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Shop Talk: Taos Mountain Outfitters

This 52-year-old gear shop was struggling to survive when owner Bill Gaydosh bought it five years ago. Not anymore.

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Taos Mountain Outfitters (TMO) is the kind of gear-shop success story so many aspiring retailers dream of. Five years ago, after nearly three decades working in the energy sector doing nuclear waste cleanup, Bill Gaydosh decided he wanted to make his longtime passion for the outdoors into a business and open an outdoor store. After searching for a gear shop to buy and run, he found one in Taos, N.M.—a struggling outlet called Taos Mountain Outfitters that he took over with his wife and turned into a thriving business, now with three locations across the Southwest.

We chatted with Bill on the fifth anniversary of his purchase of TMO to find out what has led to his success and what life is like at the helm of a growing retail business.

Taos Mountain Outfitters
The shop floor at Taos Mountain Outfitters. Photo: Courtesy

The basics

Shop: Taos Mountain Outfitters
Number of stores: 3
Locations: Taos, N.M.; Red River, N.M.; Canyon, Texas (store branded as Palo Duro Canyon Outfitters)
Year founded: 1969
Number of employees: 10-12
Online sales? Yes

Q&A: Owner Bill Gaydosh

How did you get into the retail business?

We bought the store five years ago today. I worked for 28 years in nuclear energy cleanup, but I’ve been a lifelong backpacker, fly fisher, skier, mountain biker, and all-around outdoorsman. I’ve been participating in these activities all my life, and I’ve always loved going into gear stores and chatting with the shop owners. When I was ready to leave my previous job, I told my wife I wanted to strike out on my own for a while, and she was behind me 100 percent. We searched around for retailers who might want to sell their gear shops and found one in Lander, Wyoming. It wasn’t right for us, but through the broker we stumbled upon Taos Mountain Outfitters. It wasn’t doing well, but we bought it anyway, and in five years we’ve been able to turn it around with a lot of hard work.

How did you rescue the business?

The previous owner had a lot of expenses that were draining the business, including far too many employees doing tasks that could be handled by one or two people—like my wife and me. We just started cutting costs. We went through the budget line by line and decided what we absolutely needed and what we could do away with. These days, my wife takes care of the back-end processes, and I handle the front of the store. We also took a hard look at what was selling and what wasn’t, and made some changes with our vendors. After five years, the shop is profitable—so much so that we’re able to give 10 percent of our profits back to charity at all three of our locations.

What changes did you make to your product offerings and vendors to make the shop more profitable?

That was a learning process, for sure. The first year was tough, never having worked in retail. We had to experiment. We started by bringing in some brands I’ve always liked personally—Mountain Hardwear, NEMO, Cotopaxi, KUHL, Hydro Flask, and a few others. Then we took a hard look at the brands that weren’t performing. When we took over the store, we had a general manager who insisted on keeping several brands because they sold well, but the caveat to that was a big one: Those products didn’t make any margin. We decided to cut all that stuff, and that GM quit in frustration. But it worked. We also dropped a few big-name vendors for various business reasons I don’t want to disclose here: Icebreaker, Merrell, and Kleen Kanteen among them. Then finally we had some lifestyle products in here that didn’t fit with what I wanted in an outdoor store, so we got rid of those too. The whole cutting and rethinking process made the store more solid financially, and solidified our brand as well.

What products and departments sell best for you?

Softgoods account for about 75 percent of sales, with the other 25 percent of sales belonging to hardgoods and accessories. We do a lot of apparel and footwear, and Patagonia does especially well here. We’ve become the biggest Patagonia dealer in New Mexico, believe it or not. We sell more Patagonia than both of the state’s REIs [in Albuquerque and Santa Fe] combined!

What makes your shop different or unique within the independent retail community?

Our goal is to get people outside. All three locations are in spectacular places, and that’s our mission, period. Not just selling, but getting people out. What sets us apart, I would say, is the respect and care we have for our customers. We try to sell people the right products for their specific needs. We’ve told customers before, straight up, “We’re not going to sell you that because it’s not right for you.” Most people understand that mentality. The only slightly contentious experience we’ve had was a case with a woman coming in to buy hiking boots. She told us she was a size eight—she had always been a size eight, she said—but when she tried to cram her foot into a size-eight boot, it was obviously wrong for her. We told her they didn’t fit, we weren’t going to sell her something that wouldn’t work, and she left mumbling under her breath. Two days later, she came back and apologized, gave me a big hug, and bought a size nine. At the end of the day, people appreciate honesty and expertise.

What piece of advice would you give to new or inexperienced retailers?

Rule number one: If you think anybody cares more about your business than you do, you’re wrong. I understand that no one is going to put more into this shop than me, so I make sure to get involved in all aspects of the business. I stand at the register, steam clothes in the back, sell shoes on the floor—all of it. You can’t just hire someone to run your store and expect them to care as much as you do. That’s rule one. Rule two: Sales are great, but margins pay the bills.