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Summit Hut founder sells company to long-time employee

Summit Hut founder Dave Baker recently sold his outdoor retail business in Tucson, Ariz., to long-time employee and general manager Dana Davis. SNEWS catches up with Baker and Davis to talk about the past, present and future of the 44-year-old company.

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In 1998, Summit Hut Ltd. founder and owner David Baker hired 23-year-old Dana Davis as a new saleswoman working the floor at his outdoor retail shop in Tucson, Ariz.

Thirteen years later, he is handing her the company reins, which include two retail stores in Tucson and a global online presence.

Baker sold the company he founded 44 years ago as a teenager to Davis on Feb. 1. Financial terms of the deal were undisclosed, but Davis said Baker was integral in helping with the financing, and her husband, Jeremy, is joining her as part of the new ownership.

Baker will remain at Summit Hut as a consultant to Davis during the next 18 months through the transition.

“As soon as Dana arrived, it was pretty clear she was going to be an employee of extreme value,” Baker told SNEWS®. “She’s a hard worker, committed to communication and customer and community service. She’s an outstanding businesswoman, and I’m really pleased she’s the other half of the deal.”

Davis told SNEWS she doesn’t have any major changes planned for the business, which employs about 50 people.

“Everyone asks me: ‘Hey, what’s the big thing you’re going to change?’” Davis said. “Honestly, nothing. As general manager, I already had major input in the way the company was moving forward. We’re going to keep paying attention to what we do well, and that’s excel at service.”

Despite a prominent online presence, Summit Hut still does a majority of its business through its two retail stores in Tucson, Davis told us. She said the company competes with larger stores by focusing on products for which consumers demand good customer service, such as outdoor footwear.

“We’re known regionally for our boot fitting,” Davis said. Summit Hut uses Phil Oren’s fit system and will help consumers make customized changes to their footwear for a better fit. The retail stores in Tucson also make sure to stock more regional items for hiking in the desert — everything from sun hats to snake gaiters.

Davis, 36, who had been Summit Hut’s general manager since 2006, moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Tucson in 1998 looking for warmer weather and a job in the outdoor industry. Davis already had experience working for Benchmark Outdoor Outfitters in Columbus and once hired at Summit Hut, quickly moved up to become store manager of retailer’s second location in Tucson. Over the years, Davis has held almost every title at Summit Hut, including product buyer, operations manager and director or retail sales. She’s led the company’s community outreach and conservation efforts, recently winning the SNEWS/Backpacker Retailer of the Year Best in Conservation award(Davis is pictured above right, accepting the award during a ceremony at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011).

“She’s an outdoors woman – hiking, backpacking, climbing – she knows the sport and she knows the gear,” Baker said of Davis.

For Baker, 59, he still has a lot of passion for the business and one might think it’s a little early for him to retire. But he’s been running Summit Hut since he was 15 – storing the company’s first backpacking and mountaineering inventory under his bed.

Baker and his high school friend, Jeff Conn, applied for a business license to start Summit Hut in 1967 – ordering and delivering outdoor gear to Tucsonans. In 1969, Baker bought out his friend and rented his first retail space (pictured left with Baker in 1969) – a 150-square-foot room attached to a small bicycle shop across from his high school.

After 44 years at the helm of Summit Hut, Baker is ready to spend more time with his family, including his wife Irene, daughter and new grandson. Baker also wants to spend more time outdoors, including plans for 100-mile hike across the Arizona backcountry and some local conservation work.

The most important thing Davis learned from Baker: “To put a lot of faith in your employees,” she said. “He allowed everybody to have input to the company’s direction, and that led to a lot of creative ideas that moved us ahead.”

–David Clucas