Anyone who has been involved in small scale retail knows how hard it is to get a new business going. In the realm of outdoor gear, there is the move to online buying and the threat posed by the large chains, who can sell goods at greatly reduced prices, and who have deep pockets for sourcing stock. Being in a small town adds to the challenge of making a new business economically viable.
Tom’s Outdoors is a recent venture, based in Tumut, in the western foothills of the Snowy Mountains.
It was set up by Chris Russell, who describes his connection with the town and the outdoors:
“I’m 32, with a young family. I wasn’t born in Tumut but have been here on and off for 16 years. I spent 3 years in outdoors retail in the Lake District in the UK. I was lucky enough to do a lot of hiking, climbing, and camping in both the Lake’s, Scotland and a bit of Europe. I had been lucky enough to be involved in a successful family hospitality business for the last few year previous to opening my store, which gave me enough equity in my house to start my own business. My primary goal was to start a city style quality outdoors store in Tumut (effectively servicing the western side of the Snowy’s)”.
Finding a niche
The result is Tom’s Outdoors. Being located in a fairly remote town with a small population, Chris came up with the plan to broaden its support base by developing an online component of the business:
“I believed that combined with developing an online business that we could generate enough sales to survive (so far that seems to be the case)”.
One of Chris’ strategies was to stock some high quality and hard to find brands:
“I have started to specialise my business towards some of the more unusual and harder to find brands/ products. With that in mind I have taken a risk by importing Helsport Tents into Australia (I first discovered their tents 10years ago in the UK). Their tents are brilliantly made and their products have a good synergy with use in the Snowy’s and Tasmania. Being an old family owned Norwegian company, their business ethics are great and they have been a pleasure to work with. The only downside to their products is that they are little known throughout the English language markets, being a small company they have never pushed for massive growth and profit. I believe that they will be a great addition to the Australian market. I previously used Hilleberg tents and the Helsport are just as good, some of their little features and details are better. I’d like to continue to grow my business in the direction of specialising in the brands and products that I use and believe in”.
Chris says that community is important, as is the need to actually get out in the surrounding environment:
“One thing that I want to do with my business is be authentic about who were are and what we do. I love living in Tumut and it offers so much for me on a regular basis. I’m secretary of the local canoe club and we kayak the river every wednesday during summer. I ride a mountain bike on a tuesday night on our local trails. I camp in the mountains whenever I can and I’m not going to stop just because I have a shop. I want to continue to be authentic about who we are”.
Anyone who appreciates the outdoors knows the value of locally-owned stores. They’re profoundly different to chain stores. Wilderness Sports, run by Bruce Easton, in Jindabyne is a classic example of this type of shop. Their local nature, commitment to the local community, and knowledge of the surrounding terrain make them valuable parts of the community.
“I wanted to start my business in Tumut because I believe that attracting successful business to small country towns is going to be one of the big challenges facing regional Australia in coming years. I don’t want to earn a fortune. I’d like to be in my business for the next 30 years and leave a legacy of local employment, activism and support for local causes, I’d like be a valued member of our community”.
“I am lucky enough to have an option to purchase the building that I am currently leasing. I want to make it a showcase for the brands that I stock, a destination store.
I would love to power the store entirely by solar (off the grid if possible) and work heavily on our eco certification as a business”.
Please drop in next time you’re heading through Tumut, and check their website for details on the Helsport tents. Support your locally owned store!
52 Fitzroy St, Tumut, NSW 2720
02 6947 4062