lot of outdoor shops want to fill your gear needs. Wayward, the three-store boutique outdoor chain that opened last spring in Seattle, Chicago and Bellevue, WA, has a different aim.
“We think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” GM and founder Kevin Winkel says. “We want to serve people who are looking for self-actualization, people who want to live their best lives and be their best person, the type of person who feels their time on earth is kind of precious.”
Winkel, the former director of marketing for youth skate and surf chain Zumiez and an action-sports industry veteran, says Wayward’s business is built on two pillars: adventure travel (especially urban adventure and city exploration) and creative culture (photography, music, art).
In keeping with that ethos, the brand mix puts a premium on versatile, travel-friendly gear — not on Everest-level equipment. That mix, he says, “opens us up a little more with brands and events we carry and people we partner with.”
“We’re not trying to have the gear for the people who are at a very high level of skill,” Winkel continues. “We want functional, quality stuff, not gear that is going to have to keep you alive for one-one thousandth of the time you’re out.”
Some of the best parts of life are the connections you have with humans, and you lose that in a pure-play e-commerce business.
Brands like Carhartt, Pendleton, Norse Projects, Yeti and Red Wing Heritage that can exist comfortably in the wild as well as on the go have been winners. But where Wayward has truly seen success, Winkel says, is in stocking smaller, more under-the-radar brands like women’s moto brand Atwyld and sunglass line Raen.
“We see a lot of success in unique brands versus mainstream brands,” Winkel said. “Which was interesting. We thought well-known brands with high demand would be volume drivers, and they’re not. They do well, but they’re not our bread and butter.”
That mix is tweaked for each of the retailer’s three stores, Winkel says — the store in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood focused more heavily on urban exploration and travel, for example — and that the balance flows seasonally as well: Seattle does a bigger outdoor business in May, June and July, and then sees the play side swell after that. And over the course of the first year, he says, footwear, apparel and gear each accounted for approximately a quarter of the store’s overall business, with bags and seasonal goods making up the balance.
And while the brand has a robust e-tail footprint, brick and mortar is the whole point, Winkel says.
“The way the shopper shops today, they don’t think about channels. And they want to have tangible product to feel,” he says. “Some of the best parts of life are the connections you have with humans, and you lose that in a pure-play e-commerce business. For that ability to serve different customers in different locations, brick and mortar is super critical.”
Opening three stories within weeks of each other takes deep pockets. Winkel says Wayward is backed by a group of “manufacturing and retail brands” that allowed the group to fund the initial three store opening that’s let them simultaneously experiment with neighborhood (Chicago), urban (Seattle) and mall-based locations (Bellevue.). (The copyright to the Wayward Collective name is held by Zumiez’s, although neither Wayward nor Zumiez acknowledges the connection in store.)
Winkel says those financial resources will be critical as Wayward looks to expand in its second year. “We’re looking at potential growth, but let’s try and figure out what we can do here and be more efficient in our goals,” he says. “Right now we’re focusing and trying to continue to improve it and listen to feedback and adjust and evolve.”