Lately I have been making lots of appointments with reps for the upcoming Outdoor Retailer trade show that we attend twice a year. Reps will call and invariably the conversation turns towards business. “How are things going?”, “Are your sales up?”, “Do you have any new directions that you are driving the business in?”. Then I get treated to tales of other stores that are selling online or building new stores in other towns in their attempt to chase growth. By the time I hang up, I usually feel kind of small, unimportant and out of touch with the business culture.
You see, Becky and I have been following a different direction from what the business world of 2007 in America will tell you is right. Read any business magazine these days, and you might have a tough time finding any articles trumpeting the virtues of doing business in a small town, friendly way driven by your passion for an activity rather that a passion for growing your business. In America, bigger is always better. Right? Can a single store survive in a world with mail order, internet competitors, box stores and (horror of horrors) Wal-Mart?
Honestly – I really am not that sure. But chasing the aggressive, big growth route of business just doesn’t seem to inspire me. It seems that the more you chase growth, the more you seem to separate yourself from being with folks that become customers and then become friends. Growth puts me in a chair, in an office, in front of a computer basking in the glow of my monitor instead of on a trail or in a canoe.
If the “business” part of being an outdoor outfitter like Pack & Paddle separates me from people and from being a passionate, active and real outdoor enthusiast, then it all somehow becomes pointless. If that happens, I become a fake – chasing dollars and pretending to be something I have “evolved” out of. This evolution would take me from Capilene to business suit, from Chacos to wingtips. If I can’t regard myself as a paddler or a backpacker FIRST and a business person SECOND, I might as well be putting on a suit and working for X corporation.
So – that leaves us with one central business “strategy”: Stay Real. Keep getting out, doing trips, sharing those trips with friends in the community, introducing folks to outdoor adventure and having fun with them inside and outside of the shop. Keep developing the best single store shop in the country with an amazing product mix that’s exciting and different – born out of true experiences in the wilderness. Do our best to explain these products to friends that come in and match up our offerings with what their hopes and dreams are for their outdoor activities – and use our experiences to put these products into perspective in a real-world way.
So, class – that sums up our lecture for today. I feel bad about venting on this subject – but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I feel a little like Jerry McGuire – writing his “memo”. Even so – I feel hopelessly optimistic and excited. Whether our “strategy” works in the “growth at all cost” business atmosphere of America in 2007 or not, we will definitely have a lot of fun come success or failure.