He's talked about it with SNEWS® for a few years now, but Gordy Sussman finally pulled the trigger and sold his beloved paddlesport shop, Rutabaga, to Darren Bush and Jeff Weidman. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Bush has been with Rutabaga since the early '90s, moving up from working part-time selling boats while working full-time for the government, to working full-time for the store by 1992. For the last few years, Bush has been the company VP and entirely responsible for running the highly successful Canoecopia consumer paddle fest.
Weidman is getting back into retail after working for the last 10 years as a partner in BP Associates, a leading independent rep group whose lines include Yakima, Cascade Designs, and JanSport. Bush told us that Weidman has been essentially acting as a de facto buyer at Rutabaga for years and knows the company sales cycles, promotional initiatives, and shop ethos intimately.
"It was time to move on," Sussman told us. "The company has grown to such an extent that I'm becoming an impediment to progress. Darren's been running the show here for some time now anyway, so this merely formalizes that fact.
"I'm thrilled for the company and for the staff because both Darren and Jeff believe retail is much more than a dispensary of stuff and that this industry is more than just a fun paycheck. They have the skills and vision to shepherd and direct Rutabaga to further greatness."
Vision aside, neither Bush or Weidman were quite sure they wanted to own a retail operation at first glance.
"From the outside looking in, why on earth would I want to own a store? I could make more money in a mutual fund," Bush told us. "But about a year ago, a good friend of mine, who is an accountant told me that since Rutabaga was clearly my heart and soul, I should just buy it. A short while later, my financial adviser told me I should just buy Rutabaga. Then, on my annual paddling trip with Jeff, my eyes opened wide as I realized I could work with this guy as we have mutually exclusive talents and get along so well."
Bush asked Weidman who turned him down at first. While Weidman had already given notice at BP Associates, he wasn't entirely sure that retail was where he wanted to be. After sleeping on the idea for a few nights, he told Bush that he saw a lot of low-hanging fruit and an opportunity for good, solid growth with a clean business run under one roof.
"We want to make this store even better than it is now, and make it so that no one will ever want to leave under any circumstances," added Bush. "We're going to tweak staff incentives so that everyone will come into work with a grin and leave with more energy then when they came in."
The two have not decided on titles yet, with the current business cards saying, "insert title here" under the names. Bush told us that since he is very strategic and tactical, he'd be doing the financials and the long-term planning. Weidman will be in charge of the sales and buying for the store.
SNEWS® View: Congratulations! Two finer gentlemen (yes, we are bestowing that title on the two, but only this once) could not be found to run Rutabaga. Great move for Gordy too. He realized he's more the entrepreneurial spirit and this now leaves him free to pursue other passions -- one of which we hope to be writing about in the months to come (how's that for a news tease!?) We guarantee that this is not the last you will be hearing of Sussman in the industry.