Great Outdoor Store

Sioux Falls, SD

Located in a state with few COVID restrictions, Great Outdoor Store saw strong demand for backpacking, rock climbing and camping gear this year.

Typically a store whose travel business is very strong, Sioux Falls, SD-based Great Outdoor Store saw a shift in which products consumers were looking for over the past year, says store owner DeAnn Echols. Sioux Falls is a regional draw for shoppers, and Echols says that throughout the pandemic the store saw strong demand for backpacking, rock climbing and camping gear. She says the travel business, usually a stalwart, was down, but is now starting to bounce back.

“Many of our customers this past year were people traveling to South Dakota because we had no [COVID] restrictions in our state,” says Echols. “We had a pretty good summer in 2020, and then we had a great fall and we have had a really good spring this year.”

The biggest challenge Great Outdoor Store is facing is getting product. Says Echols, “Not being able to get product across the board is a problem. Footwear is especially hard to get, but so is apparel, and equipment is now, too. We just struggle to find anything these days, and that’s not just fill-in products I’m talking about — we are not getting our pre season orders either. If you can’t ‘sell-in’ on anything, it is a tough situation.”

Over the course of the year, Echols says she was pleased to see the store’s curbside pick-up and local delivery (she and her husband deliver items personally) thrive, and the store plans to continue offering both. On the business side, the store had a flat year, and Echols says, “we were super excited about that.”

A category that was slow this year was apparel, but Echols says it is heating up now, with people who cleaned out their closets during the pandemic now ready to buy new clothes.

“People are buying stuff without really price shopping a lot, we are not having to discount so that is pretty cool.”

She names Teva as a brand the store has added and that is selling well — “they had inventory,” says Echols. And she says the shop is also doing well with apparel brand Vuori — “at least we are getting preseason orders in from them.”

Echols is also pleased to see that there is not much price-resistance right now among shoppers at her store. “People are buying stuff without really price shopping a lot, we are not having to discount so that is pretty cool,” she says.

A key lesson Echols learned this past year centered around inventory and managing buys.  “Keeping on top of inventory and orders on a consistent basis — figuring out what hasn’t shown up from vendors and getting reports in on when things will be expected, and getting out there looking for replacements for products has been key,” she says.

Of vendor-retail relationships, Echols says, “I have always been of the mindset that I’d rather be a friend with my vendor than a foe and I want us to work together as a team. A lot of times the vendors in this situation this past year-plus didn’t really have a lot of control. Stuff was sitting on a ship so deliveries were delayed; or there were raw materials they couldn’t get in order to make their products. That kind of thing you have to understand.”

Regarding Direct-to-Consumer selling by brands, Echols says, “Brands need to do what they need to do. It’s a business. But you have to balance that to a certain degree. I take it on a case by case basis, depending on my relationship with the brand and how important the brand is, I let them know my concerns. But I have been trying over the last year or so to be understanding of their position as well.”

This next year will be key in vendor-brand relations, says Echols. “Will brands reinvigorate relationships with specialty or will they back off that and continue with DTC procedures? We’ll have to see how it goes,” she says.

A bright spot for Echols this year, she says, has been seeing her staff “rise to the occasion during the pandemic so amazingly… Now I feel like I can really rely on them to have great ideas and do whatever we need to do to make the shop a success.”