In our latest blog series, Shop Talk, we’ll be highlighting some key accounts across the country that support Woolrich. Local retailers are vital to every community, and provide much more than just a place to purchase clothes. They also serve as information hubs and gathering spaces. We encourage you to get out and support these wonderful places and the amazing that people work at them.
Portland Outdoor Store, in the heart of downtown Portland, OR, has been in business since 1929. We recently sat down with owner/manager, Brad Popick, to chat about the history of the store, what good customer service means, and what the future looks like for this Portland institution.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Brad Popick. I’ve been in the industry for almost 50 years, and with the Portland Outdoor Store since 1977. It was originally my grandfather’s store. He bought it with his cousin in 1929. Eventually, the cousin bought my grandfather out, and my grandfather went and opened up a store just down the street, about 3 blocks away. The original store then changed hands in the 70s, and we repurchased it back in October of ’77, about 40 years go.
Would you tell us a little bit more about the store, and the origins of it?
It originally started as an outdoorsy work-type store, and was representative of a true outdoor store of the early 1900s. They would do tents, and sleeping bags, and clothing for the outdoors. It then became what we call work-western sometime during the late 20s to the early 30s when we started doing more work oriented clothing and western wear. Western wear just started coming in the 30s, but it fit with what they were doing during that time. Today we still have some of the same lines. We’re doing Woolrich, and some of the lines that we have in the store go back with us to the early 1900s.
How would you define your store today? How has it evolved over the years?
We’ve tried to stay true to what we do, and we’ve have built this incredible foundation with some of the brands we carry that have been with us forever. Sometimes they have good years, sometimes they have fair years, and sometimes they have bad years, but we have always been with them. I think that longevity has helped to proliferate the whole image of the store. We’ve also tried to maintain the store instead of remodel it. 20 or 25 years ago, a sales manager that we were doing a lot of business with that asked us when we were going do remodel the store. I told him, “Look, if we change this store one iota, the city of Portland would skin us alive.”
The point is…there’s a certain amount of continuity that exists with a store like this. Even though you have product changes, and things tweak here and tweak there, we’re essentially doing what we’ve always done. This is true of all the old western stores that are truly Americana. There’s this perception of Americana that vibrates all the way across the world, from Europe all the way to Asia. It’s what Americans are known for probably more so than other things, it’s that western attitude, that western concept, and that can-do attitude.
Switching gears here, the Portland Outdoor store is known for exemplary customer service and its passionate, knowledgeable employees. How do you cultivate such a great and passionate sales team?
That type of service here is very old school. That was the way it was in the old days, when you went to Nordstrom’s, when you went to Marshall Fields, when you went Frederick & Nelson, and when you went to other regional department stores. That was the way the service was at all of those stores. Today it’s broken down a little because the experience levels have been diluted. One of the things we’ve always tried to do is to keep a fair amount of older guys in the store. And at one time, probably about 20 years ago, we had 4 people over the age of 75 in the store. Those are mentors for the younger kids.
Great service is something that was always expected and demanded in the old days. Today you have a fair amount of inexperienced people trying to sell stuff. There are some stores that still have fairly good personnel, especially in the department stores, but it’s very hard to keep those people around.
With such a long history, there must be some amazing stories about interesting customers or events that have taken place within the walls of your store. Would you share one or two?
We have so many that I wouldn’t even know where to start. I can’t remember all of them, and I’d have to ask the kids and all the people who have worked here.
What do you look for in the brands that you carry at the store, and what criteria do they need to meet to have a place on the floor?
We’re looking at things that fit into what we do as far as work-western and the outdoors. And if it fits those criteria, we’ll look at it. But we have these primary groups that we deal with that are the basis for the store, and so it has to fit into one of those categories without overlapping.
How long have you stocked Woolrich at the Portland Outdoor Store?
The Woolrich sales rep brought it out in 1947 or 48 when Woolrich first came out to the West. He had the account until the 80s when his son took over for another 20 years. Of the stores that they sold to in the 50s and 60s, we are one of the few remaining from that time period.
You’re coming up on your 100th anniversary. What kind of future do you see for the store?
Run properly, I suppose a store like this could probably go another 100 years because it’s so Americana. There will always be a place for this type of store. Things will change, merchandising is changing, the process of doing retail is changing constantly, but I would love if it went for another 100 years.
Photo Credit: @christinedong (christinedong.com)