The Retail Immersion Project: Former Osprey exec. hits the retail sales floor


Bridging the gap between brands and shops by embedding C-level executives onto the sales floor, The Retail Immersion Project kicks off with Tom Barney and Durango, Colorado-based Backcountry Experience.

 Former CEO of Osprey Packs Tom Barney, on his first day of work on the sales floor at Durango, Colorado's Backcountry Experience. // Photo: Courtesy

Former CEO of Osprey Packs Tom Barney, on his first day of work on the sales floor at Durango, Colorado's Backcountry Experience. // Photo: Courtesy

Tom Barney has worked at the helm of iconic outdoor brands like Osprey Packs and Royal Robbins for 25 years, helping lead these companies into global markets. He's been growing sales, building teams, creating strategies, and working with designers on creating innovative outdoor products that perform at retail.

But Barney doesn’t really remember what it’s like to be the guy on the sales floor trying to explain the difference between one great brand and its competitor. It’s been forever since he worked the cash register or stocked the sock display. He hasn’t yet learned the modern art of boot-fitting and he’s not up to date on the latest outerwear technologies.

In fact, like many C-level executives, he doesn’t fully grasp the myriad challenges that the owners and managers of independent outdoor retail shops around the country face on a daily basis. “Like many leaders on the vendor side of our industry, I feel a growing gap between the realities of successful specialty retail management and the supplier community, especially in light of the evolving omni-channel retail environment,” Barney says. “I want to learn and help close that gap for everyone.”

Now Barney will get his chance, and it will come from a crash course in outdoor specialty retail.

Welcome to The Retail Immersion Project.

SNEWS is partnering with Tom Barney and Ben Rockis, owner of Backcountry Experience in Durango, Colo., as Barney immerses himself in the nitty-gritty retail experience. Barney chose Backcountry Experience because it represents the classic, independent outdoor specialty shop. It faces the usual successes and challenges of our industry and is led by a a creative and dedicated staff.

During the busy holiday season, right up to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market ‘17, Barney will work the sales floor, fitting and selling gear and ringing up customers. He’ll participate in staff meetings, training and rep clinics, and he’ll closely observe the managerial challenges that owner Ben Rockis faces.

“I’m excited to move from the conference room to the sales floor where real-life sales challenges face staff every day,” Barney says. “I’m going to dive in, learn, and contribute to every aspect of the real specialty outdoor store experience. I’m hoping that by working the floor, observing daily interactions and talking with staff, I can help our industry–especially vendors–understand and better support the backbone of outdoor retail: the specialty store."

Throughout Barney’s retail immersion, he and Rockis will share lessons learned with SNEWS readers. Stay tuned for live video blogs from the sales floor and weekly stories highlighting a few key topics each week such as:

  • how to improve staff training and rep clinics
  • converting the web-informed specialty consumer to a brick-and-mortar shopper
  • how stores can work with brands to offset the direct-to-consumer sales/marketing trend
  • how specialty shops can complement and compete with national online dealers and big box retailers
  • how vendors can do more to support specialty retail stores

We invite you to follow along through Barney’s retail immersion to hear how, as an industry, we can improve partnerships between vendors, reps, and retailers.

If you’d like to be involved in a future edition of The Retail Immersion Project, please contact us at


Tom Barney makes his first report from the field, on his first day as a sales employee at Backcountry Experience in Durango, Colorado.

Video: Tom Barney's first day working retail

Tom Barney starts his new gig on the sales floor of a Colorado outdoor gear shop, and shares his first report for The Retail Immersion Project. Former Osprey CEO Tom Barney has started a new job as a seasonal employee at Backcountry Experience in Durango, Colo. Yep, that’s more


RIP, Tom Zajicek

Tom Zajicek, a beloved employee of Durango's Backcountry Experience died on Sunday in a tragic climbing accident on Starlight Peak, in California. Zajicek, an experienced climber, reportedly summited the 14,200-foot peak at 2 p.m. with Laura Scull, an associate professor of more