Retailers of the Outdoor Industry has acted as the most successful outdoor industry buying group since 1990 when several retailers decided to join forces and compare best practices at the Outdoor Retailer trade show.

The group has grown considerably since then and now, Dave Matz, R.O.I.’s president since 2001, is taking the organization to the next level with a name change and a completely new mission statement. R.O.I. will now be called the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.

“We’ve been looking at this for the last year or so. We hired a company to do some market research on what the perception of our organization was and how we could do a better job of promoting ourselves and our members,” Matz told The B.O.S.S. Report. “After we received those findings we really started to look at what would be best for the organization. We wanted to look at how we could better promote our individual stores, and put a little bit more of a public face on our organization. And, that really precipitated a name change. Retailers of the Outdoor Industry was a good working name when we started out, but it didn’t encompass where we wanted to go in the future.”

The group is not only going through a name change, it is creating a new structure and new purpose to exist. Previously, ROI was primarily a buying group. Grassroots will be primarily a group of retailers sharing a common infrastructure with the buying group as just one component of the organization.

The new mission statement for the group is:

The Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is a group of independent outdoor shops dedicated to the sustainability of the specialty outdoor channel and the quality of the outdoor enthusiast's experience. We stand together to help facilitate a market for performance-oriented, revolutionary products, create a unified marketing presence for high quality, local outdoor specialists, and help protect and sustain the quality and access to the environment on a local, national and global level.

“We want to work more towards being a promoter of independent outdoor stores. We will certainly begin with the members of the group we have now, but we are looking for ways to serve all iconoclastic, heritage, heirloom outdoor retailers,” Matz said. “There will still be a buying group component to Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, but we are planning for other components too.”

Previously, membership was dictated by the needs of the buying group, but going forward, Grassroots will be accepting more members who can contribute in other areas.

“The cornerstone of our group has always been financial solvency. You’ve got to be able to pay your bills on time, all of the time, for a long time, and that was really one of the things we were able to bring to the vendor community. And that is still very important to us,” said Matz. “As we look towards having a more inclusive organization, we are trying to figure out how this will work. I think we will have some privileges that will only be available to members who meet certain criteria, but there will also be more of a marketing side that will celebrate those heirloom shops that are so important to our industry.”

Matz referred to the “Keep Austin Weird” movement as part of their inspiration for this shift. This movement was started by a group of local, independent Austin businesses and citizens who wanted to celebrate the small local companies that made downtown Austin “weird.” Grassroots will do the same for the outdoor industry. “There were a lot of industries where a large national chain had come in and driven the smaller local companies out of business.” he said. “So Keep Austin Weird was about keeping those small local businesses in that community, because they support local groups, they give to local charities at a much higher level, and they keep all of their profits in the community.”

While this new mission statement sounds remarkably similar to a new outdoor trade organization focusing strictly on retailers, Matz insists that this is not the case. “OIA is our trade organization. We certainly want to support them. I think what we are looking for – and OIA has struggled with this too – is how do we better serve independent retailers,” he said. “What we want to do is really work hand-in-hand with OIA. We see them as our lobbying group, the research end, and we want to work with them and work more with the vendors.”

The real vision for Grassroots is to help independent outdoor retailers engage their local communities in issues that are important to the health of the outdoor industry. “For example, there is Chimney Rock here in western North Carolina. Rumbling Bald, right across the valley has been preserved with state funds, and now the price tag for Chimney Rock is around $55 million,” said Matz. “The state is looking at that and groaning. So I think that in order to get any movement on this issue it will take local groups, local people, and local conservation organizations that are in-turn supported by local businesses.”

These local and national efforts will help Grassroots achieve their stated goal of “working together to increase the health of the outdoor business by moving true specialty outdoor retail back to the center of the industry.”

While all of the details have yet to be ironed out, Matz and the current members of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance are open to nearly any possibility, and feel strongly that this is a move in the right direction. “We’re very excited about the future of the organization,” Matz said. “It’s a great group of retailers.”