Husband-and-wife team Wes and Melissa Allen have been in an aggressive transformation mode since buying the Cody, Wyo., outdoor retail store Sunlight Sports in 2010.
“Sunlight is one of the oldest mountain shops in the West — my wife’s family started it in 1971,” said Wes Allen. “But we rebooted everything in the last few years.”
The changes have gradually shown results, according the retailer. “We’ve tripled in size and volume since 2011,” noted Allen, adding: “We’re just shy of $3 million a year in revenue at our single brick-and-mortar location.” And it should get an additional boost from a new e-commerce platform, set to launch this fall.
The original owners of Sunlight Sports were Melissa Allen’s sister and brother-in-law, who started the small shop with only three shelves of climbing equipment on the third floor of his father’s traditional Western store. “Bob, my brother-in-law, didn’t want to be a cowboy,” explained Wes Allen. “He had a huge beard and ponytail down to his butt.”
Throughout the decades, the shop, which sits near the entrance of Yellowstone National Park, grew to become one of the key outdoor retailers in the region.
In fact, it was one of the first shops to carry climbing hardware from Chouinard Equipment Ltd. — the initial iteration of Patagonia. “Yvon Chouinard used to sell the gear out of his trunk to Bob back in the day,” recalled Allen.
Today, the retailer stocks an array of hard-goods, apparel and footwear. It encompasses 8,000 square feet, with 20 to 25 employees throughout the year, including buying, online and creative-content positions.
After taking ownership, the big push for the Allens was to rebrand Sunlight Sports, and they initiated a complete overhaul of the store’s look and identity.
“We made a conscious decision to focus on image building through local community, unique content and [writing two books] to raise our profile as a true brand and not just a store,” said Allen. “The key messages being about this Northwest Wyoming community [and that we are] experts for Yellowstone and the surrounding area.”
One aspect of Sunlight Sports’ community building is its charitable outreach: The store donates 2 percent of sales to local nonprofits that help young kids get outdoors. One recipient of funds is The Dano Youth Camp, which Allen said works with “kids who live in the county and provides everything: hats, sleeping bags and food. They take two groups of boys and girls, ages 13 to 16, on a nine-day wilderness trip every summer.”
The Allens have a long personal history connected to the outdoor industry. The two met at Sunlight Sports in the mid-1990s and married in 1996. They later spent many years as managers for REI, and Wes served a stint as Chaco Footwear’s national sales manager.
That experience helped them craft a strong assortment of products for outdoor enthusiasts.
Krystina Beatty, footwear buyer for Sunlight Sports, explained, “We go more off of the technicality of gear and footwear. … We go after the best fit in all of our buying, and we especially go after that aspect in training our staff.”
Beatty added that trekking throughout Yellowstone and its surrounding areas calls for specific fits and needs. “Our No. 1 selling style is a midtop boot,” she said. “That style has been going out like crazy for spring and summer months.”
Technica, a newcomer to this particular style, is a standout. “Its Forge line is great for us, which is the only style shoe they have right now. There is a heating element to the boot as well, so you can make a customized fit for a customer in 20 minutes,” Beatty said.
Other notable brands include Hoka One One and Oboz Footwear, based in nearby Bozeman, Mont. “We do all of this to make buying shoes enjoyable for our customers,” said Beatty.