Mike Plante credits the summers he spent with this family on the road in a motorhome for his love of the outdoors.
“I snored a lot, so typically I was sleeping in a tent most nights. We all spent a lot of time sitting around campfires,” recalls Plante, the family member now managing Travel Country Outfitters in Alamonte Springs, FL. “And we were always reading guidebooks and going hiking and fishing. We were extremely lucky to get to do that together for a decade or so.”
Getting to tool around in a Winnebago was a nice perk of the Plante family’s motorhome dealership in the 1970s. Plante remembers washing the huge vehicles starting at the age of 12. In the early 1980s, the business became an outdoor retail-slash-Army Navy store. Still in its original location in downtown Alamonte Springs, Travel Country evolved into the watersports outfitter and outdoor apparel store it is today.
Travel Country is just one of several businesses his late parents, Don and Jane, ran. Starting in the 1940s, the family was involved in rendering animal byproducts. The Plantes are now looking to lease the ice manufacturing facility that supplies area grocery stores. The younger brother, Larry, oversees the family’s current agricultural holdings, which includes cattle and a palm tree farm.
It was the outdoor retail store that Don Plante trusted to Mike and his older brother Steve. “He gave us three years to make a profit. We managed to break even for the next 15 years,” Mike said. “It was Dad who was always out there talking to people about camping knives and freeze-dried food and giving stuff away.”
Mike, who is in the downtown store and nearby warehouse/outlet day to day, calls himself the managing partner. His older brother, Steve, is the CFO. Sister Susan does marketing and web work for Travel Country remotely.
“Now we have to pay the likes of Amazon a commission on every sale. It eats through your profit margins. It’s hard for small businesses like ours to be in that space,” he said. “This business used to be easier. We could lock in with vendors, help build brand loyalty, cultivate relationships. But the business moves so quickly now. It’s all about increasing online sales. It used to be simpler. There was time to guide trips."
So now, the focus is on serving the local community, and Plante's plan is to get Travel Country back to doing more community building. One of the ways they are doing this is by hosting biweekly, staff-run, stand-up paddleboard demos just 10 minutes away from the store on motor-free Secret Lake in Casselberry.
In addition to the local demos, Plante has also partnered with Locally.com, which he said was the right move. Locally directs users to businesses in their area that stock the outdoor gear they seek. This collective approach gives smaller, family-owned retailers a better chance to compete.
“Doing business without showing the passion behind it is just not healthy,” Plante said. “To have a local presence is what’s most important. The local community is who we’re here to serve."
This content was produced for your enjoyment, thanks to a partnership among Travel Country, OSM, Osprey Packs, Chaco, and RootsRated.
Originally written for Outdoor Sports Marketing.