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OUTDOOR MERCH: Springfield store Manager Andy Goessmann says the company caters to niche outdoor markets.
OUTDOOR MERCH: Springfield store Manager Andy Goessmann says the company caters to niche outdoor markets.

Business Spotlight: Midwest Mountain Vibe

Gearhead Outfitters Inc. asks the public to answer the call of the wild

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From a living room to the great outdoors – that’s the path of Gearhead Outfitters Inc.

After spending nine months in Breckenridge, Colorado, following graduation from Arkansas State University, Ted Herget knew he wanted to recreate that active lifestyle in another part of the county.

Instead of pursuing a career with his accounting degree, Herget launched Gearhead Outfitters in 1997 out of a friend’s living room as an online seller of products for climbers and cyclists. The first store opened in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a year later.

“It’s a mountain lifestyle attitude store. It’s inspired by what it feels like living in one of those mountain towns,” Herget says.

Starting as a one-man show, Gearhead now has 11 stores in four states – Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Louisiana – and nearly 100 employees. The most recent store opened this summer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

It’s now a multimillion-dollar retailer, reporting $13.5 million in 2017 sales.

“It’s been slow and methodical. I’ve operated from my hip pocket,” Herget says. “I’ve grown as the market has grown and that’s one reason it’s been slow but comfortable.” 

Gearhead entered Springfield in 2016, opening in 3,400 square feet in Battlefield Mall. Less than 3 miles from the Gearhead store is the granddaddy retailer of outdoors goods: Springfield-based Bass Pro Shops.

“Bass Pro is a titan in our industry,” Herget says of the $8 billion national retailer. “I hope our model complements those guys. Hopefully, we reciprocate and get people outside.”

Gearhead specializes in outdoor clothing, footwear and accessories for backpacking, rock climbing, camping and thru-hiking. A goal of Herget’s business model is to get as many people to experience the outdoors as possible.

“It’s becoming mainstream. I hope we’re part of the reason why,” he says, on the phone while catching a midmorning run in his hometown of Jonesboro. “What we want to do is get better when everyone is getting bigger.”

Herget says the company is shooting for $15 million in revenue this year.

“Bass Pro caters to such a wide variety of needs and they kind of have a broad overview of all the specific gear. We really cater to those niche markets more carefully,” says Andy Goessmann, manager of Gearhead’s Springfield store.

Brand connections
Walking the isles of the Battlefield Mall store, Patagonia, Birkenstock, Yeti and The North Face products line the walls in a spectrum of colors. Footwear, backpacks, clothing, hammocks and even portable water bowls for dogs are on Gearhead’s shelves.

Another Arkansas-based company, Fayettechill LLC, is among the suppliers for Gearhead.

“We’ve been carried in there for the majority of Gearhead’s history,” says Fayettechill founder and CEO Mo Elliott.

While the companies overlap in the retail space – Fayettechill has one store in Fayetteville and products in roughly 50 others – the founders consider it friendly competition.

“The better we do, the better they do,” Elliott says, adding the unified goal is greater awareness of outdoor activities in the Ozarks. “They’re one of our larger wholesale partners.”

Elliott started Fayettechill in 2009 while attending the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The unique name originated from a friend’s description of Elliott’s hometown.

Now, Fayettechill is one of Gearhead’s top five brands, Herget says, representing 5-10 percent of sales.

Gearhead’s Springfield store has a special policy: It’s dog-friendly.

“I give all the props to the former manager. He had a pup named Kona in here who is a little bit iconic,” Goessmann says. “People would come in to see said pup, so when I got into the role everyone was like, ‘You have to get a dog.’”

Goessmann’s dog Nala, along with assistant manager Jenna DePriest’s dogs Indiana and Trout, are often spotted sticking out from below a sales rack with playful smiles and wagging tails, maybe even a toy.

“The mall is really cool with it. There’s no policy against dogs being in store in the mall itself as long as they’re on a leash or a service animal,” Goessman said. “We totally support bringing your dog in.”

Community calling
Gearhead Gives, the charity arm of the company, is one way that Herget is able to give back to the community. Each year, Gearhead Gives donates around $75,000 to nonprofits.

“We get to outfit a lot of kids that are going on mission trips and doing really impactful things not just for the community but for the world,” Goessmann says.

The company also sponsors Project 90, an online 90-day running program to teach proper form.

In 2015, the first full-time Gearhead Outfitters scholarship was awarded at the College of Business at Arkansas State University.

“You want to build your community around the next generation,” Herget says. “Life is about modeling success.”

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