Editor's Note | The Innovation Project

In this original video series, the founders of some of the best, most innovative specialty outdoor shops in the country will share lessons and insight

For our special video series, we spoke with some of the country’s best specialty outdoor retail shops to better understand the trials and tribulations of life on the front lines of selling the outdoors. 


WHEN I STARTED WORKING AT SNEWS ABOUT 10 MONTHS AGO I began to immerse myself behind the scenes of specialty outdoor retail, two things immediately became clear.

First, independent specialty retailers are the lifeblood of our industry.

They are on the front lines of our brand-building efforts, they are our best conduit to our existing customers, and they are our brightest hope for expanding our reach to bring in more people who love, protect and support the natural resources that make our businesses possible.

Second, they are struggling.

It’s a tough time to be a small brick-and-mortar shop. Many of the proprietors of these core outdoor stores launched these businesses 20, even 30, years ago with little more than grit, determination and a true passion for sharing their love of the outdoors.

They’ve felt the pang of growing pains as our industry has matured. They’ve remained nimble as they try to keep up with rapidly changing technology, the eruption of social media, the explosion of new brands and the maturation of iconic brands that struggle to manage the challenges that come with growth. They’ve learned to compete in an omni-channel world with a proliferation of direct sales competition—by focusing on and sharpening what they do best, which is connecting with customers in a very personal way.

These retailers have stories to tell. Lots of them. These retailers are problem solvers. They are innovators. They’re scrappy and daring and tireless and committed. They’ve learned the hard way and adapted the new skills required to survive in this challenging business climate.

In short, they have a lot to teach all of us in the outdoor industry, and they have a lot to celebrate.

That’s how The Innovation Project was born. In this original video series, the founders of some of the best, most innovative specialty outdoor shops in the country will share lessons and insights from the trenches of the outdoor industry. Through their stories, we will all become better at what we do: getting more people outdoors, more often.

The retail series is broken into two 9-part sections. Part 1 begins next week, and we’ll be rolling out one profile per week. (Part 2 will launch at the beginning of 2017.) Check here each Wednesday for the latest episode. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates.

Curious about which shops are featured? It wasn’t easy narrowing down the field, but watch our teaser and check out our the all-star lineup:

Part 1
Outdoor Gear Exchange—Burlington, VT
Feral Mountain Co.—Denver, CO
Great Outdoor Provisions Co.—9 stores in the southeast
Moosejaw—12 stores and e-commerce
Summit Hut—Tucson, AZ
Midwest Mountaineering—Minneapolis, MN
Mountain Hardware & Sports—Truckee, CA
Sportago—Napa Valley, CA
Idaho Mountain Touring—Boise, ID

Part 2
Alpenglow Sports—Tahoe City, CA
Pack Rat Outdoor Center—Fayetteville, AR
The Benchmark—Cinncinati, OH
Rutabaga—Madison, WI
Backcountry North—3 stores in Michigan
Black Creek Outfitters—Jacksonville, FL
Proof Lab Station—3 stores in CA
Elevation Sierra Adventure Essentials—Lone Pine, CA
Backwoods—9 stores in central U.S.


Part 1 of our series would not have been possible without the support of Mountain Hardwear, who shares our commitment to giving voice to the specialty outdoor retail community. We are deeply grateful to their support in telling these important stories. We hope you enjoy them and learn as much as we did making them.


Kristin Hostetter