In June 2005, Carl and Kathy Moak climbed into a big pair of shoes when they purchased Summit Canyon Mountaineering. With one store each in Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, CO, they took on not only a specialty retail operation and a boutique coffee shop, but nearly 20 years of outdoor tradition, as well. The transition was smooth and the Moaks have since received accolades for their dedication to outdoor consumers.

According to Mike Wallenfels, president of long-time vendor Mountain Hardwear, “Summit Canyon Mountaineering continues to represent specialty outdoor retail in a very competitive region without compromising product and customer service. They have explored new product categories and have focused on specialty brands that keep them unique.”

Summit Canyon’s product mix includes backpacks, luggage, tents, sleeping bags, skis, snowshoes, avalanche shovels, climbing hardware, hiking boots and trail shoes. Moak also credits the company’s affiliation with the Grassroots Alliance, a specialty retail store buying group led by Dave Matz, as critical to Summit Canyon’s success.

Vaughn and Marcia Hadenfeldt founded Summit Canyon Mountaineering in 1978 in Glenwood Springs. In 1991, they sold the business to Stephen and Marilyn Davis, who moved the store a few blocks away to its present location at 732 Grand Avenue in the heart of the city’s downtown area. In 1994, the Davis’ opened a second location in Grand Junction, and six years later, they purchased a coffee shop next to the Glenwood Springs store.

After the Moaks bought the business in 2005, they renamed the coffee shop The Summit Coffee House. They also teamed up with a Grand Junction partner to open a coffee shop, Cabin Coffee, inside the Grand Junction store.

Wolfgang Schweiger, a sales rep for Five Ten, Petzl, Leki and Ambler, has worked with Summit Canyon Mountaineering through all three ownerships. “They have great downtown locations,” he says. “I’ve been very impressed with Carl’s business acumen. He’s doing a fantastic job with footwear, gear and apparel and has developed excellent vendor relationships.”

All hardgoods categories are very strong for both stores, although apparel comprises the majority of sales.

“We have not seen the general trend reported by the media that people are getting outside less,” notes Moak. “Most of our customers live in the area because they enjoy the outdoor lifestyle, and we cater to that.”

According to Moak, his customers are more often than not women ages 30 to 55 who appreciate good quality, good service and good advice. Men’s and women’s shirts and pants sell well, as do climbing and backpacking accessories and sandals. Overall, the company’s sales have increased by about one-third in the past two years. Moak admits that his weakest category is boats-while the stores sell primarily flat-water boats, there’s not a lot of flat water in the area. But boats help give the store a reason to carry boating accessories, which sell very well.

Moak, who holds a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia, and a M.B.A. from the University of Memphis, spent about 25 years in the chemical manufacturing industry. In his last operations position, he oversaw 700-plus people and a $100 million-plus annual budget. In 1999, he teamed up with former colleagues who had started their own chemical company. Moak helped build that business, which was sold in 2004.

“After we sold the business, we were able to consider setting our own course in a place we wanted to be,” says Moak. “We loved the mountains and I wanted to be my own boss. I also loved outdoor retail stores, as they provide the only kind of shopping I ever enjoyed.” 

The Moak’s search for their next adventure led them to Summit Canyon. “The business is doing well and we love living in the Roaring Fork Valley where we can ski, run, bike or hike almost as soon as we head out the door,” exclaims Moak.

Kathy Moak is the buyer/merchandiser for the Coffee House, a task she enthusiastically embraces. Explains Moak, “We love having a real connection to the communities we are in and being able to get to know many of the people who walk through our doors.”

According to Moak, the priority is to establish the stores as outdoor community centers for Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction. Customers can expect more store-sponsored events, trips and lectures. “We want to be the resource for information, gear, apparel, trips and lectures and movies that concern the outdoors,” he says. “We are far away from that now, so that goal will keep us occupied for the next five years.”

The Moaks have also concentrated on making the shops more comfortable for customers. Toward this end, they opened the Cabin Coffee shop in the Grand Junction store. They also hired a chef for the Glenwood Coffee House who bakes goodies and makes salads, sandwiches and soups. The Coffee House and Cabin Coffee are both designed to complement the retail experience and create a relaxing, laid-back atmosphere. For spouses who don’t shop, they are also nice places to relax.

Intrinsic to Moak’s strategy is product and brand mix.

“We have stayed with core brands, but are constantly reviewing and changing product lines and brand mix,” explains Moak. “We have a broad selection of products and brands, and even carry atypical outdoor lines like Tommy Bahama and Nat Nast. Outdoor purists might be skeptical of this, but we cater to the mountain lifestyle. Whether relaxing over a cold beverage on the patio or flashing a 5.13 climb, we have the gear and apparel to support that lifestyle. We try diligently not to be elitist in our attitudes.”

Moak attributes some of the company’s success with the strong emotional connection he and his wife have with customers. But he also focuses on appearance, selection and service.

“Thanks to the previous owners and some upgrades by us, the stores are bright, well-lit, pleasing places to shop,” reports Moak. “We concentrate on merchandising in an appealing way and on organizing the stores in logical way that makes it easy to shop-not by brand, but by first men’s or women’s, and then by category, such as hard shells.”

In addition to free gift wrapping, the store boasts a “Better Than the Internet” policy which makes it easy for customers to place special orders. Moak’s retail philosophy is, “Take care of the customer and everything else will take care of itself.” He adds, “Our goal is to make shopping at Summit Canyon an experience people enjoy. If we do that, people will keep coming back. It’s a simple concept, but it’s hard to put into practice and it’s extremely hard to be consistent.”