In the mid 90s during the height of the dot com bubble, John Bresee and Jim Holland worked together running internet sites for other companies and publishing a ski resort newspaper in Snowbird, Utah. The pair wanted to launch a core retail shop catering to backcountry skiers, climbers, and backpackers that could help fuse the community of enthusiasts living around them.
Retail space was non-existent in cottonwood canyon, so the pair pooled their internet, publishing, and backcountry experience together and decided to launch an on-line retail store; at the time they called it TheBackcountryStore.com. The store was founded in 1996 with a $2,000 investment and the company reached profitability in its first full calendar year, 1997.
“The original challenge, apart from where do we put all of our inventory in this small apartment and how do we afford next month, was really just getting vendors to take us seriously,” Bresee told BOSS. “At the time there were several well-funded internet retailers promising to sell millions of dollars worth of merchandise. We werent promising millions, but we placed orders for one or two at a time and as we sold it we bought more.”
The company, now renamed Backcountry.com has enjoyed sustained triple digit growth every year since, culminating in a 134% sales increase for 2003 to $15 million in sales, and the company has seen over 90% sales growth so far this year. Backcountry.com has successfully blended their on-line presence with their catalog business, and will ship 5 books this year to “just over a million core users.”
“From our viewpoint, one of the major faults of the original internet retailers was that once a user unsubscribed from your database, there was no possible way to reach them and they are just taking up space in your system,” said Bresee “We have always seen the importance of the catalog to our business.”
Backcountry.com has now entered a new phase of growth, launching sister sites to reach new markets and new customers, while still remaining relevant to its original user-base. The first new on-line store was backcountryoutlet.com, which is dedicated exclusively to overstock merchandise. Next was Dogfunk.com whch caters to the snowboard crowd, and most recently is Tramdock.com, launched this past month to cater to the ski market.
“With these new sites we pray that it cannibalizes backcountry.com. That was 100% our intention,” said Bresee. “I dont want our customers asking themselves, “Why do I have to come to backcountry.com to buy my ski gear.” I want them to have their own dedicated core site.”
When asked how big the company can become, Bresee said, “If I wanted to answer your question honestly, I would have to first predict consumer spending habits and then predict the amount of that market we can capture. I cant accurately predict how much of the outdoor market will be on-line in the future, and to predict our share of that market would be an incredible act of hubris We dont really look at it in terms of the size of the business, we just want to be the best on-line retailer with the best gear.”
There are three factors that contributed to the lions share of Backcountry.coms success, according to Bresee.
First was poverty. “In the 90s when we started this business, there were so many multi-million dollar well funded retailer around, we thought that they would just kill us,” he said. “Theres nothing like not having much money in the bank to keep you focused on immediate returns out of your marketing budget.” Second was a combination of not having any retail experience and a focus on analytics. “Neither of us had any retail experience, so we focused on learning what worked and what didnt, and out of that came our focus on analytics,” said Bresee. Finally, Bresee said that hiring “stone-cold, hard-core gear people” made the biggest difference along with a lot of hard work and a little luck.