It all started when Spencer Carson’s friend called him up one night asking for a favor: Would he help her navigate their local outdoor store so she could find a properly fitting pack? Carson agreed but mentioned she might want to stop by his place to see if he had a pack that would work for her in his garage—she could use it for free. That night when they got together, Carson opened his garage, and 20 or so packs sat waiting. “This is better than going to a store—you’re your own store,” the friend said with a laugh.
The next year Carson, 29, decided to open Turntables & Trails. He insists that his curated collection of pre-owned hiking gear and vintage audio components is not a gimmick. “The two things connect because they both require you to break away from our normal daily lives,” he says. “In having a turntable and picking a piece from your collection and putting it on it, you have to actually be involved with your music. You’re tangibly touching something, then after 25 minutes, when that album ends, you’ve gotta go flip it. You are being intentional about what you’re doing. The outdoors is the same way—even if it’s just a hike for a couple of hours. It requires that forethought.”
Receivers, amplifiers, and speakers adorn one wall of the small shop, with sleeping bags, tents, and daypacks on the other. In the middle at child’s height are boxes of Legos, Pokémon cards, and board games. Carson’s goal was to make the shop a place families could enjoy. “In our current environment, people are searching for an experience, a connection, something tangible about their shopping experience. You create an opportunity where they think ‘Oh, we can go and the kids can dig through Legos, my son or daughter can have fun, and I can browse around and see the new backpacks and vinyl,’” Carson says.
Three years into the enterprise, Carson’s business is turning a profit, and he is focused on solving a major challenge that he sees in the industry: Finding a way to increase wages for employees doing outstanding work. At Turntables & Trails, the staff has to understand audio components, be able to fit gear on customers, and feel comfortable evaluating and making an offer on items people bring into the shop.
“It’s hard to pay your employees what they’re worth for the help they give,” he says. There is one major feature he would like to see more of in the retail sector: tipping. When Carson set up his Square payment processing system, he left the tipping feature on, just to see what would happen. “Customers have tipped like, 75, 100 dollars and that’s awesome to me—I give those straight to my employees if they were working that shift. As a small business, that can make a huge difference. For my employee who is getting paid 20 bucks an hour, if they get a 50-dollar tip that’s huge, and they deserve it.”
Communicating and collaborating with other local businesses and local music artists continues to be key to the success of Turntables & Trails. There’s another used gear outdoor retailer about half a mile away, and Carson refers customers looking for some- thing in particular to this other store all the time—it’s his way of ensuring the money stays in the community, and the other shop is quick to return the favor.
On certain nights Turntables & Trails transforms into a small music venue, giving budding performers a chance to cultivate a fan base, and inviting the community to learn more about what the store does during the day. Fifteen minutes before the start of one of those shows, a couple is thumbing through records, another customer inquires about a cherry red Bellari VP 130 phono preamp, and someone wants to know more about hiking’s 10 essentials. The sound of it all blending together is music to Carson’s ears.
This story first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Outdoor Retailer Magazine. You can read the entire magazine here.