Wild Rock in Peterborough Celebrates 20 Years

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Wild Rock Outfitters in Peterborough is celebrating their 20th Anniversary this week. We had a chance to chat with owners Kieran Andrews and Scott Murison and look back on their accomplishments.

 Posters from Wild Rock's early years

Posters from Wild Rock's early years

Trail Swag: Tell us how things have changed over the last 20 years

Scott: In the past, the outdoors would have been considered a niche or fringe market. Anything to do with the outdoors would have been considered to be an 'extreme' sport. Even camping and hiking were really rugged and 'out there' kinds of concepts. Now, it has become more mainstream. We have more parks and they are more accessible, which means people are doing more day-trips.

When you think of someone being more 'active', you no longer think of them hanging by their fingernails off a cliff, but rather canoeing, kayaking, or being out on bikes with their family in a park. Wild Rock has followed that to some extent. If you want to go to Everest, we can get you there, which may have been the dreams of people 15 years ago. Presently, our customer dream of having a really great weekend or after-work experience. The thought of a few hours of mountain biking, or going for a trail run is what gets people through the day.

 Cover of the July 1997 issue of Business Advantage

Cover of the July 1997 issue of Business Advantage

Kieran: Neither one of us feel like we're 'done' yet. We both really enjoy the core of what we do. The changes in behaviours from our customers and staff, to the enormous consolidation in the industry. We used to deal with small independent businesses, but now everyone we do business with are large publicly traded companies. We've learned to navigate that and continue to change, it hasn't phased us. We're committed to this and proud what we do.

It started as a five year project. We were only 24 when we opened Wild Rock, and it wasn't a time when we were thinking of permanence. At that time we weren't thinking about what to do with the rest of our lives, we just borrowed what money we could to start the business. It was an amount that if our 'five year project' failed, we could go back to the lives we were living before and pay off that amount. As the end of that period came up, our first loans were paid off, the question came up, "What do we want now? What's next?". So we decided to extend our project by taking a 10 year mortgage for the building, which started the process all over again. Now in turn we're renovating it, so the threshold keeps getting pushed out. 

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Trail Swag: I really like how you nurture local clubs such as the Peterborough Cycling Club and the Peterborough Paddling Club.

Kieran: There are a couple of reasons for that. We tend to grow and support infrastructure in the community. If there is a really good strong cycling community in Peterborough, that's just a healthy thing but we don't feel we need to be running every one of those things. If someone doesn't like shopping in our store, they should still be able to ride with the cycling community... and the cycling community would be better for that. Wild Rock tries to support those clubs so that they are self-supporting and independent, which will be better for us in the long run.

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Scott: Outdoor Clubs attendance is up, such as in jackrabbit ski clubs. The Peterborough Cycling Club is the largest cycling club in Canada per Capita. Members are out numerous times a week.

Trail Swag: How much has retail changed for you over the years?

Scott: The industry has become a lot more competitive with the advent of the internet which allows you to shop from your armchair. Some people are much more price savvy, so we just have to learn how to meet that. (You can read further about this in our article Wild Rock: iPads, Price Matching and More...)

Trail Swag: What prompted the move from your original location to the present one?

Scott: Two things. First, our business was growing. Second, it was the first wave of corporations getting into the outdoor business. Hiker's Haven was bought by a Dutch company and they were going to open something like 37 stores across Canada. Craig's Coast Mountain was purchased in B.C. by  the Forzani group, and were going to open 75 across the country. We decided it was time to increase the size of our store to somewhat block that.

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Trail Swag: At one point you were considering moving to the vacant Peterborough Co-Op building on Lansdowne Street. In the end you decided to stay, share your reasoning.

Scott: It was a beautiful building and exactly what we would have wanted. Tonnes of space. From a business sense it would have done well, but not from a holistic sense. Our employees wouldn't have wanted to work there. I live downtown, I want to work downtown and I can ride my bike. In the end we decided to stay here.

Kieran: The only reason to even consider the move, was that the building was so fantastic. Without question we would have been more successful out there... but at the end of the day, that's not always the most important thing. The choice to work downtown, is as much about living downtown. Pretty much all of the staff ride their bikes or walk to work. It's pretty much something I believe in from a quality of life standpoint. I can go for a week at a time and never have to get in my car.

Trail Swag: So I see in turn you are starting to utilize more of the current building. Things such as the new sale room downstairs and the Canoe/Kayak/SUP building out back.

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Kieran: It's been an ongoing project. We've been working on the building to get more out of it pretty much since we moved in to it. From a sales standpoint, we're probably triple what we were at when we moved in. That is like a house you buy as a couple when you get married, but then you have four kids and you are still in the same two bedroom house [laughs]. Instead of changing homes, we keep changing the home to make it work for the family.  

Scott: We're proud of how the post and beam construction is coming along of the new addition which should be complete by Spring 2013. The building itself has been around since 1929 (it was once an A&P Grocery Store).