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Shop Talk: Outdoors Inc.

This decades-old Memphis gear shop is famous for its community events, which regularly attract Olympic athletes as well as families with young kids.

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The basics

Shop: Outdoors Inc.
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Year founded: 1974
Number of stores: 3
Number of employees: 30 
Online sales? Yes

Q&A: President and co-founder Joe Royer

What is your shop most well known for? 

“We’re probably most known for our events. A lot of shops sponsor events, but we fully produce a couple of big ones that draw a lot of interest every year: a canoe and kayak race, a cyclocross race, and a gravel biking race called Grit and Grind. Over the years, these have attracted everyone from Olympic champions to families with grandparents and grandchildren. People know us for the events and they travel from all over to participate. We’ve had as many as six countries represented in years past. We’re also fairly well known for our work in the community, supporting bike clubs and advocacy groups working to preserve green spaces in our city.”

How would you sum up your business philosophy?

“When we’re choosing products, we ask ourselves two questions: Does it work for serious users, and can we make a profit on it? Both parts are key. We can’t keep the business going if we choose products that aren’t profitable, but if we stock things that don’t work, no one will come back.”

Kids riding bikes at a race
Outdoors Inc. is well known for its bike races, which attract a wide range of outdoor lovers—from Olympians to families with young children. Courtesy.

What are your best-selling categories or products?

“Softgoods from big brands like Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and The North Face are consistently the most profitable part of the business. But that’s not to say those are the products we enjoy selling the most. You can find apparel on every website out there. In our shop, we love doing the work that requires in-person contact and product knowledge—fitting bicycles, finding the right size climbing shoes and hiking boots, adjusting backpacks. Those are the things it’s harder to do over the internet.”

What advice would you give to novice retailers?

“Try to end up with five years’ experience in five years, not one year of experience five times over—which is to say learn from your mistakes, and try to let past experience inform what you do tomorrow. Also, take some time to get out and enjoy the activities you’re selling. The specialty retail business model is not the same as the big-box model. Ours require professionals with deep knowledge of these sports.”