Customers Benefit from V.P. Bill Mauney’s Lifetime of Hands-On ‘Research’
For the next little while, we’ll be profiling the folks who are the backbone of Great Outdoor Provision Co. Though their roles may differ — from outfitting you for adventure, to managing stores, to determining the gear we carry — they share one uniting trait: a love of outdoor adventure. Today: Bill Mauney, Great Outdoor Provision Co.’s Vice President of Retail Management and one of the company’s four-member owner management team.
As Bill Mauney describes it, “I was born at an early age, but quickly found out I loved being on the water, on top of it or underneath it.”
Growing up in Charlotte, that meant spending considerable time at nearby Lake Wylie, taking family vacations at the coast and at summer camp at Camp Sea Gull. By the time he graduated from Myers Park High School, he was proficient in handling canoes and sailboats as well as motorboats. He also learned to fly an airplane.
Not surprisingly, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy, where, among other things, he raced sailboats up to 65 feet in length and expanded his boat and ship handling skills. He also became a certified scuba diver.
“The biggest takeaway from my experience as a Midshipman was my immersion in a 24/7 leadership laboratory,” Bill says. “Before you can lead you have to learn to follow. USNA had a huge impact on me.”
He went on to matriculate at Outward Bound, where he got into backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, search and rescue, and wilderness canoeing. He earned a master of science degree from Mankato State College (now Minnesota State University) in Experiential Education, spent some time in the Marines, with the help of others founded and directed the VENTURE experiential education program at UNC-Charlotte with emphasis on backpacking and rock climbing, got married.
After working in private industry for six years, then developing and directing the experiential education program at a private school in Charlotte, he came to Great Outdoor Provision Co. in 1985. which is where we pick up our interview.
Q. How did you get started with Great Outdoor more than 30 years ago? Which store did you start at?
I started as an assistant manager in Charlotte in 1985. While the new shop at Park Road Shopping Center was being up-fitted I ran the Independence Boulevard shop mostly by myself.
Q. By yourself? What was that like?
I would lock the door and post a note “Back in ___minutes” when I needed to use the bathroom or go down the street to pick up lunch. My boss, Paul Marx, taught me much about how to deliver excellent retail and gave me more and more responsibilities for the day-to-day operations of our new shop. A year later, he left and I was promoted to shop Manager.
Q. How did your early years at Great Outdoor affect your adventure life?
I became immersed in all things paddlesports, with my specialty being sea kayaking. Several years later I was certified as a Sea Kayak instructor with the American Canoe Association, one of just a handful of certified instructors nationwide at the time. I enjoyed teaching skills and knowledge to both staff and customers, both on the water and in the shop. A sea kayak navigation clinic became a staple customer offering.
Q. You’ve been at Great Outdoor now for 31 years. What is it you like about retail?
I love building relationships with both customers and staff, and talking about the gear and outdoor pursuits we both love. Helping a customer discover a new outdoor passion and equipping them to enjoy it has always brought me great satisfaction. This holds true when I help a staff person be able to do the same with our customers. At the end of the day, for me, retailing is all about people, both customers and staff. If I can somehow touch their lives and make them better, it is a good day.
Q. How did you become Vice President of Retail Management?
Over the years Tom Valone, the founder of GOPC, invested in, and mentored, me in executing good specialty retail and customer service. Then he began delegating to me more and more responsibilities with all of the shops. In 2006 he appointed three Vice Presidents with different oversight responsibilities. Mine was VP of Retail Management, overseeing the individual shop Managers and their retail operations.
Q. Tell us what the Vice President of Retail Management does.
My job is to work for the managers, making them successful. I provide management and leadership tools, coaching, and resources to help them invest in and nurture our human capital … the folks who create the customer experience on the front lines. My background in the military, my experiences in outdoor education and in the business world have been invaluable in preparing me for this role.
Q. In your 31 years, what are the most significant changes you’ve seen with Great Outdoor?
In my time with Great Outdoor Provision Co., I have seen us grow from a handful of shops to nine shops in two states. Our principles and values have remained the same as we morphed from a hardgoods only shop to an outdoor lifestyle shop. We still carry a great selection of hardgoods, but over the years have expanded into both front country and back country offerings to meet the needs of our customers.
Q. And within the industry in general?
It used to be a small band of outdoor enthusiasts who decided to make their own gear in the USA and distribute it to specialty outdoor retail shops. Many of these “manufacturers” personally built gear in their basement, garage or a small shop. These companies have been sold over the years becoming large corporations with manufacturing outsourced overseas. This is a long way from their roots and it definitely has a different vibe.
Q. How do you spend your free time?
My wife and I have three children and seven grandchildren. We enjoy time spent with each other and with our extended family. I continue my outdoor pursuits — sea kayaking, boating and serving in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Q. The Navy, the Marines — you even dabbled in the Army at a military college before entering Annapolis. You’ve been in private industry, secondary and higher education, and then 31 years here. Is there anything you haven’t done?
Somehow I missed the Air Force. Maybe I need to look into that.