Grassroots Outdoor Alliance announces nominees for 2018 awards

Grassroots’ coveted awards recognize the great work of outdoor retailers and vendors


Grassroots Outdoor Alliance award is a very big deal. The group, which is a consortium of 64 independent outdoor specialty retailers and 68 vendor partners, represents the best of specialty retail. The awards, which will be given out on June 13, 2018 on night one of the Grassroots Connect Show in Knoxville, Tennessee, are voted on by members in recognition of exceptional work and leadership.

Historically, four awards have been given out for Retailer of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Vendor of the Year, and Sales Manager of the Year. This year for the first time, Grassroots has added three new categories for retailers: Advertising, Community & Events, and Merchandising Magic.

“The scope of great work that’s going on at specialty retail is pretty amazing right now,” says Drew Simmons, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance communications manager. This year, Grassroots decided to announce the full roster of nominees in advance of the show, because, as Simmons says “It doesn’t tell the whole story to just highlight the winners. Plus, people are interested and want to know who the leaders are in specialty retail and how they’re pulling it all together.”

Here is the full roster of nominees:


  • Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park, Florida “We’re not a big-box store. We’re independent, family-owned and operated… We help customers chase their passions, helping them plan and conquer their next adventure. An often-told story that sums up Bill Jackson’s goes like this: A customer turned to a longtime employee and said, ‘I can go down the street and get this lantern $2 cheaper. Why should I buy it here?’ Without missing a beat, the employee said, ‘Because we can show you how to light it.’” (Owners: Darry & Doug Jackson. Established 1946. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2002).
  • The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, New York “We are truly part of the Keene Valley and Adirondack community… We live and breathe climbing, trail running, ski mountaineering, hiking, camping, and fly fishing. We work hard to make sure our customers leave the store with the right gear, inspired for whatever adventure they are embarking upon.” (Owner: Vinny McClelland. Established 1975. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2013)

Rock/Creek, which was recently purchased by Uncle Dan’s a subsidiary of publicly-traded behemouth, Camping World, was a pillar of the Grassroots community for years, winning Retailer of the Year four times. But Grassroots recently released Rock/Creek from the group because of their new status.

Check out our #CoolShop profile of The Mountaineer.

  • Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas “Our staff is involved: they design our events, plan clinics and provide the highest level of customer service possible. We have so many talented team members who all contribute something unique to the Pack Rat. We work together to keep ideas fresh and make changes.” (Owners: Carolyn & Scott Crook. Established 1973. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2004.)

Watch our interview with Pack Rat owner Carolyn Crook, where she speaks passionately about her innovative solar project.

  • Sunlight Sports in Cody, Wyoming “We are all about the experience in Northwest Wyoming. We don’t want to be generic in any way — we are the outdoor store that could only exist in this place. We are truly entrenched in our local community, giving at least 2% of our gross sales back to locally based charities that get youth outdoors every year.” (Owners: Melissa & Wes Allen. Established 1971. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2012).

Check out our #CoolShop profile of Sunlight Sports.

Nominees for GRASSROOTS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (honoring a new Grassroots member)

  • Cascades Outdoor Store in Winthrop, Washington  “Cascades Outdoor Store tries to embody the spirit and practice of the model small town specialty retail store. This centers around two things: offering a hand-curated selection of clothing and gear crafted for the outdoors, and an enthusiastic staff that goes out of its way to engage with every customer, sharing their expertise in every department of the store.” (Owners: Brian & Amy Sweet. Established in 2014. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2017).
  • Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont “The two things that really make OGE special is the breadth of product selection and the awesome staff. We stock gear for camping, hiking, biking, climbing, paddling, snow sliding and backyard adventures and do all with great breadth to try and address the needs of all users …. Our staff are all users and work to educate customers about the best choices they can make for their particular needs.” (Owners: Mike Donohue & Marc Sherman. Established in 1995. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2017).

Learn what makes OGE such a #CoolShop.

  • Townsend Bertram & Co. in Carrboro, North Carolina “Our core values are adventure, community and passion, and guide our decision-making on every level. We take pride in making our shop inclusive and accessible for all types of adventurers. We’ve developed creative community partnerships with nonprofits and local businesses … Our community events always focus on accessibility and inclusion, like our free all levels monthly yoga, family camping trips, and community trash pick-ups.” (Owners: Audrey & the late Scott Bertram. Established in 1988. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Member since 2017).

Betsy Bertram wrote this op-ed for SNEWS, dropping some hiring wisdom and tips.


  • Astral  “Astral’s roots run deep with outdoor specialty and we share similar DNA to many of our Grassroots retail partners … Our founder and many of our staff have worked in outdoor specialty retail, so our team truly knows the benefits of the specialty shopping experience.” (Owner & Sales Manager: Phillip Curry, Bryan Owen. Established 2002, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2010).
  • EXPED “EXPED supports specialty retail because it represents the highest form of the art of salesmanship and our customers deserve nothing less. This is why EXPED only sells its gear through specialty retail stores.” (Owner/Sales Manager: Ted Steudel. Established 1997, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2016.)
  • NEMO Equipment “We passionately support specialty retail because it is essential for a healthy outdoor industry, a vital component of the outdoor community, and because there is no future for specialty brands like NEMO without specialty retail.” (Owner/Sales Manager: Cam Brensinger. Established 2002, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2013.)

We asked NEMO founder Cam Brensinger what he does to be a good partner to his specialty retailers.

  • Toad&Co. “For over 22 years Toad & Co has been steadfastly committed to Outdoor Specialty Retail …It is our belief that Outdoor Specialty Retailers unify and connect people around a common cause: the love for the outdoors.” (Owner & Sales Management: Gordon Seabury, Scott Whipps, & Nina Brito. Established 1991, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 1998).

Here’s just one way Toad&Co is an innovator.


  • Andy Burke at prAna  “Andy’s willingness to hear the good and the bad, stay in-tune with retailers and challenges in the market, show that Andy is dedicated to and passionate about being a part of Grassroots vendor community.” (Established 1992, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2010.)
  • Todd Givnish at Smartwool “Todd is a thoughtful, strategic, and engaged sales manager …Todd takes initiative to gather feedback on retailer needs, get to know Grassroots, and continually strives to improve relationships and strengthen partnerships. Todd’s interesting blend of experience; industry and non-industry, vendor, retailer, and buyer, provides him unique perspective and knowledge that works to his benefit in his role at Smartwool.” (Established 1994, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 1998.)
  • Ryan Krusemark at KÜHL “Ryan is very responsive to any issues or communication, positive or negative. He truly “gets specialty”, he aims to be a partner not just a vendor in our store”. Ryan’s work has elevated KÜHL from vendor to true partner to Grassroots member retailers … Ryan truly cares about keeping specialty retail healthy because it’s vital to the success of KÜHL and the future of specialty retail in our industry.” (Established 1993, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2011).
  • Steve Talacki at Mountain Khakis “Steve is one of the more thoughtful, open minded sales managers we work with on the Grassroots side. Always open for a tough discussion, (Steve keeps) specialty retailers at the forefront of discussions at Mountain Khakis. Steve constantly asks for feedback on what retailers are feeling in the market and how MK can adjust to meet their needs. These are not easy things to ask for and show the true mark of an engaged member of our vendor community that values the opinion of specialty retailers.” (Established 2003, Grassroots Vendor Partner since 2016.)


Mahoney’s Outfitters in Johnson City, Tennessee

(Owners: Dan & Sean Mahoney Established 1960. Grassroots Member since: 2014)

Eagle Eye Outfitters in Dothan, Alabama

(Owners: Mark & Susan Anderson. Established 1999, Grassroots Member since 2012).


Nominees for retailer COMMUNITY & EVENTS

  • Pack & Paddle in Lafayette, Louisiana  “We don’t view building community and hosting events as a way to draw a crowd or even as a direct way to sell products, but rather a way that we can bring authenticity to everything that we sell and a way to build a tribe of Pack & Paddle superfans.” (Owners: Becky and John Williams. Established 1974, Grassroots Member since 2010)
  • Alpine Shop in St. Louis, Missouri  ““Alpine Shop’s clinics and events program has been introducing customers to the great outdoors since the 1980s. But when it comes to a business’s impact on it’s community, there are stats and there are stories.” (Owners: Russell and Lisa Hollenbeck. Established 1973, Grassroots Member since 2002.)
  • Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis, Minnesota “We get people to get outdoors more by creating an outdoor community they can belong to. Many of our events are social gatherings with free beer, wine, other beverages, food and live music. Our annual attendance at these events at our store is an estimated 24,000 outdoor people.” (Owner: Rod Johnson. Established 1970, Grassroots Member since 2006.)

VIDEO: Founder of Midwest Mountaineering talks about his humble beginnings.

Nominees for retailer MERCHANDISING MAGIC

Denali in Guilford, Connecticut  “Our goal is to make people relax and to highlight the items we sell in the best way possible …We want people to pick things up, hold them in their hands and try them on, and hope to transport our customers from the hectic, fast-paced northeast corridor to a place where poking around, taking your time and savoring the moment is important and encouraged.” (Owners: Chris Howe & Todd Raskin. Established 1994, Grassroots member since 2006).

Helly Hansen CEO Discusses Sale To Canadian Tire

Helly Hansen is being sold to Canadian Tire Corp. for about $771 million in a deal announced early Thursday, but don’t look for sweeping changes at the iconic Norwegian outdoor brand.

The company will maintain the same leadership structure, Oslo headquarters, channel strategy and retail partners—even though Helly Hansen’s new owner operates the Sport Chek line of stores throughout Canada.

However, it’s not necessarily all business as usual at Helly Hansen. Some changes are bound to happen following an ownership change, according to CEO Paul Stoneham, who spoke with SGB soon after the deal was announced.

CTC and Helly Hansen want to expand the Helly brand in markets like Canada while continuing down the current—and quite successful—path Helly Hansen is traveling. The company’s revenue increased 18 percent to NOK 2.9 billion (US$359.8 million) in 2017 while operational EBITDA rose 25 percent to a record NOK 255 million (US$31.6 million).

Now the two companies share the common goal of building on that momentum, Stoneham said.

“We’ve been really focused on the brand and the people and making sure we’re consistent on our strategy—the combination of focus and financial discipline, but really investing in the brand design and development,” Stoneham told SGB. “We are on a five- to 10-year journey to transform this business. It’s gone well so far and I think we have the ability to go further.”

Here is the rest of what Stoneham shared with SGB about Helly Hansen’s sale to CTC and where the companies go from here:

Why was this a good deal for Helly Hansen? We’ve done a three-and-a-half year of growth plan that we laid out in early 2015. The focus has been rebuilding the company in that first period and refocusing on a very clear growth strategy. By the end of 2017 we were thinking we would exit at the end of year five, which was 2019 or 2020. We’ve accelerated our growth and it’s to the point where we did a combined growth rate of 12 percent the last three years at the top line, 36 percent at the bottom line. That accelerated yet again to 16 percent growth in 2017 and 2018 looks like it’s even heavier growth.

What does Canadian Tire bring to the Helly Hansen brand? CTC pursued us. They put a very good number on the table and said that this is a good fit between the two businesses. Helly is an iconic brand for them. We work well in their FGL Sport Chek banner, so it’s going to be good addition to their business. We have highly complementary skill sets between the technology, data analytics, retail expertise and merchandise, and by combining Canadian Tire with Helly’s brand expertise, design capabilities, development and marketing, we had a chance to marry two companies together and get best of both brands. On a go-forward basis, it allows us to accelerate our growth, which is in the heavy double digits right now, much faster without a lot of capital or P&L constraints.

What will and won’t change with the company with regard with leadership, brand positioning, marketing, etc.? You never say ‘business as usual’ because everything always changes all the time, so even with an ownership change, things change. We have a very successful growth strategy right now. What CTC is going to do is back us on that plan. From a strategic perspective, nothing changes. We have a secure backer behind us who believes in the business and is fully supportive of the growth strategy we’re taking. And leadership did not change. We’re all committed to leading the transition and the business going forward. It remains headquartered in Oslo and we run as an independent company within CTC reporting to the executive vice president. But we’re taking it to the point where we’re going to see how we can get a more growth out of Canada and work much closer with Sport Chek and Mark’s. But then, we also want to accelerate some international growth strategies, especially in the U.S. and Europe. With the investment, we can go even harder and faster than we have so far.

What assurances did you have from CTC’s leadership that they were committed to nurturing and growing the Helly Hansen brand, and does that appear to be a priority moving forward? It is a priority. When we look at the price being paid and the business plan—this is a growth plan, not a cost plan. This is a new growth engine for the company. In terms of the Helly brand, we bring new capabilities to the company. From that perspective, we’ve had a very successful run the last four years outstripping the market growth rate. What they’re doing is backing us to continue that trajectory, if not accelerate it, especially in Canada. You look at the price paid—24.3 x EBITDA or two times revenue—you don’t do that unless you plan to back that and think you can get a lot of growth out of it. We’ve proven we can do that with a very secure financial backer. We’ve had deep discussions on strategy, taking them through all our research, all our metrics, all our measures on positioning the brand and where we’re taking it. They like it. They’ve known the brand for more than 10 years of working with us.

How does the acquisition affect Helly’s relationships with retail or e-tail competitors of CTC’s, as well as the brand’s channel strategy? One of the things we’ve done in the last three years was be very clear in our channel strategy. We’ve cleaned up a lot of our accounts in the last few years. The accounts we’re in now are the ones we wish to be in long-term. We feel like Helly has a differentiated offering from a lot of the outdoor brands out there and we provide a unique role, especially in Canada, where probably the biggest points of friction would be, but the reaction has been across the range today. Some people said, ‘Hey, you’ve done a great job.’ Others have said, ‘I’m concerned about this.’ When the dust settles, people will make business-based decisions: ‘If Helly contributes to our traffic … we will keep it, and if they don’t, we won’t.’ I think we have a broad enough range with a differentiated product offering even today with our customers that we should be able to maintain our business, but if we don’t, we can handle that too.



SGB Online

Written by: Eric Smith

Picture Organic Clothing may have just made the eco-friendliest wetsuit

It’s being heralded as the most eco-friendly wetsuit ever, and is made of a “sustainable and responsible alternative” to neoprene, the material most commonly used in wetsuits (and one that is not exactly recyclable or biodegradable). Rather, the Picture Wetsuit uses a natural rubber which claims to reduce the suit’s carbon footprint by half.

The technology Picture Organic Clothing leverages is known as NaturalPrene stretch technology, and is comprised of 85 percent natural rubber and 15 percent synthetic chlorine-free rubber. And rather than using toxic adhesives and solvents in the construction process, Picture instead claims to integrate micro particles that help NaturalPrene extend up to nearly four times its original size, and a solvent-free water-based glue to paste in the recycled polyester lining. This, the team claims, allows for “maximum comfort and ultra-fast drying.”

In essence, there are four key layers to the Picture Wetsuit, including an outside liner made of a recycled polyester. This is adhered to the NaturalPrene by way of the aforementioned water-based glue. The NaturalPrene serves as a barrier against cold in chillier climates, but also features air holes for lightness and breathability, while the inside liner (also made of recycled polyester) maintains warmth. All in all, the wetsuit is not only neoprene free, but also solvent and petrol free.

In addition to all these eco-friendly attributes, the Picture Wetsuit is also high-tech when it comes to its performance. The suit features a unique silicone coating that claims to give you more power in the water when you’re paddling, which means that you’ll have to expend less effort in order to make your way through the water. Moreover, the suit boasts a high-performance polyester fabric that is hydrophobic, meaning it’ll repel water and dry faster (and insulate better, too). While we haven’t tested out the Picture Wetsuit for ourselves to verify these claims, if they’re all true, it certainly seems like a pretty impressive piece of equipment.

Picture’s full body wetsuits start at around $312.



Digital Trends

Written by: Lulu Chang

The Rise of Brick and Mortar

Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren has referred to old-fashioned brick and mortar stores as “the new black” for retail. At first glance, this remark seems anachronistic, even contradictory; after all, how could traditional retail venues suddenly become “stylish?” The answer lies in the supposed dominance of e-commerce, and the revelation of this retail bogeyman as a paper tiger. For retailers to succeed in the future, they need to not overly emphasize the hallmarks of the e-commerce revolution; instead, retailers should return to the hallowed tenets of retail excellence: an exceptional in-store experience and unparalleled customer service.


In the early 2000s, analysts predicted that the rise of e-commerce sites like Amazon presaged doom for traditional retail. The low prices, convenience and selection of online retailers — in addition to the novelty of shopping from home — seemed like a hit with consumers, and many retailers floundered in their attempts to compete. Eighteen years down the road, the situation has flipped dramatically. Now, it’s e-commerce that has begun to struggle, namely thanks to slash-and-burn pricing tactics and rising shipping costs.

Amazon built its reputation on free shipping and low prices. In order to compete, other online retailers were forced to follow suit. In recent years, Amazon’s shipping costs have risen more than 40%, an increase that has had a massive effect on the retailer’s slim profit-margin. Online shopping has also become mundane, with consumers rediscovering the joy of the in-person experience.

A Retail Solution

Traditional retailers have a leg-up on online competition thanks to a brick-and-mortar’s ability to function as both a store and distribution center. As it turns out, customers enjoy browsing a store; in-store pick-up has become a popular option for consumers, as it combines the flexibility of online browsing and the fun of the in-store experience. Customers can also get the immediate gratification of same-day receipt, something that online retailers struggle to offer.

Another benefit of the traditional brick-and-mortar? Face-to-face customer service.Sometimes customers aren’t sure what to buy, or the best choices for their wardrobe and budget. Skilled and knowledgeable sales associates, such as those who have undergone training or purchased educational materials from BJ Wilson and Company, can point customers toward better wardrobe choices. This personalized service is something that no online retailer can offer, and points the way forward for a clothing retailer’s long term success.

At the end of the day, traditional retailers will survive, while e-commerce’s viability remains in question. If anything, the rise and fall of e-commerce should have taught traditional retailers some valuable lessons: never skimp on customer service, and always strive to offer an exceptional in-store experience. BJ Wilson and Company, a revolutionary source for expansive retail training, offers a comprehensive solution.

To learn more about our fashion retail training, visit Amazon to purchase a copy  of The Fashion Cycle: Strategic Buying & Selling for Retail: A Workbook and Practical Guide. To learn more about the book, click here.



BJ Wilson & Company

Good News On Tariff Front For Apparel, Footwear, Outdoors Industries

Apparel, footwear and outdoors products weren’t caught directly in the crosshairs of the escalating trade war with China on Wednesday, allowing those industries to take a “deep sigh of relief,” said Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America.

However, many companies are still subject to added costs due to 25 percent tariffs on some of the equipment they use to make their products.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on Wednesday released its list of about 1,300 Chinese exports, worth about $50 billion annually, which it intends to target with 25 percent tariffs. While the list doesn’t target apparel and footwear products directly, it does include the machinery and tools used to produce those products.

These tariffs could impact companies that manufacture products in the U.S. by using machines they buy from China.

“We are pleased with the administration’s decision to avoid adding tariffs to U.S. imports of apparel, footwear and travel goods from China,” said American Apparel and Footwear Association president and CEO Rick Helfenbein in a statement. “At the same time, we are concerned that the list includes tariffs on machinery used in our domestic manufacturing process. This would directly raise costs on domestic manufacturers and impact our ability to grow Made in USA.”

The specific impact on the footwear industry might be minimal, according to Andy Polk, FDRA spokesman, who said the association has looked closely at how many domestic shoe producers use manufacturing equipment from China.

“We found there was not a real significant cost impact on the proposed five HTS (harmonized tariff schedule) lines–only 5 percent of machines used by domestic shoe producers comes from China under these lines,” Polk told SGB Executive. “Most of the domestic producers we spoke with–the majority of which are our members–are buying machines from Italy and Germany.”

As SGB Executive reported last week in Outdoor, Footwear, Fashion & Retail Industries Vocalize Opposition to Tariffs, numerous companies and associations presented a unified front against tariffs on sporting goods, outdoor products, apparel and footwear through a letter-writing campaign signed by executives of top American companies.

Those same groups–including the National Retail Federation (NRF), Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA), United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) and many others–are now praising their grassroots campaign that resulted in a wide variety of products being spared the new tariffs.

“I’m so proud of the effort that footwear companies, executives, employees and FDRA staff put forward to help keep footwear off President Trump’s new tariff target list,” Priest said. “The administration released a product list today of approximately $50 billion in goods that it plans to hit with additional 25 percent tariffs, but this list does not include any footwear tariff lines. Including footwear on the list was a very real and substantial threat to footwear workers and consumers across the country, and we are very pleased that we can take a deep sigh of relief.”

The White House said the tariffs are being implemented to retaliate against China for stealing intellectual property from American businesses, but many in the sporting goods, apparel, footwear and outdoors industries made clear their concerns that the tariffs would harm primarily U.S. companies and consumers without meeting its intended directive.

Not only that, but China is now expected to retaliate with tariffs of its own, which could affect U.S.-made products.

“China is going to respond, and they could include some Made in the USA outdoor products on their retaliatory effort,” OIA’s Rich Harper told SGB Executive last week. That could be a problem for members who make their products here and export to China, meaning the damage to American businesses will be as broad as it is deep.

But the fact that today’s announcement about new tariffs included items such as industrial robots and telecommunications equipment and not sports equipment was a win for groups like SFIA, whose members could have seen costs rise dramatically on many of the products they import, distribute and sell across the U.S.

“SFIA is pleased that sports and fitness products were not targeted for additional tariffs, as part of the USTR actions stemming from their Section 301 investigation,” said Bill Sells, SFIA’s senior vice president of government and public affairs. “SFIA is a strong supporter of free and fair trade, which operates best under limited barriers and open markets. We hope the U.S. and China can find mutually agreeable solutions to our trade imbalance that do not increase costs for American consumers.”

The fight to protect apparel, footwear and outdoors products isn’t over. With back-and-forth tariffs being added by both China and the U.S., more fallout is likely to come. And it still doesn’t address how to punish China for stealing intellectual property from American businesses.

“While we are pleased that outdoor products were left off the initial list of products that will be subject to a 25 percent tariff, we will continue to make the case that imposing these retaliatory tariffs on goods like apparel, footwear and travel goods that are already overtaxed is the wrong way to address China’s IP practices,” said Alex Boian, OIA’s vice president of government affairs. “We again call on the administration to pursue a more narrow, targeted approach, one that addresses legitimate concerns about protecting U.S. intellectual property without raising costs for American consumers.”



SGB Media

Author: Eric Smith