The opening this weekend of our store in Hathersage has been the culmination of 3 weeks hard work by a lot of very psyched people. It's not any old store, it is a big store, it is a prominent store, it is an audacious store, it’s that kind of store that inspired us when we set out. Boy is it going to take some getting used to.
Hathersage occupies a special place in our hearts. Back in our school days we would travel up to the Peak District from Cambridge for DofE, climbing and kayaking. Later, under our own steam, we would doss in the Froggatt Barn or camp out the summer at North Lees.
A visit into Hathersage would be part of every trip. A cup of tea and a slice of cake in Longlands Café would be an excuse to fondle new kit in Outside and there was always the chance of sighting Ron Fawcett ambling through the village, running through the plantation or even climbing… were his hands really as big as the legends said?
Last week we spent a lot of time with the new store crew. I threw together a Keynote presentation and waffled through a potted history of Alpkit. By slide 40 something I finally got to the section I had titled Website, paused a moment, and reflected on why as a company that had chosen the online route it had taken me so long to get this point. Admittedly I had lacked a bit of prep, the past few weeks had been at full gas, the birth of the store had been disruptive but had I really forgotten how central being online was to us?
Back in the 70's Brian Eno developed his Oblique Strategies cards. They were designed to intentionally disrupt and stimulate creativity in the working process. I am not sure how many of these strategies we can claim to have unknowingly followed over the past 3 weeks, but one of his cards suggested to 'Work at a Different Speed'. Perhaps what I had churned out in a couple of hours was actually more honest and real to us than if I had of planned and laboured over it.
You see, when we set out on our path we decided to be online, but, we never set out to be disassociated with the real world. We made sure we could be contacted, and just like Cheers we made sure everybody knew our names. Myself, Nick, Col and Jim would spend the morning answering the phones, replying to emails. We invented the name game - making up clues based on customers names. As we packed we would try and guess what they were. People we had never met all received an identity, if we didn’t know them we would just make it up. We packed the orders the same day we received them, making sure we got our products into the hands of our customers as quickly as possible, trying to break down the barrier mail order imposed on us.
We chose to go to shows and events around the country, and if you told us your first name, there was a good chance we could complete it. We would see a Filo in a pub, get chatting with its owner and we would have been able to list every product you had purchased!
Shows gave us the opportunity to showcase our range in a way the website couldn’t. We thrived on the opportunity to meet people, learn their stories and share ours. Online had put us in contact with people, it helped to bring us all closer together so that when we met we were not strangers.
Pretty much everything we have done is based around supporting the offline experience, infact it is so important to us that we just had to create our own festival - The Big Shakeout. Based in the Peak District, just a few miles from Hathersage, it has been our chance to look after our customers for a few days each year and revel in the shared experiences that makes us tick.
Looking at it through this lens having a permanent store, showcase or clubhouse whatever you want to call it, will not come as any surprise. A sense of place is so important to us, and this feels like a natural evolution. The insane drive and experience David has injected into the company is turning some of our more quietly ambitious dreams into reality. It is early days, but the support from our customers both visiting the store and online has been overwhelming.
This amazing building is now in our care, and it is our turn to put our twist on it, to build on the tradition that Outside has developed over many years. We are excited to be part of this small community, we have already made friends here (thanks for the cake guys) and we are going to do our very best to make the most of this opportunity.
If you've not had a chance yet then why not take a quick look andmeet the teamwho'll be greeting you?