In outdoorsy, indie NoCo, will Scheels make its mark?

In Johnstown’s brand new 250,000-square-foot super store, there are 85 “specialty stores” within, all wrapped around a 16,000-gallon aquarium. Oh yeah, and a ferris wheel. It’s like Great Wolf Lodge and Cabela’s had an enormous, really sparkly baby. That sells fudge.

Now that the fanfare is over and the ferris wheel line is shorter, NoCo shoppers are better able to focus on Scheels’ one-word company motto: GEAR.

But Coloradans are a little particular about their gear when it comes to the outdoors, and we wondered how this store will impact the other niche retailers here, particularly in an area as entrepreneurial as NoCo. Bill Wright doesn’t think it will make a big difference. His FoCo shop, The Wright Life,  has been a favorite of boarders and disc sport enthusiasts since 1981. Wright says, “We never really felt the impact of [for example] Centerra. As a small specialty store, we rely on our customer service.” Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce president, David May agrees: “Small, locally owned retailers like these don’t just sell stuff,” he says, “they build relationships.”

Despite the aquariums and arcade games, Scheels is gunning for the customer service angle as well. Store Leader Mark Knudson anticipates that once the traffic scales to normal, customers will find that, “It is our people, more than anything else, that will separate us from the competition.” Scheels works to back that claim up: Employees are given extensive training, paid time in the field to try out gear they sell, competitive salaries and an employee stock ownership plan, giving them stakes in the business outcome. All those perks build loyalty and longevity among staff members.

So the question comes down to this—what, to NoCo outdoor enthusiasts, makes for a destination business, the kind you go out of your way for and seek out over and over again? As one specialty sports shop owner, who asked not to be identified, says: “I would leave it up to you to experience the difference.”

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