River Rock Outfitter

Fredericksburg, VA

Adapting to an ever-changing business climate over the past year has been a key to success for River Rock Outfitter.

A love for each other and the great outdoors was the spark that started the eventual founding of this single outdoor specialty shop in the downtown district of this historic town. Keith and April Peterson began their outdoor adventures on a high school rock wall in Shreveport, LA during their sophomore years. Later, the now married couple’s adventure would move to the trails and camp sites of the Grand Canyon State where they attended Arizona State University. In November 2014, after moving from coast to coast with the U.S. Marine Corps for more than a dozen years, the couple established their personal and business roots in Fredericksburg, VA.

This past year, adapting to an ever-changing business climate has been the store’s key to survival. River Rock established a consignment segment, the Re-boot Consignment Program, to gain immediate access to inventory. And the store is working to align itself with vendor partners and rep agencies that are showing the most support for small independent shops. Additionally, River Rock is gearing up for an anticipated big uptick in adventure travel merchandise.

More than a year into dealing with pandemic impacts, River Rock co-owner Keith Peterson says, “I’m not sure what normal will look like for us after such a lengthy disruption. Luckily for us, the outdoor industry really thrived during the pandemic.  We were able to pivot our services quickly to meet the demand as people were finding respite in outdoor spaces. In many ways, we are a better business now.  We were forced to look at what was working and what wasn’t, get rid of any excess, and be more efficient. We focused on supporting our customers getting outdoors and it paid off for us. We had our best year in business in 2020 and are up month over month in 2021.”

River Rock Outfitter saw a 30% increase in revenue in 2020, according to Peterson. Outdoor gear sales saw the largest spike — specifically paddle sports and camping gear.

Peterson says the shop made key changes during the pandemic to how it does business and how it markets its business. “We provided e-commerce services through Locally, offered curbside pick-up and delivery, provided workshops and tutorials on social media, and opened new departments in our shop,” he says. “For example, we now offer consignment as part of our business model. We were struggling with getting inventory to meet demand and consignment offered us immediate access to inventory, an ability to provide a mission-driven service to our business model, and it allows us access to a new customer base.”

This summer, Peterson anticipates seeing plenty of customers who are excited to get out on local trails, the river, and rocks. And, he says, “We are also excited for the travel industry to get back up and running. We are anticipating a spike in adventure travel and are using this next buying cycle to find gear to support this category.”

Everything pertaining to inventory is “a nightmare right now.”

Of his vendor relationships, Peterson says, “ I’m always working on having empathy and compassion for our vendor partners. Sometimes it’s hard when they dump inventory at crazy discounts or team with out-of-control pro-discount programs. It feels like we are at war with each other sometimes and that is hard. Over the last year, I’ve tried to be patient and understand that many of our vendors are also small business owners who are trying to survive in the same way we are. We all had to find ways to best support our team, our customers, and our family.”

The biggest challenge for the store at the moment? Everything pertaining to inventory is “a nightmare right now,” says Peterson. “Getting it, managing it, paying for it, et cetera. For example, we are not getting inventory in key categories. Communication with vendors around inventory is limited to non-existent. When goods do arrive, they are partial orders making it difficult to keep track of what is remaining on order. Our bookkeeping is challenging because we have multiple invoices when we would typically have one. Pricing is changing without notice from the brands. Inventory arrives late and brands have already put it on sale. It’s literally the Wild, Wild, West!”

Says Peterson, “It’s such an interesting dilemma — I have the demand, but I don’t have the inventory to support the customers pouring into my shop.”

Despite the pressure, Peterson says, “I am optimistic for our future and that of specialty outdoor retail. We are a united force and more important than ever in our communities. It’s a great time to be an independent shop owner and I look forward to supporting our community for years to come.”