DeAnn Echols, owner of the single-location South Dakota specialty retail store, shares the secrets of what separates a good retailer from a great one.
By Jahla Seppanen
Great Outdoor Store in Sioux Falls, SD, has been around since the spandex-wearing days of 1980s. Tom Ashworth, a Sioux local, founded the store, seeing it through almost two decades until selling the business to DeAnn Echols, an employee who fell in love with buying and merchandising, in the ‘90s. Although passing through new hands and a variety of locations, the spirit of Great Outdoor is core to the bone, and current owner Echols has proven specialty retail is still king. The store is currently a member of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance (GOA), co-owned by DeAnn and her husband James.
SGB caught up with Echols following a roaring holiday selling period to see exactly how she stays competitive in the growing direct-to-consumer (DTC) landscape; which trade shows the store will attend in 2016; employee retention tips; and a peek into the surprising strategies that led Great Outdoor Store to brick & mortar success.
“Focus on something and get it done rather than the big thinking steps. There are a lot of little things that will make a huge impact.” -DeAnn Echols
What Separates A Good Outdoor Retailer From A Great One? Business practices and having a good solid business from a financial standpoint. Also a supportive staff and community.
In 2014 your store was named a Top 100 Specialty Retailer. What influenced that award? That award was given by the vendors. In retail it’s your relationship with vendors and how you utilize marketing opportunities that can set you apart.
What products are and are not selling well? We are in the full effect of El Nino and a warm winter has caused low sales in heavy winter coats. But we have had great success with our sportswear – we always do really well with Patagonia fleece and flannels. Some of our lighter-weight down products are selling well also. We have gotten a couple good dumps so we’ve sold a ton of Sorel, and holiday shopping brought more socks, hats, scarves and mitten sales. We just started selling Luci lights and those have been flying off the shelf.
“We like to use a lot of props or things that are outside of the products, such as old antiques for our fixturing. We don’t have a flatwall. It’s very organic in here.” – DeAnn Echols
How are you tailoring the shopping experience? This has a lot to do with merchandising and display. We like to use a lot of props or things that are outside of the products, such as old antiques for our fixturing. We don’t have a flatwall. It’s very organic in here. We also focus on customer service. All our staff goes through clinics and training so we know what we are talking about and where products are located.
Any employee retention tips? I’ve found my best employees through other employees. Word-of-mouth and friend-of-a-friend. Retention wise, I try to hire a little older. Most of my staff are college students or out of college, and this is maybe a second job to do in their spare time. Moreover, treating your employees with respect while letting them know what is expected always wins. Good feedback and making sure it’s a pleasant environment to work in is also key.
Which shows are you attending? We’re a member of GOA and this year they added the Connect show with more retailers and vendors. That was a great week. We got so much work done. It was easy to go in, see our vendors, do our work and move on. Typically, we would have gone to our regional show MWSRA, but it was too hard timing-wise. We also went to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. The environment there is fun, but we have the majority of our work done before.
New Year’s resolutions? Be much more focused on our marketing and online social media presence. Streamlining that, working on our informational website, and making sure all info is up to date and relevant.
What’s your current online presence? We’ve had several attempts at an online presence over the past seven years, but haven’t had much success with it. About four years ago we decided to get out. It wasn’t performing and it was taking up all our time. Except for telling people who we are and where we are, we don’t want to sell our products online.
Advice to other retailers? Focus on something and get it done rather than the big thinking steps. There are a lot of little things that will make a huge impact. We just hired a new events and marketing position and hope to improve the shopping experience by giving customers another reason to come in.