ou are not likely to find a specialty retailer that plays a more active role and has more passion about Vermont’s $5.5 billion outdoor recreation economy than Outdoor Gear Exchange (OGE). Located on Burlington’s bustling Church Street since 2011, the employee-owned operation prides itself on being a “core gear shop with an experienced staff that is dedicated to the activities to which we cater,” according to Ethan Garceau, OGE’s marketing director. “Our customer service policy is unpretentious, honest and not pushy.”
“We live and breathe what we do,” adds Garceau, a rock climber, tele skier and Maine native who also enjoys biking and playing on the OGE kickball team. “Every staff member has a passion for the outdoors and its comes across every day while we strive to get our customers set up for success in whatever activity they are excited about.”
WE PRIDE OURSELVES ON BEING A ‘CORE’ GEAR SHOP WITH AN EXPERIENCED STAFF THAT IS DEDICATED TO THE ACTIVITIES TO WHICH WE CATER.
The store’s product focus is on human-powered recreation, ranging from a day hike or weekend camping trip to commuter biking, gravel grinding and SUP boarding.
Earlier this year, OGE expanded its multi-level store by 20 percent to more than 20,000-square feet by taking over space formerly occupied by an adjacent Panera. Now, OGE’s biggest departments – bike and ski – are situated on the top floor. There are also dedicated areas for camping, paddling and climbing gear (one of the biggest selections in the eastern U.S, says Garceau). The merchandise mix is nearly evenly divided between hard and soft goods.
“Mountain biking is a huge department for us,” he says. “We have expanded this section and brought in some awesome techs who can service these complex pieces of equipment that are closer to cars than the bike you first learned to ride on.”
The apparel mix includes brands such as North Face, Outdoor Research, Osprey, Columbia, Arctery’x and Vermont’s own Darn Tough. A notable missing label –Patagonia – operates its own store nearby.
But perhaps OGE’s biggest merchandise differentiator and regular big draw among locals and tourists alike looking to experience the Green Mountain State’s outdoor life is a basement consignment shop filled with everything from gently used backpacks and sleeping bags to camp stoves and skis. Sellers receive a percentage back of their sale in store credit or a smaller percentage in cash. Buyers, meanwhile, get the gear they need to experience a particular outdoor adventure, some for the first time.
While the evolution of its brick-and-mortar business in terms of size, breadth of merchandise and expertise of staff is vitally important to OGE, the retailer hasn’t lost sight of the growing importance of the internet.
Besides its gearX.com website, the retailer works closely with about 10 key brands currently (Mammut, Sea to Summit, Darn Tough and Osprey among them) to establish FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) accounts. Through a dedicated staff focused on facilitating sales through the online behemoth, OGE purchases and manages the inventory, shipping into Amazon warehouses throughout the U.S. for fulfillment.
Through everything it does to satisfy its customers, from many of Burlington’s 11,000 college students to online regulars from as far away as Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle, Outdoor Gear Exchange never loses sight of the need for community involvement and giving and social outreach. The store, which counts more than 14,000 Facebook followers, has a dedicated event coordinator who oversees in-store showings of backcountry ski films, group rides and runs to help fundraise for local access/advocacy groups.
Five years ago, OGE created a charitable grant fund to regularly give back by supporting local outdoor-focused organizations that help maintain and expand outdoor recreation opportunities in Vermont. OGE consignment shop sellers have the option to opt-in and give a percentage of their sales, matched by the store, to local environmental projects. Since 2013, over $38,000 has been awarded. Two recent grant recipients were the Town of Williston, VT to reconstruct the observation platform and boardwalk on the Allen Brook Nature Trail and the Brewster-Pierce Memorial School for an outdoor classroom to help children learn about environmentally responsible practices.