staff and with the Portland outdoor community will be critical in keeping the store relevant as competition – especially online – increases.
“I don’t think the internet will outsell brick-and-mortar,” he says. “But it certainly keeps us on our toes. There are people who were used to business coming to the door and that’s not going to work for any of us.”
Heykamp, in fact, is bullish on brick-and-mortar.
“You can read all the specs you want, you’re still never going to get a ski boot fitted over the internet,” he says. “And humans are social beings: We need and want a place to go interact. It’s our job to make that as easy and friendly as possible.”
That commitment hasn’t wavered since day one, Heykamp says.
“Gear is complicated and it can be so intimidating. But this is a safe place to come and learn,” he says. “It’s not the most profitable way and it’s not the quickest or easiest, but our customers appreciate how we’ve made them feel.”