The Coast News Group

The dirt on big name outdoor retailers

I like my gear shops dirty. Mud in the doorway, leaves scattered about, a distinct mildew smell wafting in the air — I like ’em filthy. I maintain a major mistrust of clean gear shops. Let me explain.
A well-lit, swept, mopped and dust-free shop spells “big box gimmick” in my mind. A clean, beardless and especially eager employee with a smile on his face is a sure sign the kid has no idea what he’s talking about (wouldn’t you rather be outside, bro?). I also can’t stand the cocky clerk who tries to school me on all things woods-related, as if he’s the Holy Yogi of the great outdoors.
Then there’s the music. The hip coffee shop tunes played softly over the PA don’t induce a mindless browsing frenzy for me. I want to cruise in midway through a 45-minute frenetic Dead jam. I want the guy showcasing his wares behind the grimy glass case to look like Jerry with twigs in his wig.
I picture the head honcho corporate pig atop the ladder, dressed to the nines for some Outdoor Gala, smoking a Cuban and counting his gear bucks. Face it: he sells overpriced and unnecessary junk. Even his bargain racks are a rip-off. Unfortunately, a lot of us take the bait.
I’ve hustled the Bikes and Boats department at a large outdoor store. Man, the crap I’ve sold people to meet my sales goals grants me a ticket to retail hell. You didn’t need the carbon fiber paddle upgrade. You didn’t need the advanced hydraulic disk brakes. You definitely didn’t need the high tech bike computer I sold you as an add-on. The “They’ll Believe the Guy with the Weird Green Vest” business model was a powerful sales tool. Partner that model with the “my buddy has one and he loves it” technique, and I’d have a buyer every time. These big outdoor stores prey on the unknowing, inexperienced folks who just want to get out there and have a good time. Cruel, indeed.
I recall showing up to work with gnarly “road” rash I acquired from a fast descent down a steep, rocky hill on my mountain bike. My boss wasn’t happy. He claimed the customers were (get this!) “grossed out.” I figured it might add a one-up to my sales pitch. A true outdoor store would recognize this.
My favorite gear shop is my buddy’s garage. Honestly. That place reeks of dead fish and dirty wet suits and stale river water. A case of warm, year-old Tecates are in there somewhere. But he has everything you need, scattered high and piled wide, and I love it. There’s no rhyme or reason to this makeshift outdoor department store. Having spent more hours outside than in, his eccentric collection seems to grow exponentially after every adventure. Basically, he has nowhere to put it all except for the garage. Works for me.
In the unlikely event my buddy doesn’t meet my gear needs, I’m forced to hit up a local shop. The selection around here is meager. I want to get in and get out, without interacting with either the clean eager guy or the cocky clerk.
Listen, I’m not implying you shouldn’t check out some of the bigger chains. They just might have the right deal. Just remember, the man in the weird vest is your enemy.
In short, keep your gear purchases simple. Call a friend.


bajafresh March 5, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Mmmm…year-old tecates.

ladyluck March 8, 2009 at 11:15 am

Didnt rei start in somebodys garage?

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