Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the Raleigh, N.C.-based retailer’s philosophy for success has been to foster an interest in the outdoors. “As a company, we learned that we are best when we pursue our passion,” said VP Chuck Millsaps, adding that supporting outdoor enthusiasts has helped the company separate itself from big-box players in the area.
Earlier this summer, the retailer partnered with The North Face to sponsor a run on North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The 1,000-mile expedition, which included professional runner Diane Van Deren, Millsaps and several other employees, raised more than $30,000 for the footpath.
With seven locations throughout North Carolina, Great Outdoor Provision features such shoe brands as Chaco, Toms, Vasque, Vibram and Patagonia. In addition to footwear, which makes up 20 percent of its inventory, the retailer also specializes in outdoor goods such as fishing supplies, camping equipment and paddle sports gear.
Sales floors range from 8,500 to 12,000 square feet. Replete with pine floors and walls, each space is designed with a cabin or barn vibe. As most of the company’s stores are located on shopping streets, grassroots efforts are the key form of marketing for each location. Millsaps said sponsoring events — such as local 5K runs, donating coats to local missions and partnering with vendors to support outdoor trail organizations — is an effective means of learning about consumers.
“Once we’re in a neighborhood, we try to figure out how we can be a good neighbor,” he said. “You only find out things about your neighbors when you’re in contact with them.”
Scott Williams, sales rep for Patagonia, said Great Outdoor Provision’s commitment to wilderness causes has created a great partnership for both the retailer and the vendor.
“Patagonia and Great Outdoor have built a long-standing relationship based on common interests,” Williams said, noting that both companies have collaborated on ways to improve outdoor initiatives.
The chain also connects with outdoor enthusiasts on the sales floor. Rion Smith, co-owner of Outdoor Sports Marketing and sales rep for the Chaco and Vasque brands, said what differentiates the retailer from national chains is its sales associates, who are passionate and knowledgeable about the outdoors.
He should know. Before joining his current company, Smith started as an associate at Great Outdoor’s Charlotte, N.C., location when he was 14. “Without question, the greatest asset [Great Outdoor Provision] has is its people,” he said. “Besides being a place to purchase products, it’s always been a place to get information and meet other people who are excited about getting outside.”
After being challenged by the recession and a warm winter that impacted boot sales, Millsaps said his company has learned a few lessons along the way. It was able to navigate the tough times by cutting expenses and keeping its inventory tight. Now it’s targeting sales growth of 3 percent to 8 percent this year.
But preserving its knowledgeable staff has always been the No. 1 concern, noted Millsaps.
“We haven’t grown every year,” he said. “But even during difficult times, the priority has always been to take care of staff because they’re the engine that makes this possible.”