SNEWS Qs: Specialty retailers face challenge ahead as consumer confidence remains shaky

SNEWS chat's with Summit Hut's co-owner Jeremy Davis about the challenges facing specialty outdoor retailers and consumer desires.

Though it’s always refreshing to get industry insight from retailers, it’s especially golden with Outdoor Retailer Summer Market coming up in a little over a month.


SNEWS recently chatted with Jeremy Davis, who owns the Summit Hut in Tucson, Ariz., with his wife Dana Davis, about his favorite innovations, what customers want and the challenges specialty outdoor industry faces.

Recently the Summit Hut, which was founded in 1967 by two, then-15-year-old friends, Dave Baker and Jeff Conn, has moved one of its main locations across town to an area Davis said will be better for business.

What kind of products are your consumers looking for at the moment?
The Summit Hut is finding great success recently in the area of sportswear. People have found that we carry more than simply technical outdoor equipment and clothing — they have found that we have lifestyle clothing from our great outdoor and climbing brands. The Summit Hut has the ability to outfit you on your next adventure, as well everyday clothing that can take you all over town. Another trend we are seeing and embracing is the GPS market. We have always carried GPS, but with the advent of nearly full-featured GPS watches coming to market, we have seen a real uptick in the offerings and sales of these devices.

What kinds of activities are your customers engaging in these days?
Trail running definitely seems to be trending, and we have responded by carrying a deeper and more exciting offering in this area. Over the course of the last 12-18 months, we have seen a rise in trail running events in the area. Many folks here at Summit Hut are avid runners on both road and trail, and when we’re out on the trails around Tucson we have been seeing more and more trail runners each time out.

What are some challenges facing specialty outdoor retailers — and how are you working to address them?
Continuing to be relevant and exciting, hence the reason for moving and updating the look and feel of this new location. As a specialty retailer, we might become complacent and though we know our stuff, customers demand value and excitement when they walk into our stores. Customers want to be entertained with new and exciting product as well as atmosphere and great customer service. The wide distribution channels have become an issue, as folks feel they can often find the items they are looking for at a perceived discount. Not only do we have to compete with our online competitors on selection and price, but many vendors have started selling direct to the consumer as well. There are a lot of places to get product out there, so we must continue to strive to be relevant and exciting to our consumers.

Why was now the right time move one of your longtime locations?
The stars aligned. We are simply moving a store location that has been in place for nearly 12 years. Frankly, the current store is beautiful, but the demographic has changed in that area and has created challenges to customers who don’t want to deal with potential hazards. This new location came up, and we have been looking in this particular area for a while. The demographic is right up our alley and the partners in the center are top-notch, where we can draw from each other’s customers. We will have the Summit Hut, a bike shop and a top-notch running shop is moving in a month or two after we open.

Will you be adding more jobs?
Initially, we will maintain the staff we have at the current location, though we have hired a couple of additional folks for the new store knowing we must make a good impression with customer service. Remember, we are creating value.

What is the business climate like for specialty retailers right now, and how do you project it will be during the summer and fall?
Specialty retail is tough right now and we must look for ways to gain or maintain market share. Everyone wants a deal and, unfortunately, with all of the distribution channels out there, the consumer can almost always find the item they are looking for at a discount. The next 6-9 months will be tough as consumers are not sure if they should spend or not and frankly many have changed their spending habits for the long term. Our desire for this new location is it will be a place for people to come explore, have fun and invest in high-quality products that they find value in.

What are some of your personal favorite new technologies?
The Fenix by Garmin and Ambit from Suunto, Black Diamond Magnetron Gridlock Carabiners and Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Bags.

How does your store go about getting involved in the community?
A few years ago, we implemented a community service program through which our employees can volunteer with a variety of local groups, all the while getting paid by the Summit Hut. We commit to 100 days of such service a year because as an outdoor company, we feel strongly that it is our duty to protect the environment and lands that have given so much enjoyment over the years. Each year we help raise thousands of dollars for local outdoor organizations through grants. We also help raise funds and awareness for outdoor organizations by offering customers the option of declining a bag for their purchased items and instead donating the cost of each bag to one of two featured non-profit recipients.

How does this benefit your business?
Overall it just makes us feel good. Our employees feel good about their work in the community and helping these groups; it trickles down to great morale and the longevity of our employees. We feel it is important to give back to those that support us.

What is your favorite part about working in the outdoor industry?
The people.



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