Despite Chattanooga’s reputation as a mecca for adventure, outdoors enthusiasts may notice that there is no big-name specialty store, such as Bass Pro or REI, to purchase their equipment. All the specialty outdoors stores in the greater Chattanooga area are local mom-and-pops that cater to a very specific lifestyle. Stores like Rock/Creek and Gander Mountain have established a monopoly over the outdoors market.
Small companies have thus shut out the competition of their big-name, cheaper counterparts. In fact, the nearest REI to Chattanooga is located 70 miles away in Kennesaw, GA, a suburb of Atlanta.
It can be hard for new businesses to compete with a local outfitter that is well established. Rock/Creek appeals to a customer that values supporting local businesses, and gives its customer an opening into a niche market.
Although REI is a national brand and very well known, it cannot compete with Rock/Creek and other small outfitters in the way Bass Pro could because it is directed toward the exact same consumers as Rock/Creek. Chattanoogans are too loyal to their small business models to support a national franchise that offers them the exact products they could get at a local business.
Jonathan, the manager of Rock/Creek’s North Shore location, says, “We are set apart from the big mass-market businesses because we are invested in quality. Local business is very important to Chattanooga, and the big businesses just won’t be valued as much as a local business by Chattanoogans.”
He says that although REI and Rock/Creek are similar, REI does not carry a lot of products that Rock/Creek does. He thinks that REI caters to a different customer, one who is more interested in hunting and fishing.
He says, “We never want to limit ourselves to a certain demographic of customer. We are interested in anyone who wants to live an outdoor lifestyle, who values the quality we stand behind, and who doesn’t see the appeal of a mass-market.”
The phrase “mass-market” kept coming up in conversation, and this seems to be the idea that sets Rock/Creek apart. Because of the value the locals place on small businesses, the bigger names just do not have a chance at succeeding. However, the small stores cannot totally monopolize the outdoors market.
None of these small stores sell hunting gear, a necessity in an area where hunting is popular. In fact, by the end of this year Bass Pro will open an 85,000 square foot store in East Ridge. Because of it’s slightly different market, Bass Pro will be able to provide customers with a unique shopping experience that is directly catered to their interests.