Feature Mann U Alumna: Pack Rat

At the Mann Group, we obviously believe in the value of training—after all, that’s what we do. It’s how we make our living, and it’s how we help you make yours, too. Every month we choose a manager or employee who epitomizes the best facets of training and managing, especially after working with the Mann Group. This month we turn to Arkansas and Pack Rat, where they truly embody the positive effects of continuous training on a grand scale; every member of their team embodies and understands the value of their specialty retail educations, and they constantly invest in it on a personal and company-wide level.

And that’s why we’ve decided to cover not just one special manager, but all of them. Each person at Pack Rat brings a unique attribute to the proverbial table, but they’re all united in their passion for the industry, value of integrity and investment in training.
Like many members of the Pack Rat team (and the whole specialty retail industry), Chally surrendered her “real” job for the rewarding world of sports retail. 22 years ago she began her tenure at Pack Rat as a part-time gig during the slow season in landscaping, but her growing interest in backpacking and climbing prompted her to move to Pack Rat full time. It’s an interest that’s only grown with time and continues to inspire her work on a daily basis. “My favorite part of working at Pack Rat is inspiring customers to go on their dream trip,” she says. “Encouraging and preparing someone for a backpacking trip that they’ve always dreamed of is so fulfilling!” 
Even as a decades-driven veteran of the industry, Chally still knows the value of continuous training for both herself and her staff. When it’s time to invest in that education a little further, Chally knows the Mann Group is a great resource. “The Mann Group has been a source of support for our team whether we need help problem solving or just a reminder that we have the tools to do a great job,” she says. And no tool has been as useful for Pack Rat as GEAR. “GEAR has given us a tool to use as training for our staff. Our staff feels more confident helping customers when they use the tools GEAR has to offer.”
True success for Chally—and all the Pack Rat folks—lies in their relationships with customers and the community. “We want to be a source of support, information and community for our customers,” she saks. “I find that building a connection or relationship with a customer holds much more value than just selling them product.”
Like Chally, Adam stumbled into specialty retail and fell in love. After long nights and stressful shifts in the restaurant industry, Adam took a warehouse position at Outdoors Inc. and fortuitously found his calling. He moved up quickly through the ranks, across retailers and positions, before settling at Pack Rat in 2012—his number one choice.
Just as Chally loves interacting with the local outdoors community, Adam also draws his passion from interactions—with customers, sales reps and fellow employees. It’s the spice of life that keeps his days interesting and feeds his soul. “Whether a customer is gearing up for a big trip or expedition or just picking up a new piece of gear, it is exciting, people love to talk about it and want to share it with you and get your input,” he says. “With technology the way it is today, our industry should be doing everything it can to get people, young and old, outside. Not only for the future of the industry, but the future of the earth and these amazing places we have. Getting people psyched on the outdoors is my passion and I get to do it everyday.”
Once again, it’s training that brings Adam and the rest of the team success. As he said, the industry (and the world) is changing, and you have to adapt to it. Sometimes that just means shifting the knowledge and tools you already have in the best direction. “As I try to explain, the [GEAR] training did not give us any new information,” says Adam. “The training taught us how to better gather and use that [preexisting] information for a better customer experience and overall better business.” With the Mann Group, Adam was able to streamline his own training and can now apply that to his employees. “I used to bounce all over the place during training of new and existing staff members, I am not a fan of public speaking so I tend to go fast and scattered. GEAR is a clearly stated outline to follow and has added structure and order to my otherwise ‘organized chaos training.’” With that clearer training model came greater success, for Adam on a personal level and Pack Rat on an organizational one.
And, as always, it all comes back to community. “We are not a retail store at heart, but that is what pays the bills. We are a resource for our community and that is why we are here,” says Adam. Investing in that community on a integral, nuts-and-bolts level is a huge key to success, especially in this shifting, modern market. “Any shop can give you a mission statement about how they love the environment and community, but what do they do to show that? This is not throwing sponsorship money at local events, it is about getting out there and being a part of it.”
Some folks in the specialty retail industry get their start young; they’re lucky enough to find their passion just out of—or even when they’re still in—school, and can commit their whole lives to the industry they love. Take, for example, Kevin, who got his start in retail at a drugstore during high school. “The scar on my thumb from a box cutter has faded over the years, but the introduction of tasks, from stocking to customer service, has been with me since.” Kevin’s passion lies in paddling (those formative drugstore years didn’t have an effect on that!), and he loves to share his joy and enthusiasm with customers.
But, as we all know, passion isn’t always a guarantor of success in this industry (although wouldn’t we all be rich if it was?). Success lies in investing in your knowledge base and education, as Kevin knows. And at Pack Rat, a lot of that education is gained through the Mann Group. “The Mann Group is solid continuing education for anyone in the retail field,” he promises. “Mann U was a quick but effective workshop for getting more desired results from one of our most valuable assets, our human resources… The GEAR training was an intense but effective approach to understanding how to interact with customers, in summary, that are coming in door, shopping in store and checking out at register.” Whether it’s with Mann U, GEAR or just in-house training exercises, keeping your staff well-trained truly is a guarantor of success.
Rick’s start with Pack Rat was back in 1999 while he was attending the University of Arkansas. “After I graduated I wasn’t really ready to begin looking for a ‘real job’ as some like to put it, I just want to go climbing and backpacking,” he remembers. He started managing and buying at the retailer and the rest, as they say, is history. But his long history in sales doesn’t necessarily make Rick the proverbial salesperson—far from it. “I’ve never really considered myself a salesperson, even though I’ve been doing it for years. I like to think we are more a service where people pay for ideas, advice and customer service, and the clothing and equipment just go along with that.”
Just like everyone else at Pack Rat, Rick has found the Mann Group to be an invaluable resource for continuing the specialty retail education he first began almost 20 years ago. “Mann U has been valuable on many levels. At the top of that list has been allowing me to think about solving problems differently, or better yet using more efficient training techniques to stop potential issues from starting at all.” Again, it’s not necessarily about creating an entirely new knowledge base, but merely improving on what’s there and adapting it to shifting tides.
One of the toughest things to “train” is simply trust, but it’s also—as everyone at Pack Rat has attested—the foundation of good business. “I feel that creating an atmosphere of genuine trust is among the most important thing a company and an individual can do,” Rick agrees. “If a customer trusts your employee, and that employee truly listens and can respond with efficient feedback, then you’re 95% there.”

What’s common amongst all Pack Rat’s employees, and every member of this specialty retail community? Passion—for their job, their sport, and their customers. This is an incredible industry to be part of and grow with, and every one of us is so lucky to be a part of it.“You are most likely not going to get rich working in an outdoor shop,” said Adam, “but you afforded a lifestyle that can be very rewarding in many ways. It can be everything you want it to be, you just have to make it that way.” A big part of making that way, as the folks at Pack Rat exemplify, is investing in your education and training to ensure you’re giving every customer the best experience possible, every time.

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