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Healthy and happy: Hudson Trail Outfitters attracts customers with fitness outings and brand partnerships

It’s part of a larger fitness, health and yoga push across the outdoor market, integrated with specialty retailers selling experiences, not just gear.

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Just seven years shy of its 50th anniversary, Hudson Trail Outfitters (HTO) is putting its running foot where its river mouth is in terms of helping its customers live happy, healthy lifestyles.


The retailer, which has five stores throughout Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland markets, has partnered with various vendors to launch a new “Fit for Life” health program aimed at educating people how to live happier and healthier through everything from activity, exercise and proper nutrition to repetition, teamwork and fun. The initiative is designed to educate and guide participants how to maximize their mind, body and spirit by focusing on physical and mental progress.

It’s part of a larger fitness, health and yoga push across the outdoor market, integrated with the popular strategy for specialty retailers to sell experiences, not just gear.

“Our goal has never been to just sell gear or help someone get in shape for a marathon,” said HTO CEO Sandy Cohan. “We’re passionate about helping people not only get healthy but stay healthy. This program is designed to give them a little guidance.”

The program consists of a series of 14 interactive experiences from April through August including CrossFit, healthy eating, yoga, SUP sunset tours, a 5K run, mountain biking and road riding. All sessions are free and are designed to support participants via a like-minded team environment. Other topics include being active, strengthening your body, energizing your spirit, maximizing your potential, and pushing your limits.

To pull it off, HTO has partnered with a variety of vendors, trainers, Yoga studios, nutrition experts, outdoor educators and more, all behind the same cause. Included in the mix is Potomac Crossfit, apparel company PrAna, education partner Calleva, Custom Fit Meals, footwear manufacturer Altra, Fuji bicycles, and BIC Sport for its SUP offerings. Each session is designed to be friendly for participants of any age or fitness level.

The partnership with BIC, for example, includes training HTO staff through in-store clinics and on-water instruction on both the product and, more importantly, the activity itself.

“Our interests are aligned in providing both education and training to both retail staff and consumers,” BIC marketing manager Jimmy Blakeney said. “What HTO is trying to achieve has been a cornerstone of BIC’s success in the SUP market as well.”

Blakeney said BIC will also take HTO customers on evening sunset paddles, providing equipment and instruction from certified instructors and its SUP ambassadors; and offer a special SUP Yoga session, in which it assists the area yoga instructor in providing an on-water component to the class. It will also support the endeavor with various marketing assets to further spread the lifestyle message.

The key, says Cohan, was finding partners buying into the same message. “When we came up with the concept, we went to specific vendors that shared our beliefs to get their thoughts,” he said. “We wanted people who aligned with our same objectives of promoting the lifestyle rather than selling gear. We actually had a lot more people who wanted to be involved than we had room for.”

He added that since its inception, HTO has never tried to outfit people for a singular activity; their objective is to inspire people to live the lifestyle itself. “The gear comes once the education has been established,” Cohan said. “That’s been our style and strategy for decades.”

As for other retailers adopting something similar in their areas, he said that the key is thinking long term. “You can’t think of something as a singular event,” said Cohan, who has 300 staff members living the lifestyle he preaches. “Ours is an eight-month program. A lot of people have the right idea, but just host singular events whose message is lost once they’re over.”

While Cohan admits it’s a “substantial” investment, perhaps about 30 percent above and beyond what HTO normally spends on community events, training, education and “developing the lifestyle culture,” he said sales at his five stores comprising 150,000 square feet of retail space will follow. The stores’ online sales have more than quadrupled in the past few years, with the brick and mortar business also continuing to grow.

“You can’t do things like this if you’re not growing,” he said. “But our customers appreciate it that we’re helping them live the lifestyle and that we’re outfitting them for happier, healthier active lifestyles.”

–Eugene Buchanan