When Christopher Groom graduated college, he ended up moving west to take a job at an outdoor store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. More specifically, he was looking to enjoy the outdoor sports that the mountain town had to offer.
“That opened my eyes to backpacking, to climbing and getting on the water,” Groom says. “I really developed a passion for the outdoors.”
That passion is evident in Mountain High Outfitters, the Birmingham-based store Groom opened in 1999, which has now grown to four locations across town and 10 total throughout the South (including in Tuscaloosa, Auburn and Huntsville, AL, Nashville, TN, and two in Atlanta, GA) with an 11th under construction and a 12th slated top open in late 2016.
The stores have succeeded by focusing on promoting an active lifestyle and helping both enthusiasts and first-timers enjoy the outdoors, no matter what their sport.
“We keep finding more ways that people are enjoying the outdoors,” Groom says. “Paddle boarding is off the charts these days. Yoga has become more mainstream as well.”
Mountain High Outfitters, which was named the 2012 Retailer of the year by the Alabama Retail Association (in the $5-million to $20-million category), continues to grow by building a community around dedicated outdoor athletes. Its bread-and-butter sports include backpacking, bouldering, camping, climbing, hiking, long boarding, snowsports, trail running, slack lining, stand-up paddle boarding, and yoga. Some locations also add biking and fly-fishing into the mix.
“It’s interesting, from a retail perspective, how the consumers have become more and more knowledgeable over the years,” Groom says. “They get to know their sport, and they are a lot more savvy than they were years ago.
“Sometimes, I think they know as much about the product as the sales staff,” he continues. “So you need to have [a staff] that really knows their stuff and can talk about the products. A lot of people come in know knowing what they want, but they just want to touch it and experience and talk to others who’ve used it.”
The store also has a focus on catering to newcomers as well. “Of course, there are also those who are new to the outdoors, and they’re looking for a different kind of guidance and education,” Groom says.
The outdoor retail industry has advanced quite a bit in the 17 years since Groom opened the the first MHO store. Products have become lighter, stronger, and more ergonomically designed. But perhaps the most surprising change for Groom is how the outdoor world has become such a part of everyday apparel.
“You might call it yoga wear, but it isn’t necessarily used for yoga,” Groom says. “Most of the apparel is now something that people wear for everyday use. It’s got fit and eye appeal. You can use it to dress up or dress down. Take it on the trail or wear it out for dinner.
Groom, who participated in adventure races in their heyday during the early 2000s, now focuses more on recreational time on the trail and water. He sees the next boom in another endurance sport: ultrarunning.
“Ultras are becoming the hot thing to do,” he says. “I’m involved in trail running, but I like the 12k to 15k races. … But you find so many more people tackling these really long runs. Stand-up paddle boarding and ultrarunning are the two activities are growing the fastest right now.”
Travel is another category drawing more people to the store. “Since the economy is back, people want to find more experiences, they want to do more,” Groom says. “The outlook on life is what you can do? What you can experience in life? What’s your next trip and next adventure? Those experiences are what’s becoming important to people.”
This content was produced for your enjoyment, thanks to a partnership among Mountain High Outfitters, OSM, Osprey Packs, Chaco, and RootsRated.