Gear Up For Outdoors finds success in digital wilderness
“If I did not have a website, I would've started off the pandemic in a negative place.”
Thunder Bay’s Gear Up For Outdoors may have spent the past 35 years helping adventure seekers find the clothing and equipment they need to go off-grid but it is very much a digital success story.
“About 20 years ago, one of my employees said we should go online,” says Jon Wynn, who co-founded the outdoor clothing and equipment store with his wife Sandra in 1987. The Internet was new enough that there weren’t many resources for setting up an online store. “I got in touch with a guy from the university and we set up a website… I remember doing the whole thing with cut and paste and scanned images.”
E-commerce had barely gained momentum. eBay and Amazon had only started a few years earlier. Wynn had recently brought in a couple of premium outdoor jackets from an as-of-yet-unknown outerwear company called Canada Goose.
“We couldn’t sell them… they were around $1,000 even back then,” he says. “I said, I gotta get rid of ’em, so I put them on our website – within a day or two they were gone.”
He started bringing in more and more Canada Goose, growing the business until he was selling over $1 million worth of the jackets online to Europe. He grew his staff to 25 people to meet the demands. “We were their biggest online dealer.” Eventually, the business was forced to stop selling in Europe but it ignited Wynn’s interest in the power of digital presence and e-commerce and it’s been a priority for his business ever since. “We were one of the pioneers in the online business.”
However, that presence proved even more critical during the pandemic. A year and a half prior, Wynn had invested around $80,000 to redesign Gear Up For Outdoors’ digital infrastructure, overhauling its servers and network and setting the business up on Shopify. He remembers Black Friday 2019 feeling like the first real test. Wynn was underwhelmed. “But six months later, who would’ve guessed,” says Wynn. “The pandemic was the biggest time in the history of our company… if you hadn't jumped on (digital presence) early enough, I think, you were playing catch up.”
But part of that inclination towards digital is finding other ways to innovate beyond just having an online presence. Wynn saw an opportunity to experiment when he heard about Digital Main Street, a program combining grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario alongside partners to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future. “It was a great avenue to test and try out ideas.”
Using the $2,500 funding from Digital Main Street, Wynn was able to pay to be a part of Tree-Planter.com, which ultimately lead to a spike in orders for tree-planting equipment.
“We utilized the grant for some search engine optimization and Google AdWords which I don’t really do a lot of,” says Wynn. “I will definitely continue putting some more dollars into Google AdWords and some of the campaigns there.”
For Gear Up For Outdoors, digital presence has never been an overnight play. It’s a slow deliberate process, one that’s required a lot of experimenting. Wynn says it’s in his adventurous nature. But the grant has certainly expedited his inclination to experiment. “It gave us the ability to try something different.”
Looking to adventure with quality gear? Visit Gear Up For Outdoors site here.
To learn more about the Digital Transformation Grant, and how it can help your business visit here.
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Meta, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Lightspeed, Ebay and Canada Post.
Continued investment from the Province of Ontario, through the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT) has allowed the ongoing expansion the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital across Ontario.