There aren’t many outdoor brands built quite like Teton Gravity Research. The action sports business based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming offers an apparel and gear line, runs a handful of branded retail stores, and consistently puts out award-winning films.
In fact, in October, the TGR film “Flying High Again” won the snowboard film of the year at the iF3 Movie Awards.
This summer, TGR also opened two new stores, one in Park City, Utah, and one on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado, offering apparel and optics as well as a theater to screen the company’s films. That makes five TGR stores total. Counting its retail locations, the company employs about 100 people.
“Our vision for these stores is to have TGR experiences,” said co-founder Steve Jones. “You walk into one of these stores and all of a sudden, you’re in the brand.”
That’s why TGR has continued to slowly open more stores.
“Because there’s no substitute for what you can do for your brand impression and growth with the stores,” Steve said. “We’re grabbing existing customers, new customers, people who have never heard of TGR. It’s been a really positive growth initiative for us.”
The Daily spoke with Jones about the unusual shape of the business, why it’s pushing to open more branded retail, and the overall state of the company.
The Early Vision for TGR
When brothers Steve and Todd Jones founded Teton Gravity Research in 1996 along with friends Dirk Collins, Rick Armstrong, and Corey Gavitt the plan was simple: Figure out a way to make a living in the mountain lifestyle.
They etched out their version of a business plan, which was, “We want to become the preeminent action sports, adventure lifestyle brand in the world,” Steve said.
What Nike was to mainstream sports, they wanted TGR to be to action sports.
“We wanted to create this brand that had a logo that when you put it on your chest it really meant something,” Steve said. They hoped the brand would signify that this is a person who loves adventure, the outdoors, is a little bit irreverent, and wants to live on the edge and take risks.
The first prong of the strategy was to build a global audience through films and content, which included a website.
To fund the first films, the TGR team took jobs on commercial fishing crews. The merchandise, including the apparel and gear, was “very peripheral” for a number of years, Steve said. But even then TGR was producing apparel, including hats, hoodies, beanies, and underlayers that would show up in the early films.
“We always had the vision to build the audience then monetize the brand through these products that were representative of this lifestyle and this culture,” he added.
For the first 15 years or so, the media component of the company accounted for about 80% of revenue, Steve said. “It was a somewhat uncomfortable place to be because a lot of that was sponsorship and partnership dollars that you would have to renew every year. It might not be a recurring revenue stream.”
TGR has focused its efforts on evening out the revenue mix among events, merchandise, and media, and now “it’s a pretty nice, even-looking pie chart,” he said.
Today, TGR has five main retail locations, in Jackson Hole, Park City, and Boulder, along with Bozeman, Montana and Breckenridge, Colorado. They’re all in towns that see significant amounts of tourism, all with apparel and gear for sale, and all with a theater in the back.
Steve said there aren’t any plans to open more in the near future.
“We’re constantly on the lookout, but I don’t think we have anything else on the horizon until next summer,” he said.
The retail initiative has been going well enough that if the right location becomes available, TGR will be interested.
They almost landed a location in Lake Tahoe, California, but it came up at the same time as the Boulder and Park City stores.
“We are still a pretty small, lean and mean company, and we can get ahead of ourselves in terms of bandwidth,” Steve said. “Those two took enough resources.”
They passed on the Tahoe opportunity, but that’s one location they would like for future expansion.
Brand Awareness Boost
For Steve, the goal has always been to go beyond a one-dimensional T-shirt shop, which is why they feature their media in their brick-and-mortar locations.
“As soon as we opened up that first one in Jackson, we realized the brand awareness it could create,” Steve said. “That interaction with our customer was such a higher level of engagement than somebody just seeing a piece of digital content.”
TGR brings the brand to life through events with athletes and featuring music like the band Portugal the Man, which played at the new Boulder location. Steve said the flatscreens in the stores are constantly playing bike, surf, and snow content.
“It’s a way to give somebody a much more intimate glimpse in the brand,” he added. “A deeper level of engagement and just an immersion into this thing.”
The location of the TGR store in Jackson is on one of Wyoming’s busiest corners, and with that amount of foot traffic walking by “they get sucked in,” when they see the TVs playing the TGR films, Steve said.
TGR Films Also Drive Traffic
Opening retail stores in a location with a robust outdoor audience drives sales of TGR products both in-person and online. TGR also sees a boost in e-commerce business from the locations where its films are showing.
This summer and into the fall, TGR was on a film tour, with almost 200 film showings of “Flying High Again” across the country.
“When we can bring a live event to a community and everybody comes out the e-commerce spikes and that becomes a more robust and consistent audience,” Steve said.
Limited Wholesale Presence
As of now, TGR has a small wholesale presence, and only sells its branded products to a handful of accounts, including specialty outdoor retailer Habitat in Driggs, Idaho.
Steve said the margins get much thinner when TGR sells its products wholesale.
“If we can go direct-to-consumer at full price, that’s where our margin is,” he added. “Other, bigger brands are selling at such high quantities that they have more room for margin to do wholesale.”
TGR is open to wholesale if it’s a cool shop that’s part of the community and there’s some margin to be made. “But it has not yet been a big initiative of ours,” Steve said.
Post-COVID Business Picture
During the booming COVID years, TGR took advantage of the extra revenue to open the stores in Breckenridge and Bozeman.
It also launched its streaming platform, TGR TV, which offers some free content as well as premium content behind a paywall. A membership also gives customers added perks like discounted film tickets, free shipping, and unreleased exclusive content. More than 35,000 people have downloaded the app so far, he added.
“Imagine 25-plus years of content and getting that all together,” Steve said.
Today, TGR is a growing business and hasn’t been hit with some of the market challenges of larger companies, Steve said.
“We’re a small company. We’re leaner. We don’t sit on a ton of inventory,” he added.
The company recognized that the extraordinary growth years during the pandemic were a bubble and pumped the brakes on over-forecasting based on those numbers, according to Steve.
But a lot of bigger companies in the outdoor industry forecast to finish this year flat and will end up below that, he said. Compared to those businesses, TGR is sitting comfortably.
“We’re not growing as explosively as we’d like,” Steve said. “But we feel like we’re in a pretty good place.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.