When Christine Iksic's lifelong friend expressed an interest in wanting to accompany her on an overnight backpacking trip, it dawned on Iksic. She had assumed her friend wasn't interested in doing "outdoorsy" things, but really, she just didn't have the equipment or knowledge to go. And Iksic realized there had to be others facing the same barriers.
"Once you're on the other side and have more experience outdoors, it can be easy to forget about how huge and intimidating those hurdles can be in the beginning," Iksic said.
Iksic opened 3 Rivers Outdoor last year, becoming one of dozens of specialty outdoor retailers across the country offering used and rental gear. We talked to a few about why it’s good for business and for the outdoor industry.
1. Getting beginners stoked about the outdoors
"Finding ways that customers can get their feet wet and just try out an activity, where and when they want, will go a long way in increasing life-long lovers of the outdoors. Having loads of expensive gear in the shop won't help us get new people outside. We have purposely chosen to invest in rental equipment to ensure people in our community have means to get outside more.” —Christine Iksic, co-owner of 3 Rivers Outdoor Co.
2. Getting customers stoked about your store
“We'd rather rent a SUP board a handful times all summer and see a few folks get stoked on exploring our local rivers than to buy a new SUP board that sits on our sales floor and never gets sold. Ultimately, it’s a win for retail sales. If we don't provide that path for exploration into new sports, then there is no desire to purchase the products either." —Iksic
3. Extending the lifespan of products
“It gives people an easy way to get rid of gear that they may have bought in error or simply outgrew.” —Marc Sherman, manager of Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont
4. Controlling price access
“It allows us to take a two-person backpacking kit that at retail would cost $1,500 and rent it to a couple for a weekend for $99. It gives our community a new way to access really high-quality gear. Brands can’t tell me how much I can sell a used tent for. We’re able to wrestle a way to control price issue. Take a tent sitting in someone’s garage and put that back into the stream of use.” —Jimmy Funkhouser, owner of Feral Mountain Co. in Denver and Idaho Springs, Colorado
5. Reversing the stigma that the outdoors is for the wealthy
“For our rental/borrowing programs, we're very focused on making the experience not feel second-class, so that people feel free to use these services without social stigma, and find it easy to use these services without obstacles where it feels like maybe just buying something on Amazon for cheap with free shipping is the easier option.” —James Dong, owner of Last Minute Gear in San Francisco, California
6. It’s environmentally friendly
“It helps with the environmental issue as well. Rather than throwing something away after a couple of uses and having a brand new customer buy a new thing that prevents that thing from ever being used again and going in to a landfill, it offers options for reuse that helps the environment.” —Jon Crowley, manager of Mammoth Mountaineering Supply in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, California
7. Lowering barriers to entry for small business owners
“The used climbing gear business has turned our company around from another box store suffering from the internet to a retail opportunity for a small operation. We’re very pleased with our position in the market right now. It seems like we’re surrounded by larger outdoor retailers either in bankruptcy or reorganizing, but we’re having one of the best years ever.” —Rick Wilcox, owner of International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, New Hampshire
8. Making it easier for customers to attain gear
“It gives our customers an easy way to upgrade their gear as they grow in their outdoor interests and in the level of gear they want. For example, we make it easy for someone who bought entry level gear one year to get their old gear in front of a large customer base and turn it quickly into store credit for their next level of purchase. It also gives people an easy way to get rid of gear that they may have bought in error or simply outgrew. It helps our customers feel more connected to our mission of helping our local outdoor community.” —Sherman