By Darren Bush

I know for sure that retail will change, as it always has. In box stores, everything is a commodity and inventories are based on what sells the best. Box stores don’t take risks on items that are new, cool, and somewhat risky to stock because the compensation is based on what turns, not on what might delight the customer. Because we’re smaller we can purchase things that don’t fit in the box mold. We import a reflector oven from Sweden that our customers love—but the big guys won’t buy them because they don’t sell thousands a year.

We also focus on customer experience, running classes and programs that the lawyers won’t let the box stores do. Sure, they’re risky, but with best practices and an insistence on quality, we manage the risk and we offer an experience to the customer they can’t get anywhere else. Hopefully it leads to sales for us, but that’s a secondary consideration.

There’s a line drawn in the sand. You can’t be a specialty store without being special. Locally owned is awesome and people respond to it if your level of service is excellent. But if “we’re local” is your only selling proposition, you’re already out of business—you just don’t know it yet. – Darren Bush is the owner of Rutabaga, a paddling shop in Madison, Wisc. As told to Conor Mihell.

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As peak demand for permitted river trips continues to grow, more boaters will get wise to shoulder seasons.


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Your Paddling Future

How Technology, demographics and shifting climate will change the way you paddle


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Oceans of Whitewater

Climate change will continue to shrink snowpack, resulting in shorter and less predictable whitewater seasons. Whitewater paddlers will migrate to ocean surf and rock gardens.