ild Iris Mountain Sports aims to be more than just a special store. “I’m proud to say that Wild Iris Mountain Sports has always been an ambassador for Lander, the state of Wyoming and climbing and its amazing community,” says Amy Skinner, partner at Wild Iris.
“So many things make our store special, but, without question, the most important ingredient is our staff. Over these 28 years, we have had so many loved and respected individuals work at our store,” she says. “Many came to Lander for the climbing, worked with us for months or years and then stayed for the community. Now, they run gyms, restaurants, manufacture equipment, write books, are doctors, lawyers, teachers, parents.”
Skinner says its staff knows the community because they are part of it. “I believe that our longevity in this community comes from sharing the love of this place with our customers,” Skinner says. But not all the customers are locals. Many of them are passing through town to head into the Wind River Range or into the Tetons once summer hits.
Skinner says she opened the shop in the summer of 1990 for two reasons: “To employ ourselves and our climbing partners, and to provide a source of clothing and equipment for climbers and other local recreationalists.” Jen Barrett came on as a manager in 2000, and became a managing partner in 2006.
“As the business grew we moved into a bigger space on Lander’s Main Street,” Skinner says. “Through our history we stayed true to our mission to be and employ outdoor enthusiasts who use the gear we sell, and who explore, love and can share knowledge about our backyard.”
“A lot of our people wear multiple hats and then for the summer we need to beef up the sales floor a little bit more,” Skinner says, adding that bringing Barrett on 18 years ago ushered Wild Iris into a new era of growth and community partnership. About seven core employees take care of the one-door, 7000-square-foot-shop year round. Wild Iris had its best year ever in 2017, in part due to the energy around the eclipse.
Even though they’ve become so much more than a climbing shop (Gift is the fastest growing category for Wild Iris), that’s where the roots are. “It may not be the bread-and-butter, but that’s where we feel the deepest connection,” Skinner says. “We pride ourselves on a wide selection, especially for our small store. In recent years we have seen the most growth in categories a little outside the traditional. It isn’t a new thing for outdoor stores to complement their outdoor gear with fun lifestyle items — for us that includes cards, chocolate and puppets.”
Skinner says the store also strives to work with other local shops to make sure they aren’t all carrying the same products. “[It’s about] minimizing the amount of overlap in hopes that we widen the opportunity for a wider selection of brands and products for our community to choose from,” she says.
“We have a pretty small community, especially from January through the end of April. We’re also quiet in October and November,” Skinner says. Lander’s International Climbers Festival, held every year in July, brings an influx of people to town.
Through our history we stayed true to our mission to be and employ outdoor enthusiasts who use the gear we sell, and who explore, love and can share knowledge about our backyard.
“Lander over the last five to 10 years has grown with more outdoor opportunities,” says Skinner. “There are more mountain bike trails, and it’s helped us and the other outdoor stores in our community. There’s more traffic through our area for climbing, all the parking lots are full and you can see rope after rope after rope at the crag. More people are climbing and more people are visiting the area to climb.”
When it comes to competition, Skinner says the ease of shopping from home, “where everything is available at the push of a button,” has definitely been a challenge. “We have a small online presence mostly to support our efforts to be the most complete source of information available for hiking, backpacking, climbing, and playing outside, especially the Wind River Range.”
The store helps itself be a draw for the community through events such as its annual spring fling customer appreciation event. “We host multiple events throughout the year partnering with nonprofits near and dear to our hearts to fundraise, play games, and connect,” says Skinner. “Since our inception, community has been a huge priority for us. To stay connected — these events play a huge part in that. It helps us stay true to our mission, and that feels like a good way to be active in our community. Plus, they’re fun.”