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Today Grassroots Outdoor Alliance announced the roster of finalists for its 2019 awards, which celebrate the very best in specialty outdoor retail. The winners will be crowned at the group’s Connect buying show on Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Awards are given out in four categories: Retailer of the Year; Retailer Recognition for Community & Events; Retailer Recognition for Merchandising Magic; and Grassroots Vendor of the Year.
Choosing a winner is no easy task. “The individual innovation of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance partners is inspiring, as every nominee is truly worthy of their own award. These examples of individual passion and dedication to great specialty retail is what is fueling the overall success and growth of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance,” said Dana Howe, Grassroots Retailer Relations Manager.
Retailer of the Year nominees
Alpine Shop, St. Louis, MO
After 45 years in the business, it is still Alpine Shop’s Vision to see “Generations Transformed by Discovery Outdoors” — the idea that getting people outside brings about positive physical, emotional and spiritual changes in them. Alpine Shop staffers along with hundreds of their customers have helped clean up area rivers and parks, and built new trails throughout their region. They have engaged more than 17,000 customers and outdoorists through clinics, competitions, events, and instructional classes in just the past five years. And over the lifetime of the business they’ve outfitted millions for adventures near and far. “All of our success is just the result of a bunch of really great people,” said Holly Hollenbeck, Alpine Shop owner. (Owners, Russell ‘Holly’ Hollenbeck & Lisa Hollenbeck; Established 1973; Grassroots Member since 2002).
Appalachian Outfitters, Peninsula, OH
Appalachian Outfitters is a local, family-owned and run business that is the closest outfitter to Ohio’s only National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Their 16,000 square foot retail store and adjacent rock gym invests in continuous training so that they can provide expert guidance to all of their visitors, and each staff member gets involved in community events such as hosting clinics, pint night fundraisers, and leading free customer hikes in the Park. Appalachian Outfitters has prioritized promoting and protecting the Park and the outdoors, hosting a wide variety of different clinics that educate the community on hiking, camping, first aid, and more. The store’s engaged staff gives to the community through river clean ups on the Cuyahoga River and support the Haven of Rest programs for the homeless with coat drives and sock drives. (Owners, Mike Leffler & Karen Leffler; Established 1988, Grassroots Member since 2009).
Mountain Chalet, Colorado Springs, CO
Mountain Chalet is the oldest operating mountain shop in Colorado, and is centered around the mountain lifestyle and a culture of adventure. For their year-long 50th birthday celebration last year, the team at Mountain Chalet created a contest centered around getting more people outdoors doing what they love, with the grand prize of winning a full outdoor kit in the contestant’s favorite activity. Mountain Chalet staff felt almost as rewarded at the contestants when they heard over and over that through the contest, their customers were introduced to trails or parks, routes or roads that they had never been on and probably wouldn’t have sought out. Contestants also reported that without the contest, they wouldn’t have gone out on nearly as many days. (Owners Jim Smith & Elaine Smith; Established 1968; Grassroots Member since 2010).
Skinny Skis, Jackson, WY
Opened in 1974 with a focus on cross country skiing, Skinny Skis has grown with a passion for outdoor recreation and a strong commitment to supporting the Jackson Hole community. In 2019, Skinny Skis milestones include celebrating their 40th annual Fourth of July 10k, with proceeds supports building, maintaining and advocating for a robust trail and pathways network through Friends of Pathways non-profit organization; their 20th annual Run ‘N Ride for the Cure, slated for early June — an event which raises funds for community members battling cancer by supporting patient expenses not covered by insurance, and is administered by Jackson’s local Hospital Foundation; and their 20th annual Avalanche Awareness Night, which raises snow safety and backcountry travel awareness while also raising funds for local Search and Rescue and one of the Rocky Mountain’s standout volunteer teams. (Owners Phil Leeds, Scott O’Brien; Established 1974; Grassroots Member since 1999)
Retailer Recognition for Community & Events nominees
Alpenglow Sports, Tahoe City, CA
Alpenglow Sports believes that a specialty retailer has a responsibility within their community to exist as a hub for inspiration, information, education and motivation. Alpenglow Sports views giving back to their North Lake Tahoe community as a moral imperative. Based in Tahoe City, Alpenglow Sports takes pride in being community-minded and socially and environmentally responsible to ensure Lake Tahoe stays one of the best places to play, visit, and live in California. Alpenglow Sports puts on over 150 individual community-oriented events each year. The majority of these events are free and in the last 15 years Alpenglow has raised over $400,000 for North Lake Tahoe non-profit groups. “Our staff prides itself in building something bigger than ourselves, and our community endeavors are our single best display of this mantra,” said Brendan Madigan, owner of Alpenglow Sports. (Owner, Brendan Madigan; Established 1979; Grassroots Member since: 2016)
Nantahala Outdoor Center, Bryson City, NC
Operating on seven rivers in the southeast allows Nantahala Outdoor Center to impact the lives of local communities throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. One of their key community efforts is the Nantahala Outdoor Center Environmental and Humanitarian Endowment — enabled through the North Carolina Community Foundation — which supports various environmental and humanitarian non-profits, and donates an average of $8000 each year to various organizations. NOC has also helped create and sponsor the Nantahala Racing Club: a high-level, competitive 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to the development and training of whitewater slalom, wildwater and freestyle athletes. “Our staff are what make NOC special, and supporting that community helps us create exemplary guest experiences through adventures outside,” said co-owner Tim Black. (President/GM, Jay Curwen and Tim Black; Established 1972; Grassroots Member since 2015)
River Sports Outfitters, Knoxville, TN
River Sports Outfitters is Knoxville’s oldest local outdoor retail shop, with two stores, seven seasonal water rental locations, a bike shop and bike rental service, and one of the first climbing centers in the South. The team at River Sports sponsors and participates in trail building, river clean-ups, and local school and summer camp outdoor programs. River Sports Outfitters favorite platform to give back to the community involves pints full of local brews. RSO started their Pint Nights many years ago and now with beer on tap in the store full time, their pints nights are still growing strong. RSO Pint Nights raise funds for local organizations such as, Swift Water Rescue groups, Animal Rescue groups, and conservation efforts. Pint Nights allow the opportunity to draw in customers and education them on the good work done throughout the community by various not for profit organizations. (Owner, Ed McAlister; Established 1984; Grassroots Member since 2000)
Roads Rivers Trails, Milford, OH
When you have both business owners and employees who are truly inspired to do more, great things can happen. RRT has created a culture of value for community and connectedness with customers through engagement and events. “At RRT, we truly believe that we are only as strong as the community surrounding us, and that has led us to meaningful relationships with our organizational partners and customers,” said co-owner Bryan Wolf. The ownership team and staff at RRT work with local groups to get people outside, support initiatives for more sustainable and safer recreational opportunities, and promote the outdoors to the local youth. One recent initiative by RRT was the adoption of a 5 mile stretch of water on the Little Miami River and removing thousands of pounds of garbage from it each year. (Owners Emily White, Bryan Wolf & Joe White; Established: 2010; Grassroots Members since 2016)
Retailer Recognition for Merchandising Magic nominees
Backcountry North, Traverse City, MI
Backcountry North, located near the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, uses the nearby Great Lake to inspire and inform all of their merchandising decisions. Backcountry North custom designs and builds all of their fixtures, feature walls and cash wraps in house due to the fact that co-owner, Stephen Kosinski, has an industrial design background and is an artist at heart. The feature wall behind the counter at one Backcountry North location was cut by hand by Steve from a few trees he selected and fell himself from a 30-acre parcel in Traverse City. They have also come up with many creative ways to manage not-so-pretty packaging that many outdoor products come in. They very often remove these products and display them ‘museum style’ to honor the product design and style of the store. Tracy and her team believe that merchandising a retail store is an ever evolving project and it’s their goal both keep up and to constantly update and make changes which provide their customers with shoppabilty, surprise, and delight. “We want to present our stores as clean and sophisticated while at the same time conveying that we are a local, independently owned retailer honoring our beautiful local surroundings.” — Tracy Mayer. (Owner, Tracy Mayer; Established 1976; Grassroots Member since 2011).
Great Outdoor Store, Sioux Falls, SD
Great Outdoor Store’s goal in their presentation and merchandising is to make their customers feel like they’ve been ‘transported to another place.’ Their talented merchandising team, including DeAnn, Shelly, Meghan, and Emily, make sure the GOS mission of ‘helping friends have fun and be comfortable in the outdoors’ saturates every product merchandised in the store. DeAnn and Shelly have worked together for over 20 years and they focus on the big picture store layout and fixture placement. Shelly has a knack for product consolidation and adding flair to the ordinary. Meghan works mostly within the kids/youth section and always adds a sprinkle of whimsy for the ‘littles’. Emily, the GOS resident artist, helps with color stories and artistic details. Merchandise is organized not by brand but by color and lifestyle coordination. They work together to create product capsules according to how customers would wear pieces in real life. “One of our top priorities is how we present ourselves to our customers, and that presentation comes from paying close attention to all aspects of customer interaction: service, product selection and merchandising. We make every effort to engage our customers in a total experience.” — DeAnn Echols. (Owners James Echols & DeAnn Echols; Established 1983; Grassroots Member since 2014)
Trail Creek Outfitters, Glen Mills, PA
Trail Creek tries to make their merchandising unique to each location in Glen Mills and Kennett Square. The merchandisers on the TCO team, Clare and Jess, come with backgrounds in visual art, as opposed to merchandising. Both, Clare and Jess, think about product layout as a painting composition, placing color in such a way that draws the eye around a display, and arranging forms to create balance. There is an artistic touch to TCO displays and store layout that remains easy and unimposing. TCO’s merchandising strength comes from their ability to create a pleasing visual environment while maintaining an ease and comfort to the shopping experience. Whether it’s the hand-built register counters, the hand-drawn footwear sign, or the custom steel logo art in TCO’s equipment section, there is evidence of people pitching in to make the store great, and evidence that TCO matters to the community as much as the community matters to them “We have honed a warm, homey vibe in the store that nods to our place in the community for 36 years” — Ed Camelli (Owners, Ed Camelli, Brian Havertine; Established 1983; Grassroots Member since: 2015)
Vendor of the Year nominees
The Kelty team put together the “Ranger Doug” collection which was built off of exclusive distribution for specialty accounts, and sales lead Danny Andres is always one of the first to pick up the phone and get feedback on what retailers are looking for. “(Grassroots specialty retailers) are the stores that customers go to when looking for new products that will make their adventures more enjoyable and fun. Kelty appreciates that Grassroots retailers make the community connection with the customer and can tell their brand and product stories. — Kelty
Lowa has been taking its specialty partners very seriously in coming up with innovative programs to drive brick and mortar sales and keeping channels clean. “What makes specialty important is that boots and shoes require fit and service and we think the best place for a consumer to get this is in their local specialty shop. We believe that shop is (or should be) the leader in explaining what makes a better boot or shoe; what’s the best product for a given use; product care help and even helping consumers with warranty issues.” — Lowa Boots.
Smartwool was one of the first vendor partners of Grassroots joining in 1995, and their trajectory through time has been powered by consistent programs, steady sales support, and a penchant for helping retailers with sell-through. Smartwool also provided $2,500 to the Grassroots technology fund, joining The North Face and other industry leaders in the effort to eliminate paper workbooks. “A healthy and vibrant Specialty Retail business is a critical component to the vital nature of our industry. Specialty retailers bring a depth of knowledge and expertise not just about outdoor products, but about this amazing lifestyle we’ve all chosen. Specialty offers a direct relationship to the consumer that is built on years of trust and hometown support that can’t be replicated,” — Smartwool
The North Face
In 2018, TNF put a focus on specialty from the highest organizational levels which has ultimately been felt in many specialty accounts. TNF also pioneered a successful digital workbook platform which led to $10,000 of support to start the Grassroots technology fund helping put iPads in the hands of retailers looking to take control of their own process. “The North Face was born in the outdoor specialty marketplace and we see the health and long-term viability of the channel as being vital to the success of not only our brand but the entirety of the outdoor industry. Our local specialty retailers are the best advocates for local public lands which we strive to protect and they maintain a trusted connection with the consumer that is fundamental to helping others achieve a life of exploration.” – The North Face