Backcountry Experience: Finding the Right Fit
Backcountry Experience / Durango, CO
Notable: The Women Outside Adventure Forum by Backcountry Experience is a multi-day event that seeks to inspire and empower women and men of all ages by showcasing the adventures and work of women in the outdoors. It features a rock star lineup of female athletes, authors, filmmakers, and industry professionals.
Quotable: “It is about the community and giving them something to wrap themselves into.” — Ben Rockis, Backcountry Experience
Located in what it calls the “big tin hut” in the heart of Durango, Colorado, Backcountry Experience is a retailer with a keen focus on not only offering the best gear for outdoor adventures, but also the best customer service. And when it comes to service, offering the right fit is at the top of the list.
Backcountry Experience is not located on Durango’s main drag, and store owner Ben Rockis says that makes it more of a destination retailer. In the shop, the focus is on truly offering a specialty experience. “Our success comes down to customer service and specializing in the products that require service,” says Rockis.
There is a reason that fit — in both boots and packs — is a major priority at Backcountry Experience. “There are three things that are most important to an outdoorsman,” explains Rockis. “One is that you have the best boot fit possible, another is that you have the best pack fit possible and third is how well you sleep at night.”
Staff at the store get an education in fitting, attending vendor clinics and getting in-store training as well.
“It is not about the product you are selling, it is understanding what the customer is asking for and giving them what they need — not necessarily what they want,” says Rockis.
Backcountry Experience specializes in “self-propelled backcountry travel,” with hiking, backpacking, travel and trail running as key categories, along with alpine touring, telemark, and Nordic ski offerings. The shop also has a complete climbing section for bouldering, sport, trad, aid and alpine.
With competition from other specialty retailers as well as online sellers and big-box stores, Rockis and his team focus on “the experience and the education we give the customer – that is what we have control over,” says Rockis. “We do not have control over the internet or pricing by our competition. We have control of our customer interaction and understanding them. That’s what we try to concentrate on and that makes us different from box stores and the internet.”
Another difference maker is the store’s community connection, a relationship fueled in part by its varied and creative events, which range from things as big as a multi-day Women Outside “Adventure Forum” to things like a local book club and essay contest.
The Women Outside Adventure Forum by Backcountry Experience sets out “to empower and inspire women of all ages (and men, too!) with a rock star lineup of female runners, climbers, skiers, writers, and all-around adventurers.” Its goal is to showcase the incredible adventures and work women are doing in the outdoors. Proceeds from Women Outside benefit the San Juan Citizens Alliance. This year’s theme for the event, which was held in March, was “Explorations.” It featured ultra runner and La Sportiva athlete Kelly Halpin; National Geographic Adventurer Hilaree Nelson; U.S./Mexico Border thru-hikers Tenny Ostrem and Claire Wernstedt-Lynch; REEL ROCK 13 Climber and Outdoor Research athlete Madaleine Sorkin; as well as adventure writer Morgan Tilton, among others.
Rockis says the store generally hosts one major event per quarter including a big spring sale and a big fall sale as well as more community focused events that “do not focus on making money.”
Backcountry Experience has a full-time staff member, Margaret Hedderman, whose job is to coordinate the events. She started first as a part time staffer focused on marketing, but the role grew larger as her passion for the community and events helped grow the store’s event offerings significantly, says Rockis. The events also help tie the store together with other local independent businesses as well as raise money for non-profits.
The store’s events are about “the community and giving them something to wrap themselves into,” says Rockis.
As for his favorite parts of being a store owner, Rockis says, “Dealing with the customers is number one and number two is dealing with the staff. You are given an opportunity to make someone’s day and to change the way they look at their needs. When it comes to footwear or packs, when you fit somebody right, you have earned a customer, and they will not go anywhere else, especially when it comes to footwear.”