Our family officially took over Mountain Kids Outfitters in June of 2022. After building a successful environmental consulting company for the last 5 years, I wanted to apply my hard-earned business skills and make some passive income. The world was just coming out of the pandemic and the excitement around travel and social freedom was building. The store had been in business in its' current location for over 20 years and had an established reputation and flow; I decided to take the leap and buy it.
The first year was turbulent, but not because sales were down, because I didn't fully understand the behind-the-scenes processes, idiosyncrasies and language of retail business. I let brand representatives guide me on what and how much to purchase, plus I was at the mercy of what was bought before me by the previous owner. In retail, you need to decide what customers will want to buy, and how much to buy, a whole year in advance.
I had to learn the aspects of e-Commerce for the first time. I come from a background in biological science and focused my technical skills on vegetation ecology. This could not be further from the ever-evolving art of e-commerce and marketing. I have learned through making (sometimes very expensive) mistakes what does not work. I've also learned inventory management, product assortment curation, sales forecasting, digital marketing and I am still learning. Examining and dialling in and each of these is critical to success in a retail business.
Here are a few of the biggest takeaways i've learned on my journey in retail business:
Lesson One - Nothing worthwhile comes easy
There seems to be a rising belief that you can get rich quick, with little input or skill. In an age of digital careers and self-made entrepreneurs , everyone seems to strive for that quick success. Let me tell you with certainty this is the exception and not the rule. Nothing worthwhile in life comes without dedication, attention, and time. This is true of relationships, wealth, health, and business, too.
Lesson Two - You will be disappointed by consultants
This was free advice from a from accountant of mine I wished I had considered more carefully. It seems logical to hire professionals to help you with aspects of the business where you need support. The problem is that you don't really know what value they can bring to your particular business until you've tried on the relationship. Not everyone is as qualified as they say they are. Make sure you consider and clearly define the desired outcome before outsourcing.
Lesson Three - Nobody knows your business like you do
There will be employees that know more than you, your success literally hinges on this. But, don't forget that you are the only one with a 360 view of the business, and you have to make decisions taking that into consideration. Gathering input from others on a decision can be valuable, but consider their perspective and remember that nobody sees the business through your eyes.
Lesson Four - Hold on to the ones that treat your business like their own
These people don't come around often and when they do make sure you hold onto them. It is a rare quality for people to take pride in the work they do, to the point that they treat their business as they would their own. Make sure they are recognized, empowered, and properly compensated.
Lesson Five - Get comfortable with risk
Nothing in life is without risk - it is in your best interested to understand exactly where your comfort level is, and make decisions accordingly. No risk, no reward.
I absolutely love this business, and am still working hard to find the right balance to make it as efficient and fruitful as possible. I am still putting in the work each day to refine the operations and build meaningful relationships with key partners in the community. I can imagine a time where the store is a landmark in Whistler, and serves the wider community of young athletes and active outdoor kids. I want to see our logo on an olympian. I want to encourage more kids to spend time outside with their friends and family, to breathe fresh air, to make lasting memories. That is the true purpose of the store, and aligns with my personal purpose and values.
At the end of the day, it is a privilege to have this business, this purpose, and this challenge.