Alpine Shop: A Transformational Shop
Alpine Shop / Missouri & Kansas
Notable: Last month Alpine Shop held its 26th Annual Spring Swap. A 3,200 square foot “pop-up store” tent in its parking lot was filled with apparel and gear on a consignment basis, drawing thousands of customers.
Quotable: “Our job is to get people to get outside and discover new things about themselves and their world. That is what drives us through all of the decisions we make.” — Todd Oswald, Alpine ShopAlpine Shop / Missouri & Kansas
As retail origin stories go, St. Louis-based Alpine Shop definitely has a good one. And its evolution into a standout retailer with four locations — thanks in part to a thriving events business — is pretty impressive, too.
It all started in 1973 when a climber, outdoor author and Army Map Agency employee in St. Louis named Bob Mooers, who already had a side business as a winemaker, decided he wanted to get into the climbing business as well. He convinced Chouinard Equipment — the predecessor to outdoor industry giant Patagonia — to open him as a dealer and started his climbing shop in a small room upstairs from his home winemaking shop. But the winemaking was soon abandoned in favor of the better-selling climbing equipment, and Mooers opened up shop in a new, larger space.
By 1978, “Mooers Alpine” was thriving, but Mooers was looking to move on. By happenstance, a 45-year-old customer of his, Russell “Holly” Hollenbeck, was looking for an opportunity outside of corporate life. Hollenbeck, a Yale Business School graduate made an offer, bought the store, and “Mooers Alpine” became “Alpine Shop.” More than 40 years later, Alpine Shop now has four locations in Missouri and Kansas and “Holly” still owns the shop and remains involved in the day-to-day business.
Climbing remains a core category for the retailer, but Alpine Shop offers a wide variety of gear, clothing, events and clinics for almost every type of outdoor enthusiast, from backpackers, hikers, campers, paddlers, and cyclists, to snowboarders and skiers. Apparel and footwear make up the majority of Alpine Shop’s sales, with featured brands including the likes of Patagonia, The North Face, Chaco and Smartwool. Other notables at the shop include Specialized in bikes, as well as Confluence Outdoors and Jackson Kayak in paddling.
With its four locations in diverse locations ranging from the college towns of Columbia, MO and Manhattan, KS, to a metro location in St. Louis, Alpine Shop’s merch offerings vary by store.
And for Alpine Shop, events and experiences play a big part in the store’s “mission.”
“What we’ve found is that in today’s social media driven world, there is a real search for experiences,” says Alpine Shop’s marketing director Todd Oswald. “People don’t want to necessarily hear about all the different products we have to sell; but they will go out of their way to interact with us concerning a trip down the Missouri or Mississippi Rivers. They will share their photos from competing in one of our trail runs that sent them running through a local creek. And they will come to our stores to help raise funds for local non-profit organizations with the help of a local craft brewery.”
Alpine Shop’s Swap Sales are its most historically successful promotions, says Oswald. This year, the retailer’s 26th Annual Spring Swap featured a 3,200 square foot “pop-up store” tent filled with customers’ apparel and gear being sold on a consignment basis.
The events part of the business goes way beyond swap sales. In addition to events that include cleaning up area rivers and parks and building new trails throughout the region, Alpine Shop hosts a variety of clinics, competitions, events and instructional classes. Every day of the week there is a ride or some sort of group activity at the stores. And Alpine Shop has instructional events — taking people out on the lake, teaching kayaking, backpacking, wilderness first aid, navigation, map and compass classes, CPR classes, etc. The shop also hosts experiences such as trips down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and other events that get people outdoors having fun. Alpine Shop’s competition series, an off-road racing league, is wildly popular, says Oswald. Other events include trail runs, paddle races and gravel bike challenges, as well as the Castlewood Adventure Race, one of the country’s largest amateur adventure races.
Alpine Shop has two people on staff dedicated towards developing its events and the retailer has totaled more than 17,000 registrations for those events over the past five years.
“The most important thing is to develop an emotional connection between our customers and our vision,” says Oswald. “If we can do that, we feel like we have a good chance of making customers for life.”