Happy Holidays from The Trail Head

Posted: Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 at 10:42 am

Happy Holidays from The Trail Head Image

Hello and Happy Holidays

As I write this we are getting ready to open for Christmas Eve.  Ready being a relative term.  Lots to do to get the store cleaned up and product sold yesterday restocked on the shelves if we have any left.  The staff here is amazing and incredibly hardworking, and I felt the need to call them out and say thanks in a public way.  They work for low wages mostly because they are passionate about being outdoors and connected to the people that share the same passions they do.  Id love to pay may staff more, every single one of them is worth more than the business can support paying them.

In my 30 years in the retail trade, as well as all the lessons I learned as a kid sitting at the kitchen table listening to my parents talk about the challenges of owning a retail business (they both owned separate retail stores) I can’t help but recognize that the world of retail is changing and the model I have based my career on is simply not going to exist as it does now in another 10 years.  Oh sure retail will still exist and humanity will still need to conduct local commerce, but fundamentally it will be a different process.

I had a banker tell me many years ago that retailers always have something that is not working and needs to change. Basically the message was suck it up and get to work, which given how leveraged I was as a new business owner I took to heart and focused my attention on being better at what we did than my competition.  We worked hard to grow the business and take as good of care of the employees I had as I could.  Knowing that it is them really who make the Trail Head what it is in the eyes of the consumer. I also quickly came to realize that I needed to give consumers a reason to shop here.  That reason was not about what we sold as the internet made it easy to buy anything from the comfort of your home and we no longer could exist on the idea that if you wanted what we sold,  you had to buy it here.  I think that change is what ultimately prompted the previous owner to sell and get out, he could see it was going to be more and more challenging than it ever had been.  I was young and had the energy and lack of hindsight to tackle the “new “world of retail.

We learned to compete with online stores and other local retailers who could quite simply buy products to sell at a lower price than we could, and in the case of many online retailers who had a different overhead and could sell it at way less.  We watched one by one as the online guys got bigger and better at what they did and had the net effect of disrupting the entire marketplace even to the international level when the dollar matched well to the Euro.  We talked with and pleaded with vendors and manufactures to help create some sense of fair play that would keep us competitive with the online guys.  Slowly things have matured and now for the most part we seem to have a reasonable chance of offering products at a similar price to the major online retailers.  The vendors, however, have struggled to replace the business that big online players did  flooding the market with goods priced at or near regular wholesale.  No more could vendors dump millions in excess goods so easily, as it now affected the entire marketplace overnight.

The retailers who asked for help in leveling the playing field got the help, careful what you ask for is a line my dad used to us when I was a kid.  Now instead of competing with a big online guy who can run on razor thin margins we have traded that for Vendors who have taken the lead in being the market disruptor for the outdoor industry.  As of this morning I have in my inbox over 150 emails from vendors I buy product from who are aggressively marketing to the end consumer that used to be my loyal customer.

The Tricky part for us is that we now can rarely compete with the Partners that sell us the products in my store.  Most companies sell direct and what consumers rarely understand is that while a company may show a size and color instock on the web site, The Trail Head cannot buy that product from them, it is reserved for them to sell direct.  Now I regularly get customers who really want to buy from us to support a local business, and we have to send them to our vendors to buy it directly.  Then there is the Free shipping even offers of free overnight to the consumer, while for us the “partners” who buy thousands from them, we cannot buy it or if we do must pay full shipping charges.  In addition vendors have more margin so they can easily offer deals that we simply cannot.

I love to compete, and I am as competitive as anyone, but this fundamental shift of the vendors who we buy from now being our biggest and most challenging competitor is a shift that I am still trying to wrap my head around.  It has been a season of the hand to the forehead for me realizing that much must change for us to remain relevant and for me to be able to support 34 employees and pay a living wage.  Working the floor this past few weeks has been an incredible experience in seeing how many loyal customers we have, I just wish I had that same feeling about the “partners” that supply the products we sell.

Thanks to all of you for your amazing patronage given all the opportunities you have to shop and know that every day we appreciate what it takes to make the effort to shop local!

Happy Holidays

Todd Frank


The Trail Head