Neptune Mountaineering has been a Boulder, Colo., institution for decades, so it’s no surprise that the outdoor community here was briefly panicked after the local newspaper published a story saying that the specialty outdoor retail shop was facing an eviction notice.
“Neptune is the opposite of what happens at Sports Authority,” said founder of Great Trango Holdings Malcolm Daly, who has spent a great deal of time at Neptune as a customer, business owner, and, now, an employee. Neptune was one of Trango’s first retailers when the company started in the early 90s, and Daly now works the sales floor there a few days a week. “It has so much heart and soul, and so much reason to exist beyond the transactions.”
Backwoods Retail, the family-owned chain that bought the store from founder Gary Neptune in 2013, said last week that it has come to an agreement with the property owner, W.W. Reynolds, which filed a lawsuit against Backwoods for failure to pay roughly $68,000 worth of rent since July. Jennifer Mull, CEO of Backwoods, said she could not discuss the terms of the agreement. Backwoods is looking at ways to streamline its costs and processes to make it more cost-efficient, Mull said.
“We’re looking at all of our expenses, whether that be occupancy costs or staffing costs, or marketing costs, or all of the above, really,” Mull said last week. When asked whether Neptune may be moving to a location with lower rent, Mull said that was not currently a consideration.
In online forums and on Neptune’s Facebook page, fans and customers commented that the store has had poorly-stocked shelves over the past few months, and some raised concerns that that could mean the store wasn’t doing well and would be going out of business.
It’s quite the contrary, though, according to both Mull and Daly. 2015 was a strong year for Neptune, which is lucky to have had good winters. Daly suspected that Neptune’s shortage of inventory was due to a “perfect storm” affecting other Backwoods stores, which are in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. They’ve suffered from lousy winters, cheap oil in areas where oil is critical to the local economy, and other external pressures facing everyone in specialty retail. Other Backwoods stores have faced similar inventory shortages, according to sources quoted in the Boulder Daily Camera article about Neptune’s possible eviction.
“Each store has different inventory needs and we’re working through inventory issues, where they exist, and hope to have them resolved shortly,” Mull wrote in an email. “[In 2015, Neptune had] a very solid performance and some exciting additions such as our new ski tuning machine. As for the other stores, there were stores that had a very solid performance last year and some that did not meet our expectations.”
Mull said there has been an “industry-wide weakness” caused by changing shopping trends, consumer behavior, competition, weather and the bankruptcies of big box stores, which have flooded the market with closeout sales and inventory that now doesn’t have a sales floor.
“I believe most retailers are working hard to reshape their businesses (as needed) to meet any challenges they face and move beyond them,” she wrote.
Neptune’s current inventory shortages have been “so hard to take,” Daly said. “You can see that in the comments on Neptune’s Facebook page.”
Indeed, the Neptune community is a strong and passionate one. Gary Neptune founded the business in 1973, and Backwoods bought it the year it turned 40. Customers and fans rejoiced when the store responded to the newspaper article on Facebook, saying that they weren’t going anywhere.
“There is a lot of energy and passion in those posts,” one Facebook fan, John Schneider, commented on a post about founder Gary Neptune teaching a ski-making class. “Doesn’t sound like anybody in that store has quit or given up. You understand who you are. You guys will be back.”
The store directly addressed the article on its Facebook page the day it was published.
“As every mountaineer, climber and outdoor adventurer knows, there are tough, cruxy times that test your mettle and make it all the more sweet when you come out on the other side,” the store wrote on Facebook Oct. 17. “We have no intentions of coming off this mountain…actually, we plan to keep heading up, slowly but steadily.”
Everyone at the store knows they’re part of something incredibly important to the local community, Daly said, and they plan to support the store through thick and thin. That’s what makes Neptune different, Daly said. It has soul.
People don’t go to Neptune for instant gratification. They go for the history. They go for the environment. The education, the experience, the people. The store has been a tourist attraction for students at the University of Colorado Boulder, who have dragged parents into the shop on family weekends to show off the mountaineering collection Gary Neptune curated there.
“If a brick and mortar shop loses its soul, it’s going to go out of business,” Daly said. “A shop without soul is Amazon.”