Alpine Experience acquires Olympic Outfitters

After 38 years in business, the owner of Olympic Outfitters, Ray LaForge, is retiring with a smile on his face after successfully selling his business to the Alpine Experience's Joe Hyer, another Olympia, Wash., specialty retailer located a mere two blocks away. Terms of the deal were not announced, other than to say that Alpine Experience is acquiring current inventory and assets as of Oct. 1.

After 38 years in business, the owner of Olympic Outfitters, Ray LaForge, is retiring with a smile on his face after successfully selling his business to the Alpine Experience's Joe Hyer, another Olympia, Wash., specialty retailer located a mere two blocks away. Terms of the deal were not announced, other than to say that Alpine Experience is acquiring current inventory and assets as of Oct. 1.

According to Hyer, the Alpine Experience is a 15,000-square-foot store with 10,000 square feet of retail space and $3 million in annual sales. He told SNEWS® that he expects the acquisition of Olympic Outfitters to add 40 percent to the overall sales volume and an additional 8,000 square feet of retail space.

One of the motivating factors for the acquisition, Hyer told us, was that Olympic Outfitters has a bike shop (accounting for approximately 30 percent of its overall sales, we were told), which would add a new category of sales to the Alpine Experience repertoire. In addition, Olympic Outfitters offers key brands that Hyer has been unable to obtain because of space constraints or, in some cases, dealer agreements. Now, that door opens.

"We have been casually talking to Patagonia for a number of years now, but we had no room on our floor to do that brand justice along with The North Face. Now we have the means and space, and are very excited by the opportunity," said Hyer.

Hyer believes that for the combined stores, growth can be expected in both apparel and winter sports, which were also strong categories for Olympic Outfitters.

Alpine Experience will take over full operation of Olympic Outfitters on Oct. 1. At that time, Hyer told us, the store will feature an updated logo using the Olympic Outfitters name in front of a version of the setting sun and mountain logo which is the backdrop for the current Alpine Experience logo.

Though he is not set on exactly what the product mix and points of differentiation will be between the two store, he sees the close proximity as a significant advantage for both stores with plenty of opportunity for experimentation and creativity.

"Each store will likely carry specific product niches, and maybe even specific product categories, like climbing in one store, but not the other," said Hyer. "However, I really don't have specifics yet and will take some time to figure out what works best for us and for our customers.

"I can tell you this: I am envisioning buying 100 umbrellas with our logos on them and then giving them to customers to walk between our stores with," said Hyer.

Hyer also pointed out that the Olympic Outfitters' location is more on the "main drag," with more walk-in traffic, so that might indicate it will do better with a more urban mix of inventory.

As for Olympic Outfitters' current employees, Hyer allowed that there will likely be a few that will not continue with the company, but that would be more a matter of their choice and not because opportunities were not offered. "We do things our way, which is perhaps differently than it is done at Olympic, but it continues to work for us, so everyone will be invited to join our team…whether they will want to is up to them," said Hyer.

LaForge, who recently also sold his interest in Ramblin Jacks restaurant in December 2007, told SNEWS that he will continue to dabble in commercial real estate, but as of now, his schedule is a lot less regimented with plenty of time to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle he's been working in for years.

SNEWS® View: Outstanding news! We love it when an owner of a business gets to leave on his or her terms, with an exit strategy fully in play and succeeding. LaForge has served as the president of the Olympia Downtown Association, as the president of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Thurston County, and on the board of the Olympia Downtown Rotary Club and Thurston-Mason Red Cross. We suspect he'll find plenty to keep him busy in addition to skiing, biking and hiking.

For Hyer, this gives a very creative and strong retail mind yet another opportunity to think outside of the box and redefine traditional specialty retail. Two stores within two blocks of each other selling the same type of merchandise owned by the same person -- who ever heard of such a thing? Well, actually, we have and it can work, and we suspect it will work in this case -- supremely well. In fact, bet on $6 million in sales for Hyer's company in the next two to three years -- and climbing.

His only challenge, we think, will be to ensure that the people of Olympia do not get resentful over having only one company in town owned by one entity. Customers can be funny when choice is removed. On the other hand, customers can also be very loyal and supportive when a business is committed to the community as Hyer's family and business are (his brother and co-owner, Steve, is currently on the board of the Olympia Downtown Association).


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