Talking beginnings, business and brews with the new faces of outdoor retail.
By Courtney Holden
With backgrounds in civil engineering and real estate, Cory McCall and Rob Gasbarro, co-owners of the Franklin, N.C.-based outfitter Outdoor 76, aren’t your typical industry retailers. And they’re using that to their advantage. Although they have just six years of store ownership under their belt, they call “managing growth” their biggest struggle — so it’s clear they’re doing something right. We sat down with this “new generation” of outdoor retailers to hear their perspective on how an outdoor shop can operate and the services it can offer its customers. Our favorite innovation? Hands down, the in-store taproom.
Tell Us A Little About Yourselves. What Makes You Tick? Rob: I cut my teeth in the outdoor industry working closely with shops in the Bay area and holding chair positions with the Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers. Professionally, what makes me tick is taking care of people. Offering a unique flavor of service isreally the only way shops can set themselves apart. Cory: I grew up exploring the mountains of western North Carolina. I ran competitively in high school and college. After college, I began road and mountain biking. I knew that I always wanted to own my own business because it means that you control your destiny. It takes a lot of self-evaluation to stay dedicated to your business. The only way to make sure I keep growing personally is to challenge myself every day.
What Spurred You To Open An Outdoor Store? Rob: All the doors opened up in front of us as we made leaps of commitment. Cory and I both believed there was a future and viability in tapping into our outdoor resources. Cory: When we looked at the current needs of our community, we saw that a strong outdoor store only made sense. We also saw that if you draw a 60-mile radius from Franklin, you get into some large metro cities that include a large number of weekend warriors and adventurers.
As Part Of The Next Generation Of Outdoor Retailers, What Are You Doing Differently From The Retailers Who Came Before You? Rob: Our viability comes from having business backgrounds, understanding the operations side of entrepreneurship, our passion for the technical side of what we sell and our commitment to delivering that through good service. Under one roof, we offer goods for almost every type of outdoor recreation in our region. Cory: We’ve made a strong effort to organize events on a bi-weekly basis. The biggest part about gaining support within our community is making sure people see that our hearts are here. We are committed to seeing our community grow, just like our own business.
Tell Us About Some Struggles You’ve Faced. Rob: Our biggest struggle has been managing growth without losing our identity. Staffing people in a technical, service-driven business is not as easy as staffing general retail. Buying and expanding merchandise without the data that many older stores have, not to mention in such a unique market, is a challenge too. The Pub, Rock House Lodge, Is Inside Your Store. What Inspired That? Cory: The proximity of the Appalachian Trail to our town had a huge bearing on our decision to make sure that when hikers came off the AT, they had a great place to get a craft beer. The other part is the simple fact that the outdoor and craft beer industries are connected at the hip. The same people who come in and talk the latest and greatest in gear also know about the newest beer on the market.
What’s Currently On Tap? Cory: Rock House Lodge has 18 craft beers on draft, and we pride ourselves in never having served a domestic beer. Anytime we can get our hands on a limited-release beer, we buy it! Rob: We did our first collaboration with Innovation Brewing this year, and it was a huge hit. We wanted people to taste spring in a beer that they could only get from us by way of a local brewer. Knowing it was primarily going to market to AT hikers, we ended up with a Juniper Session IPA. That was a big deal for us.
Photo courtesy Outdoor 76