SHERIDAN — The trend of online shopping running physical storefronts out of business continues to loom over small towns. For stores carrying outdoor equipment, Wyoming’s drastically diverse four seasons also contribute to the success and failure of those niche businesses.
Lucas Todd and Ron Lee both manage sporting goods stores in the region. Todd co-owns and manages The Sports Lure in Buffalo, and Lee manages Rocky Mountain Discount Sports in Sheridan. The two businesses, although focused on outdoor retail items, see similar struggles to other small-town storefronts being pushed aside by big-box retailers. Cabelas opened stores in Billings, Montana, and Rapid City, South Dakota, within the last 10 years, and Sportsman’s Warehouse expanded into Gillette and Sheridan this year. Each new retailer splits the customer base even more.
“Any time they add a new business into a smaller town that sells like items, you’re giving up some of your pie,” Lee said.
Stores like Sportsman’s Warehouse, which claim to match the lowest prices in Wyoming, cater to the younger demographic of shoppers.
“It’s gone from loyalty-based local shoppers to the price-conscious younger generation,” Lee said. “We’ve got to be super price conscious. (The younger generation) is looking for price over service.”
Lee said shoppers 50 years old and older will come into the store for advice and generally leave with a product. The younger generation, though, will come into the store for advice and leave the store empty-handed just to purchase the product online for a cheaper price.
“You’re not as (much) competing locally or regionally; you’re competing worldwide, and that can be a challenge,” Todd said.
Both Todd and Lee said customer service is a main focus. With that comes relationships spanning generations.
“I think our relationships and knowing the area and knowing our customers makes it a little easier,” Todd said.
Todd said a lot of their Sheridan-specific customer base raised kids on the ski-training program the store provides, creating generations of family ties.
“It’s fun to watch them grow up,” Todd said. “And you develop a relationship by just being part of the community.”
The proximity of the Bighorn Mountains alleviates some pressure and provides new opportunities.
“The Bighorn Mountains are the first major mountain range coming from the east on I-90,” Todd said. “(People traveling) get here, they need the stuff and they need it to go to the mountains and do stuff and they forgot it. They don’t have time to wait for Amazon, so they can buy it right here, and that’s a benefit.”
The final and most integral element affecting outdoor-specific retailers in the area are Wyoming’s unpredictable seasons.
Both stores offer four-season outdoor options, giving them business throughout the year.
“You can come in here and get a baseball mitt, a fly rod, a sleeping bag and your bike or skis worked on here,” Todd said. “We’re not too specialized, and I think that’s actually to our benefit.
“I think that’s one of the challenges if you’re a specialty shop…is that we’re really dependent on weather for recreation and if it doesn’t go your way it could be very difficult,” he added.
Regional small-town outdoor retailers are faced with myriad contenders for business.
Despite the challenges, the long-standing businesses have found that diversifying their inventory and including items for all four seasons proves effective as a sustainable business model, at least in Sheridan.