By Amaris Bordeau
This story first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
With multiple types of consumers, an extreme seasonality, and a massive amount of competition, Revelstoke is one of the toughest markets to crack when it comes to outdoor stores. That’s what Revy Outdoors owner Steven Cross tells us — and he knows a thing or two about business.
Cross opened some of Canada’s first outdoor lifestyle stores in the ‘80s, acted as general manager for Mountain Equipment Co-op in Toronto, and has been an advisor to Queen’s MBA faculty and students since his graduation from the program in 1999.
When he and his family came to Revelstoke four years ago, they had no intention of re-entering the retail market. After speaking with their real estate agent, however, they grew fond of the idea of getting property suitable for a bed and breakfast. And true to their business roots, eventually settled upon opening Revy Outdoors. Being veterans in this business, they knew this time they would do things differently.
Cross and his wife Carolyn studied the market and saw an opportunity for an outdoor store with a focus on total value. That’s to say Revy Outdoors aims to offer the best product within a certain affordable price bracket.
Cross, having helped bring in big names like Patagonia and The North Face to Canada, had worked plenty with well-known brands before. When opening the shop, he and Carolyn looked long and hard for emerging brands, and opted for opening a store that reached each type of buyer in town. Their business model and the exceptionally welcoming community has made retail fun again, says Cross. It doesn’t hurt their morale that they get to ski, hike, and camp 100 days a year.
Being a business owner comes with its share of obstacles, no matter how fun the job may be. Revelstoke’s various outdoor stores differentiate themselves by being the sole seller of a brand, by dominating a sport overall, by offering the best value, or by having excellent customer service. Ideally, you can pull together a bit of all four elements, says Cross. As for the severe drop in sales over the shoulder season, that’s something business owners have to prepare for by managing their revenue. Then again, the change from summer to winter means a new inventory. And how many jobs offer you total creative renewal every six months?
Cross’ experience and business savvy helps him stay afloat in Revelstoke’s outdoor store-packed downtown. But competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Cross says. “If you have a competition model in your head where someone wins and someone loses, your head is parked in the wrong place.”
Four tips for emerging business owners
Each business is a little different, but these tips on entrepreneurship are universal.
Know your value proposition. What you’re offering. Who you’re offering it to. And why they care. “You can have the best widget in town,” says Cross, “but if no one is looking for a widget, there’s no point.”
Get the administrative help you need. It’s typical for a business founder to do everything. The books, the buying, the selling, you name it. But you can hire someone to do the paperwork, Cross suggests. You can’t hire someone to replace you.
Tap into local resources. Community Futures, the Chamber of Commerce, and long-time locals are all good people to talk to, Cross found out when opening the shop — and more people should take advantage of their expertise, he says.
Collaborate. Collaborate with your competition. Get to know people. If your focus is on doing better than your co-stores, you’re not improving your own business.