The idea for The Cleveland Outpost was hatched less than a year ago. Josh Scott, an outdoor industry professional with experience in specialty retail, was on vacation with his partner Hannah Kelling, an outdoor educator and camp counselor, in South Carolina. Sitting on the porch at a friend's lake house, the two got to talking. Cleveland, where they both live, needed a new kind of gear shop, they agreed—one that "found a bridge between high performance and affordability." It didn't take long for the pair to land on a feasible method for creating just such a place: focus on used gear.
"To our knowledge, there’s nothing like this in Ohio. We're really the first shop in our community to promote the circular economy as the foundation of our business. Clevelanders themselves are our source of products," said Scott.
A community model
The shop operates on three tiers, Scott told SNEWS. They do sell some new gear, though the selection is limited and highly curated. Scott and Kelling—who co-founded the business—are still in talks with vendors and haven't yet named the brands they intend to carry for the coming season, but they're sure to be exclusively high-performance offerings. The second and most important tier consists of a used gear exchange. Customers can bring in their gently used items for store credit to buy other gear at deep discounts. The third tier is a consignment section for larger items like kayaks.
"We want to encourage a wide selection of items from high, middle, and low performance categories," Kelling said of the used gear selection. "We don't want anyone to think, 'My gear must not be good enough for this place.' We are focusing on middle- and high-end gear in an effort to provide good quality, but this is the every-person's shop!"
Scott and Kelling are currently operating the business out of a garage shared with local watersports shop Nalu Standup Paddle & Surf. Bill Cochrane, the owner of Nalu, acted as a mentor and partner to Scott and Kelling as they got the company up and running, providing guidance, space to set up, and freedom to operate the how they wanted without "signing our lives away on the dotted line," as Scott said. With Cochrane's help, and some money from friends and family, The Cleveland Outpost managed to open without loans or outside capital.
"When we started this thing, we had the idea to be as penny-pinching as possible," Scott said. "That helped when the pandemic hit. A lot of opportunities for large business loans went away, so we needed to come up with other solutions. We’ve been able to launch it without taking a single outside dollar."
As far as pandemic safety goes, Scott and Kelling haven't had much trouble so far, they said. They've implemented sanitation measures for all new items that come through the doors, including a mandatory one-week waiting period before items are put on display.
"It actually fits with our workflow," Scott said of the efforts. "We need to take inventory for our website after things come through the door, and that rest period allows us to do that."
Buying into the message
Scott and Kelling haven't quit their day jobs at a local kayak livery quite yet, but they already have six people working for them at The Cleveland Outpost.
"The team members have been absolutely amazing," said Scott. "They bought into the message and the idea completely. Everybody's here because they believe in it."
To spread more of that same buy-in around the community, The Cleveland Outpost offers a $25-per-year membership called Adventure for All that aims to "create a network of gear shops and like-minded people" around northeastern Ohio. Adventure for All members get early access to gear and discounts to other independent retailers nearby—a way to encourage the sharing of customers and fostering of collaboration between shop owners.
"It's been an incredibly encouraging process, setting this up, " Scott said. "Of course, occasionally, it has been absolutely terrifying too."
He points to one fact that gives him hope, though—the basis of his confidence in the business.
"It depends on the community to make it work," he said. "That's what sustains it."