Dana Davis Q&A: Summit Hut co-owner knows how to beat the heat and keep ahead in outdoor specialty retail

Dana Davis has held just about every retail job there is, from sales associate to buyer to general manager — and, since 2011, with her husband Jeremy, owner. She talks to us about her adventures in e-commerce and many trips to Outdoor Retailer.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

Dana Davis has held just about every retail job there is, from sales associate to buyer to general manager — and, since 2011, with her husband Jeremy, owner. Their Tucson-based store, the Summit Hut, was named Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Retailer of the year this summer and Davis’ hearty enthusiasm for all things outdoors clearly drives much of the business’ vision and ambition.

She talks to us about her adventures in e-commerce and many trips to Outdoor Retailer.

Your store hosts a lot of events and educational opportunities. How important is it for independent retailers to provide that kind of service to customers?

We feel it is very important! Workshops and events help us differentiate ourselves and demonstrate our expertise in various activities and products. Often customers are eager to learn about particular places, sports or products, but they don’t always have an easy way to access the information. While the web can be a great resource, it doesn’t replace face-to-face interactions and tailored, personalized information. Additionally, we feel it is critical to be the regional expert for Tucson, and our programming reflects that.

Tell us a bit about your e-commerce strategy.

The Summit Hut maintained a website in the ’90s, but we didn’t sell from that site. Our launch into ecommerce with SummitHut.com was in December of 1999. We have continued to evolve, and launched a “new and improved” site in 2009. A unique thing about Summit Hut is that all of our IT, programming and design are done in-house and therefore are custom to Summit Hut. At times, this can mean a longer timetable when regarding updates and the like — someone actually has to write the code, we can’t just buy it off the shelf — but it adheres to our specific needs and desires.

The Summit Hut has been in business since 1969 — that’s a long time! How many Outdoor Retailers have you attended?

Dave Baker founded the Summit Hut in 1969, and my husband Jeremy and I purchased it in February 2011. While I’ve worked at the store for 14 years, I wasn’t always in a position to attend the Outdoor Retailer shows. Over the years, I’ve probably attended 15-20 shows. Dave, on the other hand, probably attended almost all of them from the time he got his larger storefront in the early '70s.

How has the show, and the way you spend your time here, changed?

With three fabulous buyers attending appointments, I spend the majority of my time meeting with vendor sales managers and marketing folks to plan the upcoming season of promotions and events. We usually look at what went well, what didn’t and creatively brainstorm possibilities, as well as going over general “state of the business.” Oftentimes, I’ll tag along on some of our buyers’ appointments to see what’s happening on the product side. And I dedicate time to walk the show and see what new products we can’t live without. I also make sure to swap notes with other buyers and owners at the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance buying breakfast to get a pulse on what other specialty retailers are excited about. Lastly, I am on the board of directors for Grassroots Outdoor Alliance and occasionally attend appointments with vendors on behalf of the group.

Tucson is one of the hotter cities in the United States. Any tips for enjoying the outdoors when the mercury’s rising?

Tucson is 105-plus this time of year so the biggest thing we do is get up and get out early! When I am not taking care of our 3-year-old (my husband and I take turns in the morning) I am often on a bike or off for a run by 5:30 a.m. to take advantage of the “cooler” part of the day. Sometimes I run at night, but not on the trail as that is when the snakes come out to “stretch.” It is generally 15-20 degrees cooler up on the mountain, so we often beat the heat by heading up! While the heat can be challenging — making sure you have adequate water is extremely important — we still enjoy being outside certain parts of the days. We are fortunate that the temperature is still enjoyable at some times of the day; in cold-weather country, it's cold in winter months early in the morning, mid-afternoon and late at night!

What’s the most important thing you take home to your staff and customers from the show?

Our excitement and thrill for new gear. It does not always matter what it is, but being excited about new gear often means renewed enthusiasm for getting outdoors and that is what we are all about!

--Megan Mulligan



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