Hundreds of representatives from outdoor brands and retailers gathered last night for the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance annual awards, which pay tribute to the vendors and retailers that are leading the outdoor industry in excellence.

The presentation happened in Knoxville, Tennessee, on night 1 of the Grassroots Connect Show, a 20-year old invitation-only outdoor industry buying show that attracts about 1,000 of the country’s best independent specialty retailers and vendor partners.

“The annual retailer and vendor awards are an excellent and timely reminder that the success of independent specialty retail is rooted in great people, first and foremost,” said Dana Howe, Grassroots Retailer Relations Manager.

Grassroots Awards are particular meaningful to the recipients, because they're bestoed by their contemporaries. The Alliance is made up of 64 independent specialty retailers and 68 vendor partners who work together to advance the health and growth of the outdoor industry.

As president Rich Hill said during the ceremony, "Awards from your friends are the best kind."

Check out the full roster of nominees for 2018.

Without further ado, here are the 2018 winners:

Retailer of the Year: Sunlight Sports in Cody, Wyoming

The glowing nomination reads:

As they say at Sunlight Sports, This is Wyoming:  Incredible staff, beautiful store, and community focus. Wes and Melissa have cultivated some of the savviest staff in specialty retail; from the sales floor gear experts, to pro-buyers, and events and marketing leaders. 

interior of outdoor retail store with large green and gray tenr in foreground. Sunlight Sports wins retailer of the year at Grassroots Connect Show 2018

Sunlight Sports of Cody, Wyoming brought home the grand prize: Retailer of the Year.

The Allens lead their team up, by providing resources for buyers to make their best purchasing decisions and guidance on negotiation with vendors to stay competitive and successful in a challenging retail environment. They also put local writers, photographers, and creatives to work to tell the Sunlight brand story to locals and tourists alike. 

Wes Allen was chocked up when he received his Retailer of the Year award at Grassroots

Wes Allen (left) of Sunlight Sports was emotional as he accepted his Retailer of the Year Award from presenter Bob McCain.

Sunlight boasts an incredible in-store experience from merchandising to expert sales people. They even have a campsite lounge area in the middle of the store complete with the sound of crackling wood and campfire smells! Not to mention their upstairs railings are lined with metal work sheets cut from Black Diamond’s manufacturing of climbing gear - very cool. 

Retailer Growth Award: Next Adventure in Portland, Oregon

Next Adventure wins the retailer growth category at Grassroots Connect 2018

Next Adventure is the first-time winner of the Retailer Growth award.

This new Grassroots award is based on the deep internal metrics and data that Grassroots mines from its retail members, Gabe Maier, Grassroots Vice President told us. "It goes to Next Adventure because of its positive year over year sales despite external market pressures, its innovative approaches to facing business challenges," says Maier. "In a hugely competitive market, Next Adventure has developed a unique brand and continued to grow. In the last year, they've shown impressive profitability." 

Rookie of the Year: Townsend Bertram & Co. in Carrboro, North Carolina

The nomination accolades:

Betsy Bertram and her team are local and community-centric. That focus is built into every fiber of the TB&C brand identity and ethos. They are unique, innovative, vibrant, and passionate. From their brand messaging and social media to their brand selections and merchandising, TB&C stays true to who they are in everything that they do. 

Betsy Bertram of Townsend Bertram & Co. accepted the Rookie of the Year Award.

Betsy Bertram of Townsend Bertram & Co. is all smiles as she accepted the Rookie of the Year Award and a hug from Bob McCain.

TB&C embraces fresh ideas and new ways to engage customers and the community. Recently, in partnership with a local roaster, they had their own custom roasted coffee available for sale at their shop, the coffee shop and other local merchants - the proceeds of which went to the Scott Bertram scholarship fund. All in all TB&C represents true outdoor specialty and share the values of a Grassroots retailer - plus this family owned business is run by two pretty fierce women (Audrey and Betsy)! We are glad to have welcomed TB&C to our membership. 

Vendor of the Year: NEMO Equipment

Here's the compelling nomination:

NEMO was born from adventure (or maybe misadventure), when founder Cam Brensinger spent a stormy and turbulent night on the side of Mount Washington in a poorly designed bivy. After that, Cam knew there had to be a better way ... He started by using air for a tent pole, which is quite possibly was one of coolest and truly unique innovations in gear in the last 20 years. Since 2002 NEMO has always brought new and exciting products to market. Innovative products are only one part of the reason NEMO is a great specialty retail partner. Grassroots and NEMO share passion for the outdoors, commitment to adventure (and outfitting people for it), and creativity in business and products. 

Nemo Equipment logo, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Awards

NEMO took home the Vendor of the Year Award.

Cam and his team have put together truly unique and customized specialty retail programs including increased co-op investments and “specialty exclusives”. NEMO also has a strong hold on their distribution and inventory strategy and they strongly enforce their MAP policy—all of which helps to ensure full price sales and protect margins for retailers. "NEMO makes amazingly well constructed product that sells well. More importantly, they understand intimately the challenges of being a small business with competition dominated by huge corporations, and work creatively to help us stake our own turf,” said Wes Allen, owner of Sunlight said about his partnership with NEMO. Cam even spent some days reconnecting with working retail last year and spent some time on the Sunlight sales floor (check out the collaborative Retail Immersion Project here). 

Sales Manager of the Year: Ryan Krusemark of KÜHL

Krusemark's nomination reads: 

We nominated Ryan Krusemark, not just because he’s an all-around good guy, but also because of his customer-first focus and straight-forward, honest approach to sales management. 

Ryan is very responsive to any issues or communication, positive or negative. He truly "gets specialty", he aims to be a partner not just a vendor in our store”. Ryan’s work has elevated KÜHL from vendor to true partner to Grassroots member retailers. With Ryan at the helm, KÜHL has risen to a top vendor in Grassroots. This is undoubtedly because Ryan and his team have kept their promise to not compete with retail partners by discounting on direct sales, they keep their MAP policy and inventory strategy in check, they’ve kept distribution clean, and keep control of all online sales channels - they don’t directly or indirectly sell to Amazon, Cost-co or Wal-Mart. 

Ryan has put together a great sales team that hasn’t turned over in 10 years and who take pride and ownership in representing the KÜHL brand and work hard for specialty. Ryan works hard to provide excellent terms and programs for Grassroots retailers to help them keep full price sales, maintained margin to stay successful with the brand. Ryan truly cares about keeping specialty retail healthy because it’s vital to the success of KÜHL and the future of specialty retail in our industry. Ryan is a true partner, strong leader, and simply,a great sales manager. 

Creative Marketing/Advertising Campaign:  Mahoney's Outfitters in Johnson City, Tennessee

Mahoney’s really crushed it with their advertising this year, reads the nomination form. They included humor, creativity, and even more impressive - all in-house production. That’s right, the Mahoney’s team is 100 percent responsible for putting all of these ads together, from filming, to acting, and editing. David Gill is Mahoney’s ad and creative mastermind and, with the rest of the team, helped make it all happen. 

Community & Events:  Pack & Paddle in Lafayette, Louisiana

The nomination tells it all:

John White from Pack 'n' Paddle took home the Community Events Award at Grassroots Connect

John White from Pack 'n' Paddle took home the Community Events Award.

Pack & Paddle isn’t just a place to buy outdoor goods, it’s a community hub. Everything that John, Becky and their awesome team do, supports Pack & Paddle being a place for their community to become outdoorists and advocates, get inspired, and be more connected to the local outdoors. Pack & Paddle hosts more 100 events every year, drawing hundreds from the community, you could even call them the Pack & Paddle “tribe”. Pack & Paddle has a dedicated and convertible venue space in the shop, have a dedicated trips and community events coordinator on staff, and have for many years used their successful events to support non-profit organizations like the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and Heroes on the Water.

One favorite event success story is the Pint Night hosted to support Heroes on the Water:

“Heroes on the Water is an organization that gets wounded veterans on the water to fish in kayaks. As the evening progressed, we asked if one of the veterans would come up and talk about what Heroes on the Water meant to him. A burly, heavily tattooed, twenty-something with a huge beard, came to the front in a wheelchair and said: "A couple of years ago I was a drug addict, meth, cocaine, you name it - I was doing it. Heroes on the Water and kayak fishing changed my life. It brought me mental peace and something to live for. I used to be hooked on drugs. Now I'm hooked on sunrises.

Even with 250 people present, you could have heard a pin drop. I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the house. With the money raised, HOW, was able to purchase equipment for the vets to use as well as fund guiding and help to more effectively get vets on the water.”

Merchandising Magic: The Toggery in Whitefish, Montana

Here's the nomination:

Originally called Frank’s Shirt Shop, The Toggery was opened by Frank and Jesse Stephens in 1947. The Stephen’s goal was to offer the highest quality men’s clothing. Over the years, The Toggery has expanded in space and product selection but and has been family owned and operated all along the way. Current owners, Trek and Rene Stephens are continuing on the family tradition in high style with truly curated product selections, merchandised ever-so-carefully. They are skilled at selecting the best apparel, accessories, gifts, and local Montana merchandise. The Stephens are creating a unique and custom retail experience that elevates brands and highlights products. This year they are reinventing the retail experience again with a remodel of the Whitefish store. 

The Golden Rolling Rack Awards for excellence in sales representation

Dana Howe of Grassroots presented the honors to 6 of the best rep groups in the biz, calling them "the bag slingers, the master clothes steamers, the booth builders, the expert travelers, the ultimate road warriors. They have logged the miles, have hundred of trade show days under the belts, and have more store visits than we can count," she said.

Golden Rolling Rack Award at Grassroots Connect 18

Reps Scott Eddins, Cullen Mann, Tony Turner (left to right) of Outdoor Sports Marketing accept the Golden Rolling Rack Award for Excellence in Sales Representation  

  • Outdoor Sports Marketing
  • Mountain Trading
  • Powers Sales Group
  • Caraway & Co. Sales
  • Adventure Marketing Group
  • Vision Merchandising 

Grassroots board chairman Mike Leffler of Appalchian Outfitters also recognized two of his fellow board members for their outstanding dedication to the organization: Emily White of Roads, Rivers, and Trails and Dan Epstein of Champaign Outdoors

Congratulations to all the winners!


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