Tom Valone founded Great Outdoor Provision Co. in 1972. Starting with 120-square feet in the back of a bicycle store in Carrboro, NC, the operation has thrived and expanded to seven locations in North Carolina, from Charlotte to Wilmington and two locations in Virginia, Charlottesville and Virginia Beach.
In 2013, Valone sold the company to four senior managers. Today, Chuck Millsaps, president, Travis Zarins, vp of merchandise, Molly Cherry, vp of retail support and Bill Mauney, vp of retail management are carrying Valone’s vision to new generations of outdoor enthusiasts.
"We’re very fortunate to have managers who have been with us for more than 20 years. With that DNA the customer is going to find a staff with a very enthusiastic spirit and desire to help,” says Chuck Millsaps, president, Great Outdoor Provision Co. “We want to make customers feel special and help them find the solutions.”
Millsaps and his team serve a multi-generational customer base. “The boomers were our customers when we opened in 1972 and as they aged they brought their families into shop with them. It was and still is important that we have a product mix that appeals to all those generations represented, “says Millsaps. “Today we see the boomers with more leisure time available and they are thriving in the new sport categories like kayak fishing, fly fishing and glamorous camping. The boomers have always had a purpose to their purchase and now they can direct it to local business that are connected to their community.”
College students and families also find what they need for their adventures. “We have a group of young highly educated group who share their world travel experiences to us. Those conversations inspire us,” says Millsaps.
Families can spend a Saturday morning pondering their gear wish lists. “A family of five will walk in the door. Dad goes to fly fishing section, mom to yoga, and the kids look at the Go Pros cameras. They all seem to find a place to land in,” says Millsaps. "We’re not a shop where people get dropped off to be picked up later."
The in-store experience is a critical strategy for building the loyalty of Charlottesville’s outdoor community. “Our customers require authenticity and keep us honest in telling our brand message. Our staff at the retail floor are the most important part of the equation as they are the evidence that we truly know and go outdoors,” says Millsaps. “The staff serve all of these generations in an excellent manner due to the fact that we are fortunate to hire staff that love the active outdoor lifestyle and enjoy serving others.”
Travis Zarins, vp of merchandise adds, “We are not just a gear store or an outdoor lifestyle store. We have product collections to meet almost every need.”
And, they have launched “Get Hiking” to invite new customers to participate in outdoor recreation. “We had a hunch that people wanted to get out and hike but didn’t necessarily know where to go,” says Travis Zarins, VP of merchandise. “We did offer some resources on our website but the missing piece was a formal scheduled hike that people know someone would meet them there, they were assured the route would be moderate and take a set amount of time. We provided that information and serve as a concierge for that experience."
Millsaps adds, “Our Get Hiking group is now comprised of nearly 4,000 folks across North Carolina and Virginia who join us for weekly hikes led by both volunteers and our staff. These day-hike adventures have been a great way to strengthen our relationships with customers and broaden their interest in equipment."
Giving back is fundamental to the store’s culture. Great Outdoor Provision Co. hosts a month long event in May to support the 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail. “We organize crews to work on that trail to help maintain and take care of these open places we love so much," Millsaps says.
Over the years, as Great Outdoor Provision Co. has grown, so has its commitment to the local community. Today Great Outdoor Provision Co. supports dozens of community organizations across the state through each of its storefronts.
“We are fortunate to be among inspirational people who love the outdoors like we do. They share our passion and give us a chance to remember why we do what we do,” Millsaps says. “Anything that is important is about people and places. The outdoor industry is just a great combination of both.”
This content was produced for your enjoyment, thanks to a partnership among OSM, Great Outdoor Provision Co, Osprey Packs, Chaco, and RootsRated.
Originally written for Outdoor Sports Marketing.