Think back to when you were 24 years old. You were old enough to know better but a novice in terms of life experience. You were confident based on what you had achieved but unsure of a future that would present its share of challenges.
In the early 1990s, Scott Murison and Kieran Andrews, both 24 years old, were working at an Ottawa camping goods store. Both, recalls Andrews, “really enjoyed” their work but also shared something else — a desire to strike out on their own and make a serious go of it.
On September 10, Wild Rock Outfitters on Charlotte Street in downtown Peterborough marked 30 years in business, and co-founders Murison and Andrews couldn’t have been happier as they mingled and reminisced with longtime — and very loyal — staff and customers, as well as the simply curious.
That celebratory event in the rear view mirror, Wild Rock Outfitters is now stepping into a new era with both Murison and Andrews reducing their ownership stake as general manager Tori Silvera and aerobic sports manager Jeff Faulds acquire majority ownership.
The transition, explains Murison, can be traced back five years to a staff brainstorming session that focused on Wild Rock’s future.
“I said, in 10 years, Kieran and I are going to be 60 years old, so we’ll no longer be shareholders,” recalls Murison, noting he then presented three options. “Either one of you or a number of you can buy the business, or we can find a buyer elsewhere, or we can sell it down to the ground. For us (him and Andrews), success would be someone on staff owning it. People will continue to retain their jobs and Wild Rock will continue to be part of the community.”
“Jeff and Tori are a great blend,” Murison affirms. “They have experience in the business and they know our staff; they respect the staff and the staff respect them.”
Andrews is equally excited over what the future promises.
“The breadth of experience, knowledge and intellect is better than it has ever been. Wild Rock will be much better five years from now than it was five years ago; better in terms of customer service, community engagement — everything.”
Whatever the future holds, one can rest assured both Murison and Andrews will bring to the table the same relentless drive and determination they displayed three decades ago when they settled on Peterborough being the home of Wild Rock Outfitters.
“We were looking for a community that had what we believed to be the perfect mix of opportunity and this is where we landed,” says Andrews, noting there was an opportunity to buy the Ottawa business they worked at but “a whole host of challenges” connected to that gave them “cold feet.”
Murison notes a number of Ontario communities — he mentions Cornwall and Hawkesbury as examples — fit their business model but, in the end, Peterborough checked all the boxes.
VIDEO: Wild Rock 30th Anniversary – How It All Began
“The math said it would work but it also worked from a lifestyle point of view,” Murison says, adding “There were plenty of other cities that also needed an outdoor store. They just weren’t as appealing to live in.”
So it was, with Canada in the midst of a recession, Wild Rock Outfitters opened at a location near Brock and George streets.
“Most who walked in our door for the first six or eight months, they didn’t believe that we had a hope of surviving,” recalls Andrews.
“That wasn’t a lack of faith in us. A lot of people who lived here didn’t believe in their community. There had been a lot of business failures, a lot of factory closures, and people were living with the fallout of that. People looked at us and said ‘You guys look great. I like what you’re doing. Too bad you’re probably not going to make it.'”
Located since 1998 in a sprawling 8,000-square-foot space at 169 Charlotte Street, Wild Rock Outfitters has indeed made it and then some with a loyal and growing customer that has come to rely on the store’s merchandise and staff’s advice in their pursuit of outdoor adventures.
In a downtown core that has seen businesses go as frequently as they come, Wild Rock Outfitters has been a constant. Even the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow business down. Quite the opposite, says Andrews.
“The number of new people coming into the outdoors sphere was phenomenal,” says Andrews, adding “It’s now up to us to do the right things to foster them so they don’t right back to their keyboard the first moment they can. Demand is one thing but, if you can’t fill it, it’s nothing but frustration and chasing your tail.”
Post-pandemic, Wild Rock hasn’t been immune to the supply chain issues been experienced across the country. Murison says that’s “better than what it was but it’s in no way fixed. The general feedback we’re getting from suppliers is it’s going to be late and you’re not going to get all of what you ordered.”
Chalk that up as just another challenge that Murison and Andrews have had to face and overcome.
When all is said and done, after all the stress and frustration of store ownership is met and dealt with, their friendship remains intact.
“We have similar morals and ethics, and our greed level is similar,” assesses Murison. “Neither of us wants to strip the business of all the cash and drive Porsches. That keeps the stress level within the business low.”
“We keep a healthy business going and we want similar things out of it. The negative thing of getting along so well is we have a relationship that’s also easy to ignore.”
Andrews adds it’s “so easy for us” to have to pay attention to the demands of the business.
“When we had our 30-year celebration, I pulled Scott aside and gave him a hug. I hadn’t said a word to him in two days. We were so busy doing all this stuff with our customers and our staff.”
Not lost on either of them is the loyalty of their staff, many of whom have been with them for years now. Camping/paddling department manager Jonathan Moreno, for example, has been on the job for close to three decades, and he is also part owner.
“We’ve had people older than us who have retired out of here,” notes Murison, adding “It’s a blessing, an amazing thing, to have a crew that has gotten to know each other and has each other’s backs.”
Now, as Andrews eases back from his store responsibilities with an eye on retirement in 2025, and Murison also begins the process of a similar transition, they’re both perfectly OK with that.
“If it was a sudden transition, like next week I’m no longer coming to Wild Rock and will never see it again, I would definitely miss it,” says Murison.
“The way we’re both retiring is we’re slowly going to have less and less responsibility. There won’t be that big clap and a sudden silence. ”
VIDEO: The Future Is Very Bright At Wild Rock Outfitters
In the meantime, there’s more time to reflect on the road they have travelled together.
“It is surprising that we’re still doing the same thing,” admits Murison.
“Many times, Kieran and I have come together, whether it’s over a beer or a glass of wine, and asked ‘Are you still interested in doing this for another five years?’ The answer has always been ‘Yes.’ The alternatives all seemed to be less than what we’re doing now, so why change?”
For all the water that has flowed under the bridge as that relates to starting a business from scratch, and growing and sustaining it over 30 years, one thing hasn’t changed, and won’t, according to Andrews.
“At the end of the day, the core of our business is good service — taking care of core customers. If we don’t honour that, and keep earning their support, this place won’t survive.”
Murison goes a step further.
“If it doesn’t help people get outside and enjoy the outdoors, then we probably shouldn’t be doing it.”
For more information about Wild Rock Outfitters, visit www.wildrock.net.