PTBOCanada Q&A With The Founders Of Wild Rock Celebrating 20 Years in Peterborough

Wild Rock Outfitters in Peterborough is celebrating their 20th Anniversary this week. We had a chance to chat with owners Kieran Andrews and Scott Murison to look at their past, present and future in town.

PTBOCanada: Tell us how things have changed over the last 20 years in business.

Scott: In the past, the outdoors would have been considered a niche or fringe market. Anything to do with the outdoors would have been considered to be an 'extreme' sport. Even camping and hiking were really rugged and 'out there' kinds of concepts. Now, it has become more mainstream. We have more parks and they are more accessible, which means people are doing more day trips.

When you think of someone being more 'active', you no longer think of them hanging by their fingernails off a cliff, but rather canoeing, kayaking, or being out on bikes with their family in a park. Wild Rock has followed that to some extent. If you want to go to Everest, we can get you there, which may have been the dreams of people 15 years ago. Presently, our customers dream of having a really great weekend or after-work experience. The thought of a few hours of mountain biking or going for a trail run is what gets people through the day.

Cover of the July 1997 issue of Business Advantage

Kieran: Neither one of us feel like we're 'done' yet. We both really enjoy the core of what we do. We used to deal with small independent businesses, but now everyone we do business with are large publicly traded companies. We've learned to navigate that and continue to change; it hasn't phased us. We're committed to this and proud what we do.

Wild Rock started as a five year project. We were only 24 when we opened Wild Rock, and it wasn't a time when we were thinking of permanence. At that time, we weren't thinking about what to do with the rest of our lives—we just borrowed what money we could to start the business. It was an amount that if our 'five year project' failed, we could go back to the lives we were living before and pay off that amount. As the end of that period came up, our first loans were paid off, and the question came up, 'What do we want now? What's next?' So we decided to extend our project by taking a 10 year mortgage for the building, which started the process all over again. Now in turn we're renovating it, so the threshold keeps getting pushed out. 

PTBOCanada: We really like how you nurture local clubs such as the Peterborough Cycling Club and the Peterborough Paddling Club. Tell us about that.

Kieran: There are a couple of reasons for that. We tend to grow and support infrastructure in the community. If there is a really good strong cycling community in Peterborough, that's just a healthy thing but we don't feel we need to be running every one of those things. If someone doesn't like shopping in our store, they should still be able to ride with the cycling community—and the cycling community would be better for that. Wild Rock tries to support those clubs so that they are self-supporting and independent, which will be better for us in the long run.

Scott: Outdoor Clubs attendance is up, such as in jackrabbit ski clubs. The Peterborough Cycling Club is the largest cycling club in Canada per capita. Members are out numerous times a week.

PTBOCanada: How much has retail changed for you over the years?

Scott: The industry has become a lot more competitive with the advent of the internet which allows you to shop from your armchair. Some people are much more price savvy, so we just have to learn how to meet that.

PTBOCanada: What prompted the move from your original location to the present one?

Scott: Two things. First, our business was growing. Second, it was the first wave of corporations getting into the outdoor business. Hiker's Haven was bought by a Dutch company and they were going to open something like 37 stores across Canada. Craig's Coast Mountain was purchased in B.C. by the Forzani group, and were going to open 75 across the country. We decided it was time to increase the size of our store to somewhat block that.

PTBOCanada: At one point recently, you were considering moving to the vacant Peterborough Co-Op building on Lansdowne Street. In the end, you decided to stay put. Why was that?

Scott: It was a beautiful building and exactly what we would have wanted. Tons of space. From a business sense it would have done well, but not from a holistic sense. Our employees wouldn't have wanted to work there. I live downtown, I want to work downtown and I can ride my bike. In the end, we decided to stay here.

Kieran: The only reason to even consider the move was that the building was so fantastic. Without question, we would have been more successful out there but at the end of the day, that's not always the most important thing. The choice to work downtown is as much about living downtown. Pretty much all of the staff ride their bikes or walk to work. It's pretty much something I believe in from a quality of life standpoint. I can go for a week at a time and never have to get in my car.


PTBOCanada: So we see you are starting to utilize more of the current building. Things such as the new sale room downstairs and the Canoe/Kayak/SUP building out back. Tell us about that.

Kieran: It's been an ongoing project. We've been working on the building to get more out of it pretty much since we moved in to it. From a sales standpoint, we're probably triple what we were at when we moved in. That is like a house you buy as a couple when you get married, but then you have four kids and you are still in the same two bedroom house [laughs]. Instead of changing homes, we keep changing the home to make it work for the family.  

Scott: We're proud of how the post and beam construction is coming along on the new addition, which should be complete by Spring 2013. The building itself has been around since 1929 (it was once an A&P Grocery Store).


Click here to view Wild Rock's website.

[Contributed by PtboCanada's Evan Holt]

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