Three summers ago, a member of our staff was paddling with his family in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He was helping his mother-in-law on the dock and happened to notice her shoes. It was a shoe he wasn’t familiar with, a Swiss brand called On, and although it was more of a lifestyle shoe, as was On’s bent at the time, it also seemed well-suited for light boat duty. About the same time, On, which was founded in 2010, was launching a line of hiking and trail running footwear, an innovative marriage of On’s fashion-conscious shoes with trail performance.

Early last year, while On was still an unknown in most hiking and trail running circles, Scott Wood, technical footwear buyer for Great Outdoor Provision Co. picked up the brand. In November, the New York Times reported that On was bucking a downward trend in sales of performance footwear: at least one analyst cited the specialness of the brand, saying people “increasingly want unique brands that others don’t have.”

“I think one of the things that makes us different is that we are always on the lookout for innovation, and sometimes,” says Scott, “that means looking for gear from newer, hungrier brands.”

It’s also what helped Great Outdoor Provision Co. become a finalist for this year’s Innovation Award at January’s Winter Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver. Finalists were recognized based on several criteria, including innovation and functionality, environmental and cultural impact, meeting needs, innovation and functionality. The Winter and Summer Outdoor Retailer shows are the showcase for new gear coming to market.

Lighting a candle for innovation

Innovation Award
Robin Hannon doing some field testing in the Tetons.

“I think part of what we were recognized for is that in this modern retail world of online sales, we still provide that personal, one-on-one experience, where you come into the store and talk to someone who actually uses the product and can tell you how it works,” says Robin Hannon, managers at the Cameron Village shop. “We’re like the people in period clothing at the Village of Yesteryear at the State Fair, like the candlemaker: ‘Come into my shop and see how it’s done.’

“We’re old-fashioned enough to where we’re cool again. Like the Flintstones.” (Apt comparison: Great Outdoor Provision Co.was among the first to offer the minimalist Bedrock Sandals a couple years ago.)

Selling gear is only half the job at Great Outdoor. Once you have the gear, what do you do with it?

“We’re also good at helping the customer engage, to get involved,” says Robin. “If you’re interested in fly fishing, for instance, we’ve got introduction to fly-fishing classes, or we have fly-tying classes. If you buy hiking gear and want someone to hike with, we’ve got our GetHiking! programs, with hikes going out every weekend. We’ve got our boat demos, where you can come out and try any number of kayaks or canoes.”

A personal touch from knowledgeable personnel

And, of course, there’s the staff. “We’ve got knowledgeable people, not just about the gear itself, but where you can use it and how to use it.”

That expertise comes in handy, too, when a new piece of innovative gear appears on our shelves. People aren’t familiar with it. They wonder: Does it work?

A reasonable question for innovative, cutting-edge equipment. Such as:

  • On shoes, with their pronounced shock-absorbing nubs.
  • Grayl Geopress water filter, which protects from global waterborne pathogens (virus, bacteria, protozoan cysts), pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals, and even microplastics.
  • Soto WindMaster Stove, with its exceptional fuel-efficiency.
Innovation Award
The Grayl Geopress offers greater protection from dubious water sources.

“Being in business for going on 48 years now,” Robin says, “we’ve developed a history of trust with our customers.”

And a history of support.

For instance, longtime customer John Wade of Raleigh recently climbed Volcan Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s highest peak at 18,491 feet, on behalf of the Navy Seal Legacy Foundation, and Great Outdoor provided gear to support his summit bid. Likewise, for his summit of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier in 2015.

Innovation in conservation

Great Outdoor was also recognized for Innovation by Outdoor Retailer for its support of conservation efforts.

For years, the company has observed the first Saturday in June as Land Trust Day, donating 10 percent of proceeds that day to local land trusts. We’re a 1% for the Planet partner (2019), and we support a variety of land trust and conservation organizations, including Mountains-To-Sea Trail, Sound Rivers, North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, Triangle Land Conservancy and The Shenandoah National Park Trust. 

Great Outdoor Provision Co. may not have won this year’s Innovation Award, but the fact we were among 30 finalists selected from a record 174 entries, speaks to our dedication to being out front and constantly eager to help you have the best outdoor experience possible.

We’re different because we don’t just sell gear for the outdoors.  We live it.  And our staff of experts can advise customers on every aspect of adventure — from where you might go to the type of shoes you should wear.  No matter where your adventures take you we are here to help.