Every type of boat you can think of, Todd Frank is displaying in his new 14,000-square-foot The Trail Head River Sports showroom in Missoula, Montana. Canoes, inflatables, paddle boards, rafts, recreational and touring kayaks—you name it.
"We’re at the junction of four major rivers here in Western Montana, so fishing and running rivers is important to people who live here," Frank said. "Boating is a smaller category for a lot of stores in the country, but it’s become very important for us.
Last year, new developments opened around The Trail Head's downtown location and parking got tight. Buying a 14-foot-long boat without being able to pull up to the store's front door was inconvenient for customers. So in October 2018, Frank put an offer on a vacant building that once housed a Sears appliance warehouse and began the new build a few months later.
Tour The Trail Head River Sports
With high price points, high freight costs, and low profit margins, boats aren't always retailers' best sellers. But Frank has found his niche in the category and he said customers come to The Trail Head for expert advice. Montana's lack of sales tax is also a major draw.
Unlike the competitors in the area, such as Cabela's, Frank's boat packages are entirely customizable, from the frames, oars, dry boxes, and canyon coolers to the accessories. And unlike online sellers, customers can touch and feel the products before they spend a few thousand.
"If you would’ve asked me 30 years ago if I would build my business around the lowest margin and highest freight cost item in my store, I would’ve laughed at you," Frank said. "Key sales reps are telling us that we now have the largest inflatable raft store in the country."