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Tell our readers about the history of RootsRated?
Rock/Creek co-owner Dawson Wheeler, Mark McKnight, and myself, along with help from Horny Toad Activewear founded RootsRated in the summer of 2012. Frustrated, while on a nationwide road trip, by an inability to tap into the most authentic aspects of local outdoor communities, I was inspired to create a tool that would simplify the way people discover and access the most memorable outdoor recreation. Every time I got to a new city, I’d stop by the local specialty outdoor retailer and ask them for their recommendations. I started sketching some ideas, and after getting outdoor industry leaders Dawson, Horny Toad, and Mark on board, we began our journey to build a better way to tap into the very best of local outdoor lifestyle. The first thing we did was partner with the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance – an alliance of independent specialty outdoor retailers around the country.
What is the idea behind the site?
We’re working to provide people with shortlists of the best local trail runs, hiking trails, paddling routes, bike rides, rock climbing, and more in select cities across the country – always according to local specialty retailers.
As Great Outdoor Provision Company’s Chuck Millsaps has said, “Specialty retailers survive through a craft of experiential storytelling that evokes the emotion and wander-lust of our customers.” We designed RootsRated as a tool for specialty retailers to engage with their customers by answering that all-important question, “Where can I go outside and play?” Retailers get this question on their sales floors everyday. For a retailer, the ability to answer that question consistently, and in a way that connects people to the transformational, local experiences that make the outdoor lifestyle so rewarding is so important for building layers of trust with customers — who could otherwise choose to shop with big box retailers and e-commerce behemoths. RootsRated allows retailers to provide people with the experiences that are the conduits to product and lifetime value.
How many specialty retailers do you currently partner with?
At this point, RootsRated has been live for just three months, and already we are live in 30 cities with over 700 great experiences, curated and authored by more than 40 retailers.
What are some of the benefits to specialty retailers to partnering with RootsRated?
Savvy specialty retailers know that in order to thrive, they need to focus on helping customers experience the outdoor lifestyle. Building trust as a retailer is a cornerstone of success, both in sales and in reputation. RootsRated gives retailers, a very easy to use tool to put their most trusted and best experiences in trail running, climbing, paddling, hiking, etc. on a nationwide platform that allows the enthusiast to save time and discover the most memorable experiences when they arrive in a new city.
Retailers write about the best local places to get outside and play, and their logos and their advertisements brand each review in a contextually targeted and personalized way. Essentially RootsRated allows retailers to broadcast themselves as the local subject matter experts.
Once retailers have generated their content, they can advertise. Market segmentation is a key component of a successful retail strategy today. It is not expensive to advertise with RootsRated, and it lets retailers run ads that are specific to the user groups visiting those pages. We place paddling ads on the paddling pages, trail running ads on the trail running pages, climbing ads on the climbing pages. This targeted advertising is far better than a shotgun approach that puts a generic advertisement in a regional publication.
For a retailer, RootsRated provides an in-store tool for the sales team on the floor to guide customers. People come into specialty shops everyday asking for information on where to go locally. With RootsRated, retailers don’t have to go dig through guidebooks, or one-sheet pamphlets, or Google, or rely on staff that may or may not have the expertise to pass on that knowledge of a guaranteed experience. Sales associates just ask people to pull up RootsRated on their smartphones, they choose an experience that looks good to them, and then RootsRated helps the customer navigate to the parking lot of the trailhead. Simple.
Longer term, RootsRated can be an important online marketing tool. For instance, in Chattanooga, which is where we’re located, the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau has partnered with us. Their site sees more than 70K unique visits per month, and we are building a RootsRated widget for their site to direct traffic to the outdoor experiences that Chattanooga’s local retailers recommend. The Visitors Bureau viewed RootsRated as, not only a valuable informational tool, but also as a great way to promote the local businesses here. We’re working to build these types of partnerships in the other cities in which we’re operating.
How do you choose which retailers to partner with?
Grassroots Outdoor Alliance has endorsed RootsRated, so we’ve started by working with the 40 great retailers in that alliance.
In order to make RootsRated a truly nationwide local resource, we have concluded that it is critical for our company’s longevity to have local retail support in markets that currently do not have a Grassroots member. When reaching out to markets that do not have a Grassroots member, we will always do so in a manner that is non-threatening to our Grassroots partners, and we will follow these guidelines:
- We only reach out to independently owned specialty retailers that have been referred to us through credible and reputable sources.
- We will limit the content from all non-Grassroots members to a 40-mile radius of their city centers.
Our goal is not to incite competition or animosity between retailers competing for territory. On the contrary, our objective is to give retailers a superior customer engagement platform on which they can author truly authentic local content that big-box and ecommerce competitors simply cannot deliver.
What is the benefit of visitors to your site?
Personally, when I am traveling to a new city, I don’t want to feel like a tourist. I want to know where my peers go for their runs, or their hikes, or their climbs. Finding this information right now, in a way that is trustworthy and at my fingertips, is extremely frustrating.
The benefit to visitors is that they enjoy an incredibly easy-to-use web and mobile site that provides them with curated lists of the most memorable local experiences. Users select which activity they’re interested in and the city they’re in, or traveling to. Then they get a curated short list of the best experiences with photography and directions straight to the trailhead, or put in, of cliff line. We think of it as the Zagat rating for the outdoors.
Often when people search for this type of information, they run into a sea of mediocrity on the web with websites that are crowd-sourced, or poorly designed, or difficult to navigate, or just flat out untrustworthy. RootsRated gives people the experiences that specialty retailers have backed with their brands and reputations. The site is optimized for mobile, so it’s perfect for the adventurous traveler or local who needs trustworthy information on the go.
How likely is it that visitors to your site will shop at your partner retailers?
One hundred percent chance. That’s a little tongue and cheek, but yes, we think that there is a very strong link between the type of person who’s searching for authentic local experiences and the type of customer who has that shop local ethos and wants to spend their hard-earned dollars with the retailer who is knowledgeable enough to provide memorable outdoor experiences.
As I said before, experiences are conduits to product, and building trust with customers by providing them with the type of experiences that can benefit them on a daily basis is so beneficial to building long-term loyalty. Furthermore, for independent retailers who are competing with the advertising budgets and mobile shopping expenditures of national chains and Amazon, RootsRated is a way to get on the radar and improve the chance that a customer will visit the store.
–Compiled by Ana Trujillo