There’s apparel specifically designed for outdoor activities that will hold up to the weather, elements, and rigorous paces an outdoor enthusiast puts it through. Then there’s apparel that looks outdoorsy and might even be made by a true outdoor brand but really shouldn’t be worn for any strenuous activities.
Michigan outdoor specialty retailer Bill and Paul’s Sporthaus and sister store Beyond split that difference.
The Sporthaus in Grand Rapids, which is about 10,000 square feet, stocks the technical outdoor apparel, gear, and equipment, and Beyond in Ada, a suburb, carries many of the same brands but few of their technical offerings.
Beyond, at about 4,000 square feet of space, also carries a roster of brands that are outdoorsy but don’t have the same technical qualities as more serious outdoor brands.
Bill Pearson and Paul Plasmann founded the Sporthaus in 1961, and the Pearson family ran the business until 2016. It was sold to Dan and Pamela DeVos and brought into their collection of businesses, DP Fox.
The company decided to open Beyond in 2020, squarely in the middle of the pandemic.
The Daily spoke with Jon Holmes, director of marketing and e-commerce for the business, about the decision to create the sister store, what brands are selling, and the overall business picture.
Holmes said they had been kicking around the concept of opening the second shop for a while. The Beyond store arose out of seeing consumers who were fans of technical brands waiting to buy their lifestyle offerings until they went on sale.
“We felt like they were only taking their money and buying the technical clothing, whether it was for skiing or hiking or whatever,” Holmes said. “So we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to have what you might think of as a boutique store that could carry the high-end lifestyle side of some of these brands.’”
One of Bill and Paul’s buyers with an eye for that style of clothing stepped up and “has been super successful at finding niche brands,” Holmes said. The assortment includes several Scandinavian brands that are “relatively expensive.”
The store’s tagline is outdoor-inspired and leisure-focused.
“The brands truly feel good and look good if you’re walking down the street or taking your dog for a walk, but they’re not an outdoor brand,” Holmes said. “If they were just an outdoor brand, they’d lose their market.”
On the women’s side, other brands include Henriette Steffensen, Indyeva, Maloja, and Skea.
The store also carries footwear, children, travel, and pet lines as well as an accessories mix.
Despite the Sporthaus focusing more on technical equipment and apparel, top sellers are sold in both stores.
For example, they sell “a ton” of Patagonia’s Nano Puff jackets in each location, Holmes said.
But they won’t be selling a ski shell or a wind-stopping GORE-TEX-lined pant at Beyond.
Another benefit from the Beyond store is using it as a testing lab. For example, when Birkenstocks started selling well in that store, the Sporthaus decided to add them to the product mix.
“It’s given us some courage to do some things differently,” Holmes said.
The other nice thing about having both stores is people can make exchanges and returns and buy gift cards at either shop.
Michigan is going through a tough spell with a warmer-than-ideal winter – at least until recently – and many ski resorts are struggling to make enough snow.
Despite that, men’s skis and snowboard sales at the Sporthaus have been about average, according to Holmes. Sales of women and kids’ equipment have been slightly down, he said. They’re also not selling much Nordic equipment or heavy winter apparel because of the lack of early snow and cold weather.
One standout brand has been Norwegian brand Norrona. According to Holmes, the stores have been an early adopter in their market.
“There’s been a lot of interest in that. People have heard of it,” he said. “They’ve seen the logo, and now they found a retailer that carries it.”
Holmes said Norrona is attracting the Arc’teryx customer who is searching for the next hot brand that offers premium performance.
“They’re the early adopters who don’t want to look like everyone else,” he added. “They want a brand that nobody else is wearing, but they also expect performance.”
Picture Organic’s more youthful design has also stood out to consumers, according to Holmes.
“It looks different, but it performs well,” he said.
Among ski brands, Elan’s Ripstick and Atomic’s Bent Chetler are both highlights this season.
Down Year on Weather Woes
Holmes said the business expected to end the year about even with 2022, which was a “very good year,” but “December just sucked the wind out of the sails.”
The lack of snow and cold weather kept people from spending until “it was absolutely necessary,” according to Holmes.
They’ve started the midwinter marketing push to put items on sale. “Our margins will probably be a little bit lower in those categories for the year,” Holmes said.
But the business is year-round, with paddlesports, outdoor camping, hiking, and more categories to help get them through the year.
In fact, apparel sales have been carrying the business for the past year or so, Holmes said.
With all the ups and downs through the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to compare the current financial picture to a “normal” year is difficult, according to Holmes.
“I don’t even know what normal will look like when it becomes normal again,” he said. “But I don’t feel that we are there at all. The crystal ball is definitely cloudy.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.