President Rich Hill kicked off the evening by explaining the Grassroots History Project, which was started a few years back to trace the arc of the group’s growth as a powerful collaboration of retailers and brands. Through hundreds of hours of interviews with members—both from the early days and the present—Grassroots documented the trajectory of the group, which mirrors that of the outdoor industry as a whole.
Hill characterized the History Project as “a collection of stories, anecdotes, and exaggerations on how a small group of headstrong entrepreneurs used the power of sharing and trust to found a vibrant community of independent specialty retailers and their vendor partners.”
The evening was both festive and emotional, as all great celebrations are, with lots of stories, many laughs, a few tears, and a couple standing O’s.
The people’s choice: Nominees are chosen by the Grassroots teams and members vote to determine the winners.
Bob McCain of Buffalo Peak Outfitters, one of the original members of Grassroots and three-time board member, emceed the award presentations with humor and gusto. Here are this year's winners...
Retailer of the Year: Alpine Shop, St. Louis, Missouri
Russell ‘Holly’ Hollenbeck, who has owned and operated the store with his wife, Lisa, since 1978, fought back the emotion as he accepted the award. “My goal has always been to get up in the morning and be excited about going to work and have everyone who works for me feel the same way,” he said.
Vendor of the Year: The North Face
Last year, TNF pioneered a successful digital workbook platform and granted $10,000 to the Grassroots technology fund, which helps put iPads in the hands of retailers looking to digitize their buying process. "The North Face also does an excellent job of managing its marketplaces by controlling the number of sellers on those platforms," says Hill.
Retailer Growth Award: The Mountain Air, San Luis Obispo, California
The numbers tell the story here, and this award comes straight from Grassroots data, which show that in 2018, The Mountain Air excelled in sales growth and margin growth. “The other cool thing about The Mountain Air,” says Dana Howe, retailer relations manager, “is that they know that their market challenges are going to change, with REI moving in down the street this fall, but they’re embracing it approaching it with a lot of positivity.”
Friend of Grassroots Award: Terry Bemis of Conference Direct
This new award recognizes individuals who have contributed to the growth, development, and well-being of Grassroots. “Terry has been our point person in the search for new venues for our show, but he does so much more that what is normally asked from someone in his position,” says Devaki Murch, trade show manager. “He actually attends our show, works the registration desk and makes it a point to get to know everything about how we do business so he can better serve our needs.”
25 for 25 Award: Chally Sims of Pack Rat Outdoor Center
This special honor went to Chally Sims, manager at Pack Rat Outdoor Center for 25 years of service with the Fayetteville, Arkansas, retailer.
Merchandising Magic: Great Outdoor Store, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Honored for its unique and creative approaches to merchandising, Great Outdoor Store makes customers feel like they’ve been transported to another place. Merchandise is not organized in the traditional fashion—by brand—but rather by color and lifestyle to create product capsules according to how customers would wear pieces in real life.
Community and Events: River Sports Outfitter, Knoxville Tennessee
Accepting the award that celebrates stores with an exceptional commitment to their local communities, owner of River Sports, Ed McAlister, said, “Any store in this room could win this award. Everybody here does the same thing we do day in and day out. That’s why we [Grassroots] are special.”
The Golden Rolling Rack Award for Sales Reps
This award honors sales reps who, who McCain called the “unspoken heroes of our industry” who are so critical to the relationship between retailers and vendors. This year’s winners represent four regions around the country:
- Kurt Smith (Southeast)
- Mitchell McGuinness (Mid-Atlantic)
- Mike Felix (Midwest)
- BJ Brewer (West and Rockies)