Aug 31, 2009 at 7:30 am #1238935
So I have been wondering where the best place to open an outdoor store geared towards ultralight equipment would be. I guess I started thinking about this while wondering what makes someone likely to switch to the ultralight mindset.
I figure store location is an okay question to ask, because in order to choose the proper place it is necessary to understand the target consumer. What does someone looking to go lightweight "look" like? Are they older or younger? Are they new to backpacking or are they veterans? Who buys ultralight gear? Primarily backpackers? What about hunters? Photographers?
If you had to choose one location to setup a store with nothing but ultralight equipment, where would you set up and why?Aug 31, 2009 at 8:16 am #1523954
You can do what many coffee shops do and open up near a Starbucks. Starbucks does all the research about profitable locations so you just follow them. Now the problem for you is finding the Starbucks of the outdoor world. Maybe near REI?
In short, I'd set up shop where everyone else does. Then, beat them at what they do.Aug 31, 2009 at 10:21 am #1523982
The web.Aug 31, 2009 at 11:16 am #1523991
@valsharLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
My suggestion would be to have a semi-traditional backpacking store with the familiar well known name brands and slant your inventory towards the light weight options.
Then stock other "non-traditioanl" name brands that we all know and love.
Better to have a mass appeal of gear for your meat and potatoes to pay your bills and to get clients into the front door of your store.
Then in the process of talking to the client, you can offer them the option of lighter weight gear.
Be the store that offers the expertise and service about traditional and lighteweight backpacking gear….as they say, "Become a resource for the community" and they will come to you for that vs. your trying to have the lowest price.
I think that having a brick and mortar store just for light weight camping would be too narrow a niche with a limited amount of people able to travel to your location.
So, I would then agree with the comment above about having a website to sell the lightweight stuff, if that is all that you want to carry.
Have a store that also offers inhouse classes and lectures on backpacking…ie. "How to lighten your load on the trail without shivering to death.". Offer outings/trips/dayhikes for customers to join you on when you can offer to educate them while having fun.
You might find that you are creating a community of local, loyal clients who will spread the word about you to their friends, co-workers, and family.
The side benefit is that on these trips, clients can see new gear in action, try it out and then maybe buy lighter stuff to replace the more traditional stuff that they have previously bought.
My thought is that for many people, transitioning to light weight is about being mentally comfortable with it…baby steps. Often requiring buying stuff and then gaining experience and then buying lighter stuff to replace the prior stuff.
Physical location is definetly important, but the next thing to do is find out how you are going to differentiate yourself from the local competitors and the internet….to me, the answer has to be what you personal bring to the table….experience, expertise, force of personality/passion, and service- things that don't cost you much in dollars, but make all the difference to a perspective client.
In terms of demographics…my observations on the trail are that backpackers are often young/poor students (20's) who have the time and phsyical ability to backpack but are on a tight budget and the other group are those who are retired (often men), who have the time and often do have money to buy all the gear they want or need.
One area that I see a huge opportunity for lightweight backpacking are young families…middle aged parents.
They may want to take their children backpacking, but find it impossible with traditional gear because of the sheer weight that would need to be carried.
Speaking from experience, using the lightest tradtional stuff that I could buy for my family and I, I was left with a 80 to 90 lbs of gear on my back for a family of three. (Parents have to carry all the gear for the kids)
To me, going light weight really is the only option.
Think about it, how many car camping families might want to go backpacking with their kids, but can not because of the sheer weight of what they would have to carry of traditional gear?
So perhaps the missing market are these younger families who car camp vs. backpacking?
And yes….the other people that you mentioned, hunters, photographers, etc are a good market, but bear this in mind….for them the backpacking stuff is a distant secondary issue to their primary passion (hunting, photography, etc), so they may want to go light, but may not be willing to spend top dollar on the gear. My evidence of this was visiting a Bass Pro Store that opened up not to far from me recently. The camping stuff they had was heavy, cheap, and just barely lighter than car camping stuff. But it made sense to me because they were just stuff on the side that the outdoor person "needed" in order to enjoy their sport/hobby/passion.
Anyway, hope that this helps….curious to see what you end up doing.
-TonyAug 31, 2009 at 11:37 am #1523994
Wouldn't it be great if an online store carried nearly all of the cottage gear, where you could just order what you want from one source, and it would be in stock.
I would be a real pessimistic about opening any kind of backpacking store in brick-and-mortar form. You have to consider that the ones that are profitable are really clothing stores.Aug 31, 2009 at 11:57 am #1523998
@jasonklassLocale: Parker, CO
I have to agree with the comment about the web, but you could have both. Choose a location for your bricks and mortar store, but also sell online. I think it would be hard to compete with solely a physical location.
BTW, I have the PERFECT location for you: 3401 S. Lowell Blvd., Denver, CO (I live at 3400 S. Lowell blvd.).Aug 31, 2009 at 12:01 pm #1524001
Tony makes a lot of great points/has great ideas. And I like what Tom said, but also agree with him that a brick and mortar isn't feasible right now.
Unless you were planning on going with the big companies (Granite Gear, Golite, etc), the truly ultralight stuff is coming from the cottage industry shops. And those guys/gals don't seem to be set up for any large influx in business.
Most consumers aren't going to come in to a brick and mortar only to find out they then have to wait 2-8 weeks to actually get their new quilt/tarp/tent/bag etc. And the premium you'd have to charge over already premium prices to pay rent/utilities/overhead/etc. would make the venture prohibitive, IMAHO.
If you decide to try it, though, I wish you the best of luck and I would like nothing better than to be proven spectacularly wrong!
Separate topic: what I'd love to see is BPL offering a week-long or weekend trek with the makers of the gear we know and love, as well as some BPL mainstays. I'd pay for that! A chance to trek with Ryan, Grant (GG), Tom (Nunatak), Rand (TD), Henry (TT), Ron (MLD) and others all in one trip would be a hoot! And nothing like meeting the folks whose stuff I buy and use in the perfect setting for such a meeting! That would be fun.
DougAug 31, 2009 at 12:21 pm #1524010
Hey Everyone! Thanks for all the really great comments!
I agree with all that has been said. For the record, I don't plan on opening a brick and mortar store. However, I feel that owning a store would be extremely satisfying and I feel that my knowledge base is getting to a point where I can "sell" ultralight gear.
I asked this question because my girlfriend is about to finish school and we are at the point in our lives where we are going to try and move to a place to settle into for awhile. I would love to choose a place that has a HUGE outdoor oriented population because we both love the outdoors, and because in the back of my head I have that glimmer of hope of one day owning an outdoor store. I've been trying to research what state would be a great location for this. I have of course checked out the more obvious states. It's really a matter of choosing between them.
I do have an idea for somewhat of a "business" surrounding ultralight gear, but it's not a traditional brick and mortar operation. It is my belief that there is a large segment of the backpacking population that would love to be ultralight, but they just don't know it! I am trying to find a way to reach this population while maintaining a viable business model. I'm 25 (EDIT: Crap, I'm 26..forgot!), extremely broke, and lack "traditional" business experience, but I have passion and I like to keep thinking about one day turning that passion into a business.
Thanks again for all the comments and encouragement!Aug 31, 2009 at 12:35 pm #1524016
@djjmikieLocale: KyAug 31, 2009 at 12:45 pm #1524019
Awesome! Thanks Mike! That resource looks great! Maybe I don't have to put this off until "one day"…..Aug 31, 2009 at 12:54 pm #1524022
@retropumpLocale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Yosemite valley.Aug 31, 2009 at 3:24 pm #1524047
@pepelpLocale: New Mexico
Your main problem with an ultralight centered store is going to be maintaining an inventory. Most of the cutting edge ultralight companies are small cottage industry types. They have large lead times and aren't geared to high production.
Also, prices for top of the line gear are high, and your average hiker would rather pay a lot less for traditional gear. They probably won't use it much anyway.
The real opportunity is to have knock-offs produced overseas. It would really hurt the cottage industry though. Having anything produced overseas (China) can be pretty involved. Quality control will be the problem.
A lot of people would remain loyal to the small companies, but most would rather pay half price for a similar item, even if it isn't quite as good, especially if they can get it immediately.Aug 31, 2009 at 3:52 pm #1524049
te – waParticipant
we already have an ultralight store… its called "Gear Swap" and its right here on BPL!
with the exception of the GoLite Jam/Pinnacle ive seen at REI, and the WM bags sold at SummitHut (Tucson) ive never seen any UL gear sold in any store. unless you consider ti sporks ul, which they arent. plastic and bamboo are lighter!
Lynn reminded me of an observation I held, that there are more UL hikers on the West Coast than the Eastern States. This observation came from talking to hikers from both coasts over the past few years. It seems that a PCT hiker is more likely to be UL than an AT hiker, but that is not an evaluation based on science or statistics, and likely mere conjecture. Still it may be true. If California wasnt about to burn to the ground economically, id say put it there.. but AZ isnt far behind so skip here too… and nobody lives in NW exept Joe, so maybe you should put it on the east coast. Or Washington state. Put a coffee shop inside, (with real coffee, not that $4 over-roasted sheit from starbucks) and you's in bidness.Aug 31, 2009 at 5:38 pm #1524060
@rezniemLocale: San Francisco
First of all, California is not about to burn to the ground. People see the state budget crisis on TV and think that means the local economy is in the toilet. The two are related, somewhat, but the economy isn't nearly as bad as the state crisis would have you think. (Just because the state (government) is broke doesn't mean the STATE (individuals) is.)
I see UL gear in shops in the Bay Area often enough. REI carries bivies and tarps from integral designs. I bought a GoLite Hut in Livermore. Sports Basement carries GoLite brand backpacks, and all of the above carry titanium and UL water treatment options. With that said, I think the bay area would be a great place for a store carrying UL things. UL is so feasible in the Sierra and this area has a huge population of backpackers. People here are also not scared of innovation. This is the birthplace of mountain biking, after all.
Anyway, interesting thread.Aug 31, 2009 at 6:57 pm #1524080
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Best parts of an online store?
Inventory is more controlled – no shoplifting, you can stock much smaller amounts, you have more control over changing your focus if something flops…
Customers can shop 24 hours a day.
A lot less upfront cost. (Due to less inventory and no employees, no rent, etc)
You can fill orders at 3 am or 7 pm if it suits you.
Yes there are cons of course – B&M stores do bring in locals. You have to get established with online stores, you have to have a reason for people to find you and then buy from you.
I'd say though for myself that there is no way the town I live in would support a gear store! Thee is not enough foot traffic, we have no real "downtown", even though we are on the way to a major NP. Some days we go gangbusters, some days we poke along. You never know. With being online I am not worried about slow days – I don't have to make rent or pay a worker to stand all day.Aug 31, 2009 at 7:02 pm #1524082
@jephotoLocale: New Zealand
I would take a look at http://www.ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk/. They keep everything in stock, which is a huge plus when ordering online. I ordered a Shangri-la 6 from them and it arrived here in NZ in very quick time. I have been very impressed with their service all round.
Also take a look at http://www.backpackinglight.co.uk – they are also renowned for their service and thier world famoud podcasts.
On another point it seems to me that the best way to ensure better stock levels with the cottage players could be for a whole load of us to invest some dollars in them (not sure of the exact mechanism for this, but I have a few ideas). We love their products, we trust the people involved with them, they improve the local economy and the don't exploit anyone. Or we could all just keep ploughing our cash into managed funds?Aug 31, 2009 at 7:37 pm #1524093
te – waParticipant
you paid no mind to the other half of that statement wise guy: "but AZ isnt far behind so skip here too… and nobody lives in NW exept Joe"
do you agree that Joe is the only backpacker in New Mexico?
for the record you're not talking about me because i dont watch TV. ever. (its been at least 5 years)
its all in good fun, Nathan. MikeAug 31, 2009 at 7:47 pm #1524096
@retropumpLocale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
""but AZ isnt far behind so skip here too… and nobody lives in NW exept Joe""
That's "NW", NOT "NM". I took it to mean the North West…?
What's TV got to do with it?Aug 31, 2009 at 7:48 pm #1524097
@rezniemLocale: San Francisco
California still has one of the WORLD's largest economies. Just the state of California. So things can't be all that bad. Some places have local stores and sell stuff online. (Dom's Outdoors and Campmor, for instances.) This may be a good strategy.Aug 31, 2009 at 8:09 pm #1524107
@foundLocale: Sacramento, CA
I'd take a long road trip around a region that you might be interested in living in. Scan the cities and towns and decide for yourself. I've been doing this for years, and know a few places where it could work, but I'm not going to tell you!Aug 31, 2009 at 8:36 pm #1524120
Lots more interesting thoughts. I'm definitely interested in moving out West anyways, so I would probably start looking around there. This was really just an exercise to gather other people's thoughts on this and help me choose where to move to in a few years! It's great imagining this and just thinking about it somehow coming all together.
Oh, and Jack, am I to assume that I'm missing out on you not sharing what you learned in your road trips? What kind of information did you use to decide the spots you know are good? Just gut feeling? Anecdotal evidence? Demographic reports? What's the deal with not sharing man? I mean you can't live in all those places at once. No need to be selfish! ;-)Aug 31, 2009 at 9:33 pm #1524128
@djohnsonLocale: Washington State
Cool idea. I've only seen one store focused on ultralight and it's Pro Mountain Sports in Seattle.
They carry Golite, Terra Nova, Hilleberg, Montbell, Integral Designs, Snow Peak, etc. Their focus is on alpine style (lightweight) mountaineering and ultralight backpacking. They've been in business a long time, but I couldn't say how profitable they are. They also sell through their web site and I've seen them doing internet sales while I've been in the shop, but I wonder what % of business this is…
Trouble is that it would be hard to carry Gossamer Gear, Tarptent, Six Moon Designs, Mountain Laurel Designs, Bozeman Mountain Works, etc. because of the availability and the lack of markup possible. But Pro Mountain gets close and that shop is REALLY COOL.
What about Portland?
Feathered Friends is another really cool retail shop in Seattle and they are literally in the shadow of the flagship REI store. I think this has been GREAT for them!
Best, DougAug 31, 2009 at 11:42 pm #1524145
@foundLocale: Sacramento, CA
I can't really offer that you're missing out on anything. I'm somewhat partial to my opinions!
I haven't looked at the question of opening a gear store in any systematic way. I'd definitely do a lot more research on the specific town before I committed to opening a business. What I've done is traveled a lot. And being a gear junkie, I've been to MANY gear shops all over the western states. And what I've seen? Gear stores are tenuous business. Each outdoor center will have thriving gear shops already. Many other places have shops that have failed or are failing. I guess it comes down to gut feeling on the market (locals and tourists), the competition, and largely the town. Primarily, I'd want a cool place to live.
I recommend doing your own travel/research primarily because it's so much fun. Also, because in the few very cool places that I deem feasible, I don't want more competition. While the west is known for wide open spaces, it often feels overcrowded to me. I'm all for people staying away!Sep 1, 2009 at 6:30 am #1524186
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Doug, I think FF's does so well in REI's shadow as they are the polar opposite of REI's corporate empire. It is a place you go to that reminds one of what REI once was, before they grew into a massive clothing/lifestyle company.
Sadly though, the only way to be big and to make the profits is to be like REI, LLBean, Campmor, Backcountry.com, etc – to sell a lot of items and go after the "lifestyle" market with clothing, shoes, etc.
Portland is a nice city but from my experience shopping there, there are a couple shops already there – either very old school or in the gentrified section of town. There is small competition to the large REI but the land down there is expensive, too expensive unless you are a major player. The average small business like FF would have their profits sucked dry by rent. FF has been in Seattle so long I have always wondered, do they own their building? Up to 10 years ago that was the dumpy/nasty section of Seattle so land was cheap back then. REI coming in did make it attractive to builders.
PS: I love FF in Seattle. I always get deals there!Sep 1, 2009 at 6:42 am #1524188
We have one in GA that's conveniently located right on the AT.
They stock ULA, Western Mountaineering, MontBell, Granite Gear, and some SMD stuff.
Because of their location they do a ton of business during the thru-hiking season selling light and UL stuff to people dumping gear.
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