Austin’s Backwoods

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Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2013, Backwoods is an outdoor gear and apparel retailer headquartered in Austin, TX. Backwoods offers clothing, equipment and expertise to help outdoor enthusiasts enjoy hiking, trekking, fishing, climbing, camping, trail running, kayaking, paddling, adventure trips and yoga. Backwoods also operates Backwoods Adventures. The sister company leads adventure travel excursions on six continents. In 2003, Jennifer Mull took over the company her father started in 1973 in Wichita, Kansas.

RootsRated: Celebrating 40 years in business, is the pace of change faster than ever?

 ** Mull:** The pace is faster than ever! Change is definitely not slow. And the changes involve virtually all facets of the business. Between the web marketplace, the fact that many vendors are becoming retailers, the proliferation of smart phones and easy access by all to information and products, social media, the economy of recent years, and the list goes on. There are many challenges and also opportunities that weren't there ever before.

RootsRated: Over Backwood’s 40-year history, the company served the Baby Boomer generation’s exploration of outdoor recreation. How has your audience evolved?

Mull: Inspiration to get outside comes from a different place than it may have been in the past. We’ve embraced a broader definition of what it means to be outdoors. It’s not only about going backpacking for a week in Colorado. We have to more inclusive in what outdoor recreation can be.

The audience is also defining itself differently to some degree. People are slack lining or doing urban adventure races or simply enjoying the outdoors in a park. These audiences are looking to outdoor retailers as a resource. That said, we have to reach out to them in a way that they appreciate, which is maybe a bit different from the way we have reached out to the core users traditionally.

One of the biggest things we hear from people is they don’t know how to get started. How do I learn to kayak or backpack? We provide an avenue to an activity to help people overcome that uncertainty.

 ** RootsRated:** Backwoods is a committed supporter of nonprofit organizations. Employees volunteer over 500 hours every year. Why is giving back important to you?

 ** Mull:** We give back in all the communities that we are in. Our stores work with local organizations and support what’s needed in the community. Our employees volunteer their time and experience to help organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

  Corporately we are involved with Explore Austin and Keep Austin Beautiful. Inspiring kids to get outside and championing environment issues are very important initiatives.

Through our Backwoods Adventure’s we also give back to communities in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and Nepal. That support might come in the form of gear or clothing donations. Every little bit helps. We’ve created some great relationships.

RootsRated: Mull serves as theBoard Chair of Outdoor Industry Association, a national group advocating for issues critical to the future of the outdoor industry. Mull has championed the organization’s efforts to strengthen it’s political voice. What are the most important challenges facing the outdoor industry?

Mull: Access is critical so that individuals can experience the outdoor recreation activities we promote.  We face obstacles to access to public lands and the lack of maintenance, and restricted funds available to support the infrastructure that does exist.

Support of our recreation infrastructure is critical or we will find ourselves without funding for a resource that is a major economic and job generator for this country.  The maintenance of parks simply must happen, as our protected lands are an important part of what America stands for. Bipartisan work to balance all the competing forces for funding is needed.

RootsRated : Managing Backwood’s nine locations, an adventure travel company and volunteering fill Jennifer Mulls days. But getting outside is still a priority.

Mull: In Austin, there are great resources for trail running, hiking and stand-up paddling. I enjoy all of those activities but I spend most of my time hiking and trekking. I love to travel.

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