Category: Outdoor Recreation

I think that the thing that's most inspiring is just the really good outdoor industry retailers, the really good brands and the really good factories are all linking arms and realizing that we all need each other.” – Joe Vernachio, Mountain Hardwear

Thukla Memorial Everest Base Camp Trek
Photographer: Ananya Bilimale | Source: Unsplash

Tell us about your attempt to climb Mt Everest, did you top out?

No, we didn't. We went in the fall, last October. The mountain hadn't really been climbed in about six years in the autumn. The conditions are tougher, it's getting colder, it's getting windier, and the Icefall was in really rough shape. It took us almost a month just to get through the icefall. And then when we did, there was a huge Serac overhead, right in the same spot that took out many of the Sherpas a few years prior. It was just way too risky. So we backed off, but it was awesome to be back in the mountains and on that mountain specifically.

The Mountain moves around a little bit more, I think than it does in May. We're just looking at the jet stream and just seeing when it's not on the top of the mountain. So we could time our summit attempt for when we had a good window when it wouldn't be so windy. We'd never really even saw that window. So it just made the most sense to not put anybody at risk more than we needed to. What was amazing was that there was nobody on the mountain. It was just three of us. There were maybe 20 people in base camp versus a thousand people.

How were you introduced to the Outdoors?

The classic story. My dad was a woodsman, a hunter, and a fisherman and we'd go canoeing as a family. So I was introduced to the outdoors that way. When I was about 13, this guy named George Willig climbed the twin towers in New York City. And I lived just outside of New York City. There were lots of articles in the newspaper about this guy and this thing called rock climbing. And this place that he climbed called the Shawangunks up in New York. Being close enough to it, I made my way up there and got exposed to this thing called rock climbing. I just became fascinated with it and did what I could on my own as a kid. Then I went to the University of Wisconsin, and there was a climbing area out there called Devil's Lake, which is just a nice little top roping area that I was able to hone my skills and, and learn quite a bit about it.

How does a guy with degrees in biochemistry and biology get into the outdoor industry?

After I got out of school, I just had no idea what I was going to do with any of those degrees. I got a job at Erehwon Mountain Shop in Madison working for Jeff Weidman. He was the store manager and I loved it. I just loved being around the product. I love opening the boxes when they came in and I just couldn't wait to see all the new stuff. I think our Patagonia rep at the time was Rock Horton, who's a long time outdoor industry employee with Black Diamond. I think he just retired just recently. He made some introductions for me. At the time Patagonia and Chouinard equipment were very, very small. Peter Metcalf said come on out and I'll give you a job. I think there were about 12 of us at Chouinard equipment at the time. I worked in the area attached to the original Patagonia store.

The view of the Sierra Nevada from highway 395 outside of Bishop, California. Mount Basin is located in the centre and Mount Tom on the right. The Eastern Sierra and the Ownes Valley is a magiical place.
Photographer: Ross Stone | Source: Unsplash

You've been with an impressive list of brands, which of your roles has been most inspiring?

I would say my education in business and how to make great product was Nike, no doubt about it. I was there from ‘89 to 2000. It was just the skyrocket of growth and just the culture and how to make great products while still growing business very rapidly. The culture there was, was fantastic

I've always admired Mark Parker. I think he just recently stepped down as president, CEO. But Mark was part of the team back then. It was just an amazing group of talented, people there that I got to work shoulder to shoulder with.

I definitely learned the product side of it and the design and the respect for the process of design from Nike. My time at Spyder was really valuable and just understanding the financial side of it. Running a company on a line of credit, going deep in debt, and then coming out of debt, much like a retailer operates was really valuable. And then there really isn't a day that goes by that I don't rely on some of my memories at outdoor industry retailer Erewhon working on a store floor and what that feels like. Having a rep come in and, and engage with you as a store kid and how it really just grabs you and makes you a brand champion.

How is Mountain Hardware navigating the current environment?

We're all working from home. We're on video conferences all day long. We were able to do a couple of weeks of prep prior to it. We could kind of see it coming. So we did some prep. So it was a nice transition. It wasn't that abrupt. Our motto to ourselves is we're not surviving. We're preparing. We're not just trying to figure out how to survive this thing. We're actually trying to make sure we use this time to hone our outdoor industry product positioning and our brand messaging and our values to make sure we come out of this really strong, really sharp. We just feel strongly that people are actually going to probably have more of a connection to nature and to the outdoors and appreciation for it than they did going into this. I don't see any indication that it's going to go the other way

What are you hearing in the last weeks or six weeks as we've gone through this that inspires you?

I think that the thing that's most inspiring is just the really good outdoor industry retailers, the really good brands and the really good factories are all linking arms and realizing that we all need each other. And if we are mean to each other and disrespectful to each other through this process, it's not going to work. I think in situations like this, the best come out and people, and that's what we've seen. We've seen mostly cooperation and understanding, and everyone just trying to find stable ground to stand on and I feel like six weeks into it, it's kind of where we are. And today, we're starting to hear about some stores that are starting to open around the country. So we'll take a look at what that looks like and see what this feels like. I don't think we're under any impression that outdoor industry doors are just gonna be wide open and everyone's gonna rush in. Just some movement, I think we'll start to make people feel a little bit better and set us up for probably early next year to start to get a little closer to whatever the new normal is.

How do you think it's gonna impact the outdoor industry supply chain?

I lived in Asia for seven years, work directly with the factories while I was with Nike. So I've had a number of years in Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan and know the factory side of things as well. If I learned anything during that time, it's just how resilient and how customer service focused the factories and mills are. We certainly had some disruption when China shut down and now some of the other countries are shutting down. But boy, their ability to recover is miraculous. And, while we've had some disruption in the supply, it's not that impactful. I'd say it's just a little bit worse than a normal season where you always have some problems somewhere in the world that you're dealing with. But nothing we can't recover from. The biggest challenge in this whole event will be inventory and where does it pile up and how does it get dispersed? That's the game. I mean, retailers, they're trying to reduce their pile. Brands are trying to reduce their pile and factories are trying to reduce their pile

What about the future of outdoor industry trade shows?

I was in the sports and fitness industry when the super show is going on in Atlanta. That was a show was maybe the biggest and everyone thought that would never end. And it did and the industry went on and you worked out other ways to do it. I think there's a much bigger cultural component to it for us in the outdoor industry. So, on a personal level, I would hate to see it go away. On a business level, I think there are ways to do it. They're not as personal and there's not as much comradery around it, but it still gets the business done. I mean, we're going to do it this year. But I really, really hope it comes back and that we can all get together again and, create that culture that really existed. I mean, you just get to see so many more people than you would have otherwise.

Suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor adventure business or grow their career?

I think my advice to get in the outdoor industry is just to get in with a retailer or a brand that you respect and admire. What I say to young people is to be sure you understand the company's values before you join. Because if you don't align with their values, then you're not going to like a lot of the decisions they make. So that, and a lot of companies won't be able to articulate their values, if they can't articulate them, then that tells you something too.

Other things we talked about

Favorite Gear under $100: Mountain Hardwear Kor Pre Shell

OR Banner: “Be nice to each other”

Find Joe on Linkedin

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The current sales model is broken. It really hasn't adapted. And small outdoor retail brands are always last out of the bag if even mentioned at all. So many traditional sales reps are based on schedule and ROI and that's why a lot of these brands just really never get a chance” – Lauren Web, Bullish Endurance

photo of Lauren Webb
Lauren Webb

Bullish Endurance describes their solution for last out of the bag Outdoor Retail Brands.

We work with small outdoor retail brands on their marketing and sales solutions. There are so many great companies, that really don't have the bandwidth or the budget to be able to have an in-house sales team or a big marketing campaign budget. We're here to share their story and fill that role.

We work with the Outdoor Retail brands to come with campaigns and activities to execute.

We attend outdoor retail events, consumer events, it just really depends. Every company is different and everywhere they see their customer is different, whether it's a consumer or retailers. So we just really get to know the customer and how best to give them their best return on investment.

How do you create and execute a solution for a last out of the bag Outdoor Retail Brand?

We communicate. They know what we do best and they know what they do best. And by collaborating and getting to know what and where their best return on investment is we build a solution for the customer that fits their needs. Maybe they need exposure in a certain area. For example a lot of the West Coast outdoor retail brands that maybe you and I have relationships with because we were based on the West coast but in the Southeast, nobody's ever heard of them.

Photo by Tom Conway on Unsplash

What kind of Outdoor Retail Brand Solutions do you create? Is it different per brand, different per shop? Is it all bespoke stuff?

Things like going to outdoor retail events for some lead generation at a trade show that they may be interested in, but don't have the support staff to be able to do that. Or attending consumer events to build the brand and engage with their direct to consumer. Maybe it's a little bit more of a tactical brand that's looking for some connection with some outdoor retailers because, you know, we have great retail and event partners nationwide. Tt just really depends on the company. Some companies prefer the traditional retail model, some are happy working with distributors and the distribution model. So we basically connect them with partners and increase exposures. We just do it all.

What are some of the results you've achieved for Outdoor Retail Brands and Retailers

Increased sales and we've been able to showcase great outdoor retail brands that make sense for our retailers. We're able to share their story. And I think that that's the biggest thing. There are so many brands that retailers might have seen through Instagram or on social. So we're able to connect those partners.

What has been the response from Outdoor Shops and Brands?

The biggest thing is that brands are just looking for a solution. This is what has really resonated. Outdoor Retail stores want to hear about any product or a new approach, as long as it's cost-effective and has a customer for them. Since we're compensated by the solution package and not necessarily going in with a bag of 15 lines and maybe we get into the last few, the retailer isn't constantly being sold. We're working on whatever solution works best for them. So a better relationship is being formed through the retailer and the brand and our agency. This collaboration being formed. At the end of the day creating collaboration between small brands and retailers is the overall solution. That’s great!

How can folks follow up with you?

You can check out our website at or contact us via email at

Other things we talked about

Zoic Clothing

Lizard Skins

Moon Sports USA

Huma Gel

Orange Seal

Afton Shoes

Favorite Gear under $100 Zoic Piper Jersey

Moon Sports Headlamp

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He began his outdoor career in the '60s working for Dick Kelty, he started a couple of outdoor businesses with his brother, was an executive with VF for quite a few years, has taken numerous adventures near and far with his wife Katie and is now helping small businesses navigate these challenging times. Jim Thomsen discusses the current business environment in this pandemic and offers advice and strategies for taking action.

the most critical thing that you should be doing right now is conserving cash and make sure you save that cash.

An photo of US Dollar bills, small business cash
Photographer: Sharon McCutcheon | Source: Unsplash

You're helping a lot of small business owners sort through the SBA programs, how did you get involved with the SBA?

The Small Business Development Center has locations all over the country funded by the SBA. What they offer is in normal times is really excellent business consulting. They'll help you do business plans and cash flow statements and they have experts in all the offices to help you. If you wanted to work out a social media program or marketing plan, finances, they have people who specialize in that. Not just SBA loans but all kinds of different financing. And the work that the small business development centers do is totally free to businesses.

I had known about it but never really worked with it. It's a super great group of people and every business should sign up with them because you don't have to listen to anybody. You could ask them anything. They have all kinds of resources and it's 100% free.

The group in central California also includes the Eastern Sierra. Since the main offices are in Bakersfield, Inyo and Mono county are not a convenient place for them to come over. But Once a year they do a big economic conference here explaining different offerings that they have. At this last one, they asked me to be a speaker there because they wanted a section on crowdfunding. I had just done the Kickstarter program for Wilderness Experience, and since I had done it all myself, I learned all the little parts of it. So I was one of the speakers and I got to know the director and a few other people. He kept saying, you know, you would be perfect, you gotta help us over here in Eastern Sierra because we have plenty of small businesses that could use some help. I said, well you know, it sounds perfect.

I helped one store for about an hour or two and was thinking I’m never going to be a very good consultant just because I'm not going to be around. Once we got back from Patagonia, all of a sudden we're stuck. You know, inside our condo with nothing going on and every small business in town is having a problem. So they called and said would you start helping on these? A lot of people are stuck at home with nothing to do right now. And, and I'm busier than I've ever been.

How are you helping, what are you doing with small business owners?

Most of it over this last month has been trying to get the different SBA loans because those are ones that have been pushed. There's a lot of money behind them. The loans are actually really good for businesses but it's still government loans. So it's not easy. It's not something that you could just apply for. So I'm helping the different businesses first understand the different loans and why one may be better for them than another, the good points of them, the bad points of them, and then how to apply and how to get all their information together and get the loan. That's been what I've really spent most of my time doing.

How many different types of loans are available, three or four right?

There's actually more, but there are two main ones and it's the ones you probably, nobody would've ever known before. Now they're in the news a lot. One is called the economic injury disaster loan. It's actually part of the SBA disaster program, which normally is used after an earthquake or a hurricane and they come in and help rebuild. They use that same program for this, except the record number of loans previously was I think for Katrina. They had 11,000 applicants over a three day period. This one they had 3 million in four days. So when people say, Oh, it's impossible to deal with them, you can't thru. They probably were unprepared for that.

The other one is the payroll protection plan. And that's to try to keep businesses paying their employees. From a government point of view, it's goal is to keep people from getting laid off and collecting unemployment. From the business perspective that allows them, if they've got good employees, to keep those people. Keep paying them, if they offer health insurance keep that going. If they get the money and actually keep people employed and paid, the loan is 100% forgiven.

And some businesses, like one of the ones I’ve worked with, at one of his locations he was trying to do some remodeling inside and it was always a problem cause they were open. Now he has two of his employees working, doing work inside rebuilding one of their buildings. There are two people in there, they can make it safe and no problem. He's actually getting value out of the employees while paying them. I've got a couple of other ones that have young employees that are here in Mammoth because they want to ski and play. They are really good at computer things and setting up web sites and things. So they're getting a lot of work from these guys, helping them finally get a good website, which they'd never had before.

Small Business Restaurant closed sign - stay safe
Photographer: Kelly Sikkema | Source: Unsplash

What should small business owners be doing now besides trying to get loans?

To me, the most critical thing that you should be doing right now is conserving cash and make sure you save that cash. That means calling everybody you owe money to every payment you have and trying to get them to either, defer the payments or forgive some or to give you longer terms or something. I know it's really hard and I've had retail stores where I've had trouble paying bills. It's hard calling people, but you just have to do it. At least at this time, nobody's going to ask you what really happened cause they know what happened, right?

The second most important thing tied in with that is to do a true cash flow statement. Something that I always tell everybody in business that you have to do. Because that's the critical thing. Keep your cash flow statement updated as things change. So you know what position you're in and now it's more critical than ever. It is really hard to guess what your revenue is going to be this month or next month. But you should be able to get to the point where you have an idea of what money you're going to have going out. The first time you do a cash flow statement, it's not going to be accurate, but you should be updating that every few days just if nothing else. It makes you think about your business.

Things We Talked About

Small Business Development Center

Economic Injury Disaster Loan (currently it is closed as of 4/26, but should reopen sometime, hopefully soon)

Payroll Protection Plan Loans

Eastern Sierra businesses to sign up with the Small Business Development Center

Jim LinkedIn: James Thomsen LinkedIn Profile

Jim Email:

Wes grew up on a working Cattle Ranch outside Cody, Wyoming. Currently the principal at the outdoor retail shop Sunlight Sports, Co-Founder of the Argot Agency and former president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

"They want to be able to tell a story that local Outdoor Retail customers will relate to. That's the whole concept behind the Argo Agency"

Find out more about Sunlight Sports and the Argot Agency here:
Sunlight SportsArgot Agency

view of the Grand Tetons at sunrise
Photographer: Jesse Gardner | Source: Unsplash

You have a wide range of experience in the outdoor retail space. Tell us about a little bit about your background.

I do have a wide range of experience. My first formal job in the outdoor industry was here at Sunlight Sports. Cody was the nearest big town to the ranch. After I graduated from college, I came in for an outdoor retail summer job because I had purchased stuff here before. I wound up staying and then, a year later or so the woman who owned Sunlight with her husband . . . her much younger sister came back from college in New Zealand and I wound up getting married to her. So yeah, I kinda got into the family that way.

How did the Argot Agency come about?

Argo is something that's a little bit newer. Argo agency is a specialty agency that works on building out bespoke marketing programs between Outdoor Retailers and brands. These retailers have been identified as key outdoor retail specialty accounts by the brands. And obviously, from my background, I really believe in the power of specialty outdoor retail.

We've worked with quite a few brands in the outdoor industry. When people go into a specialty outdoor retail shop, there's kind of this ambiance and Summit Hut is a great example. You go in there and it is definitely an Arizona outdoor store and they sell snake gaiters and they've got cactus on the wall. It's not, you know, it's not a Pacific Northwest outdoor retail store. And you know, brands want to tell great stories that resonate with customers. They want to be able to tell a story that local Outdoor Retail customers will relate to. That's the whole concept behind Argo.

Tell our listeners how Argo works with outdoor retail brands and stores to execute these campaigns.

So we go in and we actually customize it for every single outdoor retail shop. The vast majority of retailers that we work with, we do a photoshoot with the brand. Then we create brand signage and pop and everything in the store for the brand. So for example with Summit Hut, when we did the signs it was pictures of people in the mountains right outside of Tucson. The fonts and the colors and everything was localized but it was very much a Nemo branded campaign.

view of an Arizona Sunset
Photographer: Emily Campbell | Source: Unsplash

What suggestions or advice do you have for folks wanting to get into the outdoor retail biz? Or grow their career if they're already in the biz.

I think that the outdoor retail industry, even though it's gotten bigger and there are big multinational corporations involved, it is a passion industry. Very few people are in the outdoor industry because this is the only job they can find right? They're here because they care about it. And I think my one suggestion I would give to people is I'd wear your passions on your sleeve a little bit more, whether it's for your job or for the outdoor activities that you enjoy. I think we all respond to that and find it a positive thing. And we like being around people who are passionate about something. I think in your career if you can be passionate about your job and passionate about your activities, other people in the outdoor industry are more inclined to help you with your career.

Things We Talked About

Sunlight Sports

Argot Agency

Summit Hut

Nemo Equipment

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

Cody, Wyoming


Favorite Outdoor Gear Under $100

Dana Design Bangtail hip pack

Espro Coffee


Outdoor Retailer Banner

Do your job well and understand where it fits in the big picture of the industry

Connect with Wes- Argo Agency, Linkedin

Published with StoryChief

Welcome to episode 209 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast. Today I'm talking about Fly Fishing, Podcasting, Stewardship and more with Nico Sunseri and Ben King of the BearFish Alliance. Nico and Ben believe that by enabling multilevel stewardship via unified communication channels, it is possible to preserve the integrity, legacy, and future of the Truckee River as a wild rainbow and Brown trout fishery for the community to enjoy and generations to come.

"So here's a little thing about the Truckee River. We've given it a nickname, The Big Two Faced River"

Find out more about the Bear Fish Alliance here:

What are some of the stewardship activities that you guys are working on right now?

Nico- "In early June, and we're having a River Clean-Up in cooperation with Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy".

underwater view of a golden trout
Fly Fishing for Golden Trout, Highway 108

How did you get introduced to Fly Fishing and the outdoors?

Ben-"I surfed my whole life. That includes many trips down to Mexico. My grandpa's the real true outdoors and my dad has same passion. Growing up camping and in the boy Scouts we did a lot of backpacking, hiking, and I just most connected to the Outdoors in so many different ways."

Nico- "I was more of an inland kid growing up in San Dimas, California and started fishing probably about five years old. From the time I could ride a bike after school or before school or in summers I went fishing. A trip to Lake Powell really got me hooked into fishing and it just kinda carried on. The transition to fly fishing didn't really happen, Oh my gosh, I mean maybe about seven years ago."

When Was the first time you went Fishing together?

I introduced Ben to Fly Fishing and to his credit he pays attention. He picked up on some things. I would say within a month of us going out constantly, one day he just geared up and hopped in his car. After a bit, he gives me a call and says "I'm fishing on my own". An hour later he sends me a picture. Probably it was a little Rainbow or Brown or something, but he started Fishing by himself.

Tell our listeners about the bear fish Alliance. How did you, what inspired you to create that?

It kinda came from number one- being self-taught on the river. It’s kind of an enduring hardship, you know, getting into the sport of fly fishing. You go out and see all these people doing it, you're watching all these YouTube videos reading books, and seeing people being successful and that's a lot.

This river is not easy, you basically learn through trial and error. So I was thinking there has to be a way for us to collectively get all this information together and available to people that want to get into the sport. And for people from out of the area. There isn't one single collective place that you can go to in this region to find information on the Truckee River.

There are a few different groups here like trout unlimited, they have a great presence. Nature Conservancy's done a phenomenal job on the Eastern Truckee doing restoration work and a couple of few other groups doing good work. But the challenge was everyone had their own little stake and they have their own communication channels. So I thought well, maybe we could just step in and fill that void.

We came up with the name BearFish Alliance, which gives a historical nod to the Truckee River. During the time of the settlers, the California grizzly was common in this area and the Lahontan Cutthroat trout ran freely between Pyramid Lake and the Truckee River. The Truckee does maintain the propensity to grow very large Brown and Rainbow Trout.

Aerial view of a burrito with salsa.
Photographer: Bret Kavanaugh | Source: Unsplash

So what’s with the burrito part of a fly fishing show?

We like our guests to be comfortable, you know? If you can get in their environment, it relaxes them. Ben and I both were born and raised in Southern California. And you have two main types of burritos, Carnitas and Carne Asada. We also have a Jurassic park scale we use, you must get close to legitimate food poisoning to be considered a real burrito. The only other requirement is the horchata, you know if they have the machine they're legit, if they have the jar, that’s next level. Locally here in the Eastern Sierra up in June Lake near June Lake brewing there's a trailer called Ohanas. It's absolutely the Best burrito in the Sierra. They use pork in that Jurassic Park burrito shell and Wow! It's just an experience. Like everything's wrong about it and you want somebody to drive you home cuz you're going to have a food coma.

Things We Talked About

BearFish Alliance

Burritos, Breaks, and Flies– Podcast

Reno Fly Shop, Reno

Sportsmans Warehouse Reno

Trout Unlimted

The Nature Conservancy

Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

Ohanas 395 June Lake

Favorite Podcasts

Favorite Outdoor Gear Under $100

Ben-Magnetic Net Keeper

Nico- Quick Silver Sun Hat

Connect with Nico and Ben- BearFish Alliance

Published with StoryChief

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