What Great Outdoor Retailers can Teach Us

At Myagi, we spend a lot of time thinking about retailers

No, that’s an understatement, we spend every waking moment thinking about, talking to, shopping in, and learning from retailers.

One of the biggest patterns we’ve noticed is that retailers are not a monolith. Every store at every company, from massive chains to tiny Mom & Pops,  finds unique ways to attack the unique challenges that present them.

When we’re sitting around the table in the break room, one of the things we love to compare notes on is all the ways that different industry sectors have found to turn their retail storefronts into engaging and interesting destinations for shoppers.

So today, we’re talking outdoor retailers (which are one of the few fast growing retail segments) and six of the ways that many of them do a particularly amazing job of creating excellent retail experiences.

Turning a shopping trip into an aspirational journey

I had a conversation with a marketer who worked at Jeep once, and I got the chance to ask a question that had been burning inside me for years.

“Why do normal people buy Jeep Wranglers?”

I totally understand why off-roaders and snowbound ski instructors need this 4-wheel drive beast of a truck, but your typical commuter? No chance. Yet Wranglers are some of the best selling cars in the country.

The key, this person told me, is aspiration. Even if you’re not the type of person who needs an off-road vehicle, buying one makes you feel like you might be.

No one captures the spirit of reaching for our best selves quite like outdoor retailers. Whether you’re shopping at Big 5 or North Face, you’ll find yourself surrounded by images of people tearing up huge snowy mountains or camping by the most beautiful lake you’ve ever seen with a yellow Labrador retriever by your side.

That’s a spirit that’s hard to find elsewhere. Do you feel like you’re taking a step closer to becoming a computer engineer when shopping at the technology store? Or a fashion designer after an hour in Chico’s?

Definitely not to the same degree. Plenty of retailers aim at the target of “experiential retail”, but not enough of those experiences are built around making customers feel like they could be a superhero.

Making Educated staff a Priority

Not every retailer can insist that each sales associate know the ins and outs of every single product on sale anywhere in the building, but outdoor retailers tend to do more than most.

We see that every day in the granular videos and training docs that the many outdoor brands upload to Myagi every day, and the high engagement levels that sales associates at outdoor retailers normally achieve.

It seems amazing to us that there are still stores you can go into and bump into sales associates that are less educated about the product line than typical customers. Retailers should never forget that 73% of consumers identify expert product knowledge as the thing they need most from sales associates.  

Failing to staff stores with knowledgeable experts is already costing major retailers in other categories.

But outdoor retailers, like Huish Outdoors, are already in the middle of major investments in boosting the product expertise of their average employees.

Are you doing the same?

Educating Customers

But education isn’t just for sales associates.

Another trend that retail trend that you see many outdoor retailers taking the lead on is consumer education.

It’s true that, thanks to the internet, the average customer knows more about the products they’re consuming today than they would have in years past, but that doesn’t mean retailers should throw up their hands and assume its not their problem to help educate their shoppers.

REI is perhaps the most famous for using lessons, like Appalachian trail planning, to bring customers into their stores. They’ve even turned their special knowledge into an income stream by [offering guided expeditions,](https://www.rei.com/adventures)  

But it doesn’t need to be so elaborate. My local Bass Pro Shop delights kids in the store with live fish feedings in their stock ponds filled with local freshwater fishes. Last time I went to one, the feeding was accompanied with a basic lesson on the differences between bass, trout, steelhead, catfish, and more.

Retailers benefit from educated sales associates and educated customers – are you making a thorough commitment to both?

Keep it fun

Shopping is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? Isn’t that why malls were THE place to hang out in the 1990s? Isn’t that why Black Friday is America’s favorite love/hate addiction?

So it boggles my mind that so many retailers build a shopping experience that ranges from super cool to super boring.

Maybe its a little unfair to compare watch shopping to trying out mountain bikes, but

Small town vibe

Outdoor retailers set themselves apart from a lot of other categories  the way in which small independent retailers still run much of the market.

Take snow sports, for example, where [more than half of annual sales](https://www.denverpost.com/2014/11/28/small-retailers-cultivate-community-to-lure-long-term-customers/) happen at independent stores.

A small amount of that independent spirit