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Opening a retail shop in a 'year without fear'

Jimmy Funkhouser designed his outdoor gear shop on the premise to "create adventure." Feral Mountain Co. has seen tremendous success, thanks to the fearless attitude and innovative processes that Funkhouser has employed in the creation of his Denver-based store.

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What would you do if you resolved to live a year without fear? Jimmy Funkhouser quit his corporate job and made a dream a reality.

When Jimmy Funkhouser’s friend asked him what he would do if he knew he couldn’t fail, Funkhouser looked at it as a challenge. So began his “year without fear,” in which he quit his corporate job with Toys “R” Us and took the leap to open an outdoor gear shop in Denver, which had been a dream of his for years. Feral Mountain Co. has only been open since March 2016, but has established itself as a strong brand with a robust social media following and a website that has all the character of the brick-and-mortar store.

Jimmy Funkhouser, founder of Feral Mountain Co. in Denver, Colo. // Photo by Caveman Collective
Jimmy Funkhouser, founder of Feral Mountain Co. in Denver, Colo. // Photo by Caveman CollectiveCaveman Collective

1. You started Feral last March, during your “year without fear.” Why did you want to open an outdoor shop?

Starting an outdoor gear shop was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but fear was in the way. A lot of people who are on the corporate ladder, if you will, just get on that treadmill because it’s what you have to do. I was always afraid to leave my career and chase my dream. But once I decided to do it, we were open in 90 days.

I think my “year without fear” has informed the approach we’ve taken in business, which is really irreverent. We’re very open and honest about it, and our blog is very personal. You look at a lot of outdoor gear shops, and their blogs are news and reviews. We want people to know what we’re about. A lot of companies are afraid to do that, because they would expose themselves to ridicule or people disagreeing with them. For me to be proud of what I do, it has to be authentic. You have to live fearlessly.

2. You started selling product online in November. What was that process like?

I didn’t want to launch our e-commerce platform until I felt like we had earned our stripes as a brick-and-mortar shop first. I had no timeline. I just told myself, we’re not even going to consider it until I feel like we’re a good shop first. Once we were there, I set out to be a student on the entire e-commerce ecosystem. I’m kind of obsessive about understanding every aspect of my business. I spent a couple of months really hard-core studying the best logistics options for shipping, the best e-commerce platform, the best way to integrate that with the rest of our site. I think to do it right, you have to be willing to become a student on the topic. It’s not something that can be effectively outsourced, because no on understands your business like you do." height="315" width="560" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0"><

3. E-commerce is relatively untapped in the world of speciality outdoor. What do you think makes a good online business?

For Feral, I really wanted to capture the essence of what we are all about. For many independent outdoor gear shops that have gone to an e-commerce platform, that’s all you get. When a lot of independent shops go to that format, they lose their story. They lose what makes them special.

I really wanted the website to continue to capture our story and what we’re about and why we do what we do. Our e-commerce platform is just one tab in the total ecosystem of our website: our team, shop online, our blog, our Denver location. Each of those tabs is equally important to us. In my opinion, that’s one of the mistakes a lot of people make—they just completely turn their website into an e-commerce platform rather than continuing to let their site tell their story.

4. How did you choose your mission statement?

Our mission statement is critical to just about every decision we make. It’s pretty simple: “Create adventure.” It was personal to me. It was the reason that I wanted to open an outdoor shop. If I wanted to just continue to carve out a financial existence, I would have just kept doing that. My whole life, I’ve been the guy who’s dragging people out to the trail and getting them out of the house. Feral is basically my vehicle for that now. I didn’t even have to think about the mission statement—it’s just who I am. It’s what I’m passionate about.

5. You’re new at this, but a fresh perspective can be just as important as experience. What advice do you have for longer-standing shops?

Run the business that you’re going to be proud of, regardless. I think a lot of people avoid making risky decisions because they’re afraid. But I would challenge everyone to ask themselves, 30 or 40 years down the road, are you going to be proud of what your business stood for and what it did for the community? To do those things, you have to step outside of your comfort zone. You have to take a position, and stand for something.

It all sounds like platitudes and BS, and I get that, but I’m serious about it. It’s such a big deal to everyone who works at Feral. We want that attitude to be something that people actually connect with.

—Kassondra Cloos

This article was originally published on p. 58 of the Demo Day issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily.