Why One Utah Retailer Isn’t Focused on E-Commerce

The outdoor industry is gathering in Denver this week for the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market + Snow Show.

To get a read on the challenges of the business, FN spoke with Steve Kennedy, the co-owner of GearHeads Outdoor Store in Moab, Utah. Here, he weighs in on the highs of hiking and why he’s not investing in e-tail.

This is GearHeads’ 20th year in business. How is retail today?
SK: “It’s a tough environment right now, and if you’re still able to be successful, then you should be really happy about that. We’re in a unique position being in a place like Moab, offering the products that we do, so we’re a little bit sheltered from the woes of [traditional] retail. We are truly a full-service, one-stop type of store with folks coming out here to enjoy Arches and Canyonlands [national parks].”

GearHeads Moab Utah
Steve Kennedy, co-owner of GearHeads Outdoor Store.
CREDIT: Courtesy of retailer

Why are you focused predominantly on brick-and-mortar?
SK: “There are already so many big competitors that have e-tail nailed down. It would be a tough spot for us. We may try to carve out a little niche for ourselves down the road, but to compete with someone like Amazon is a tall order. We’re so successful here because we have a great reputation — people from all parts of the world visit us. I have folks in Denver who come to us because they know we have the best selection of footwear — anywhere. Not just footwear but everything. With our inventory of 60,000 SKUs, we have it all. We’ve become sort of an attraction.”

GearHeads Moab Utah
GearHeads in Moab, Utah, is known for its huge selection of outdoor gear.
CREDIT: Courtesy of retailer

With a tiny online presence, how do you attract new customers?
SK: “The trend right now is for people to discover their backyards again, whereas in past years, they wanted to go overseas. Oftentimes, that’s out of someone’s budget. Now people are realizing they can go to Utah and see several national parks. The Utah Travel Council has done lots of work advertising in many markets to get the word out about our national parks. The fact that we at GearHeads Outdoor are here when they get here and figure out what they need has allowed us to grow.”

What are your best-selling footwear brands?
SK: “We do great with Merrell, Keen, Salomon, Vasque, Chaco. Each of those brands has a following. Second, we stock them all very deep. If you come in and need a hiking shoe, we’re going to have your size. We buy heavy. Our biggest and No. 1 category in footwear is the light hiker — it’s vented, breathes well, and all of the companies I mentioned do a great job providing that type of shoe.”

GearHeads Moab Utah
The shoe wall at GearHeads Outdoor Store.
CREDIT: Courtesy of retailer

What do you think of Outdoor Retailer moving to Denver and combining with SIA?
SK: “Although it’s exciting to see snow product, it’s going to put more stress on the resources for the trade show and the city of Denver. We were quite content with it being in Utah; we had our hotel, restaurants and logistics lined up for many years. The whole routine was easy. Now we’re starting over. Yet once you’re inside the show on that convention floor, you could be in any city; it’s pretty much the same thing anywhere. Denver is a good choice. I don’t really know [if it’s] better than Salt Lake City — I’ll know once I’ve experienced it.”

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