Local shops can be the heart of the outdoor community. They can be a tremendous resource for expert knowledge. They can be the place where you can actually see and touch the gear and clothing before you decide to purchase. Unfortunately there are many forces working against this perfect situation.
First is the vendors that sell the clothing to the local specialty outdoor store. These vendors not only sell to your local shop; They sell to big box locations and online retailers at a better price; They sell to you directly at a discounted price and in many cases free shipping. In both of these instances they are undercutting the local shop that they continue to say is the life blood of their brand. Local shops can build brand loyalty, but when they do the brand (company) takes their product to a big box and online world that pulls it from the local shop.
Second is the local shop. They are forced due to the economy to do more with less. Many times this means a sales clerk that probably does things in the outdoors, but isn’t necessarily trained on the gear or clothing they are selling. This can sometimes be ok, but it can also be disastrous. This is especially true for pack fitting and footwear fitting. There are very few sales clerks in specialty outdoor shops that have the skills or knowledge to do these two things. These take time and often there is not enough staff in a store to enable a long process. The other thing is the local shop is under a daily struggle to differentiate itself from the big box store or online store. They have to open up new accounts and take on new lines that may or may not pan out. They have to make a decision as to whether or not they are going to keep supporting and buying from vendors who do not support them. These are big decisions.
Lastly, we the consumers are making choices based on price. There are so many other things to consider, but it is not readily available information. Even the vendors who sell the more technical gear and clothing gloss over the details, because the majority of us just buy on price alone. We are losing out on so many levels: Many of the best specialty outdoor stores are closing; We are getting a lower quality product with a high end image.
What do we do about this? From our end, we have to consider shopping local not just for food, but for our outdoor gear and clothing. Not just to keep our local shop alive, but to make the vendors do a better job of supporting that local shop. In the long run, it will create a current for a better product from these companies.
The local shop has to involve itself in the community through sponsorships, events and promotions. They have to educate their staff and provide the best customer service they possibly can. The have to bring in smaller, innovative lines to differentiate themselves and possibly throw out popular lines due to the lack of small specialty store support.
The vendors have to actually show that they really do believe that the small outdoor specialty retailer is their life blood. The pricing structure for buying should favor these small retailers and not the big box or online retailer. They need to maintain prices in their own brick and mortar and online stores. They need to continue to support a selling structure that includes sales representatives that are regional and actually go to these small retailers with selling information and support.