The Evolution of Brick and Morter with Digital Presence

The 21st century has brought a bevy of challenges to the world of retail. At the forefront? The seamless integration of brick and mortars with a digital presence.
But “seamless” isn’t just lofty—it’s still practically impossible. There are very few examples of businesses that have successfully mastered both web and physical retail. One such business is evo, a retailer that grew from a digital marketplace to a physical one, then expanded into other existing shops across the country. It’s a completely unique—and completely successful—model we could all learn from, so we sat down with Director of Marketing Graham Gephart to do just that.
Tell us about the history of evo. How and why did it begin?
The origins of evo go back well beyond its initial founding, as founder Bryce Phillips had been buying and selling ski, snowboard and outdoor gear from a variety of locations (excess manufacturer’s product, demo fleets from heli ski operations in Canada, any number of sources) and selling it through eBay and other channels. In 2001, evogear.com was officially launched as an ecommerce site. Initially focused on ski, snowboard and wakeboard as early categories, evogear (later relaunched as evo.com) brought together a really unique assortment of brands and products, mixing action sports, outdoor and urban lifestyle. That unique mix has continued to grow and evolve over the years, and now encompasses our main categories of Ski, Snowboard, Bike, Skate, Wake and Surf with both equipment, outerwear, clothing, footwear and accessories.
Alongside this unique assortment, evo’s specialization and expertise has long been a driver of our success. We know and use the products that we sell at a really high level, and whether it’s the product information on our website, the Customer Care team on the phone, or sales and service staff in our stores, evo makes it easy to decipher really technical products that can sometimes be intimidating for new customers.
Lastly, Bryce’s own introduction to the sport of skiing has evolved into more of a cultural focus for the business as a whole. Growing up in Roseburg, OR, Bryce was introduced to skiing by an uncle who brought him under his wing and kickstarted a lifelong passion and a journey through becoming a professional skier. Looking for ways to bring more kids into the sports we participate in and sell has become more of a mission for evo. We have a very active Cause and Giving Back program (officially launched in 2006) that focuses primarily on under-served youth through charitable giving and employee volunteer time.
Tell us about the evolution of evo.com into something more with brick and mortars.
We opened the first brick and mortar store in Seattle, WA in 2005, really because of that drive to create more of a community. So much of traditional ski and snowboard or outdoor retail is extremely segmented—the classic ski and patio retailer, the snowboard/skateboard/surf action sports store, or the street style boutique store. We felt there was an opportunity to create a brick and mortar store that represented evo.com’s mix of all areas together. At the same time, a lot of retailers in ski and snowboard were disappearing, and it felt like the community needed a place to come together. So those ideas came together in the first evo store in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, which not only had the unique product mix in a brick and mortar when everyone else seemed to be jumping into pure play ecommerce, but also blocked out space in the store for our “Times Infinity” gallery that featured brands and artists that we partnered with and space to host movie nights, happy hours and other community gatherings. Ecommerce folks thought we were crazy to be opening a physical store, and brick and mortar retailers thought we were crazy to not fill every nook and cranny with product to sell.
But the model worked for us, and has continued to grow. We moved the Seattle store into a new location in 2012, and doubled-down even further. The new evo location in the Fremont Collective was focused on adaptive restoration, restoring an amazing architectural structure and anchoring an up-and-coming few blocks between Fremont and Wallingford. The space combines evo’s retail, the arts and gallery component, two restaurants and an activity center, All Together Skatepark, which we opened to keep Seattle from losing its only indoor skatepark. It’s really become a destination experience, not just a stop into your local retail shop.
We’ve since taken that same approach to Portland, OR, where we renovated a historic 1893 Salvation Army headquarters building in Portland’s Northeast neighborhood. We opened the store in late 2014, and it’s been incredible to see the same momentum take hold. Each space is unique, and while Portland doesn’t yet have the activity center, it has a more open connection between the restaurant/bar space with our neighbor, Revelry, and the store, which has been great to build cross-traffic.
Right now, we’re on the eve of opening our third store in Denver, CO at the end of this month. We partnered with Edgeworks and Bicycle Doctor service shop in Denver, which had offered renowned service for over 20 years. They will continue to power the service operation under evo, and we’re completing a similar adaptive restoration of the building and expanding the whole store four-fold to almost 10,000 square feet with our blend of retail, gallery, events and service. We’re really excited about going into Colorado.
What makes evo unique and different from other outdoor retailers?
For starters, we’re a lot more than outdoor. With our mix of outdoor, action sports and urban lifestyle products, we carry an assortment that’s hard to find all under one roof. And with the depth of offering we have, we carry all of the best-selling products from the biggest brands, but we’ve also been able to curate and succeed with a lot of smaller, upstart brands—whether new arrivals from European markets or locally grown innovators. Smaller specialty shops usually can’t carry a really big assortment, but the biggest chain competitors that have the scale are too big to be very flexible with regionalized assortments, or not willing to take the risk on developing smaller brands.
In addition to our assortment and focus on brick and mortar, we’ve continued to grow programs like our evoTrip Adventure Travel vacations, which take a smaller number of customers on international ski, snowboard, or bike trips around the world (this year will be our biggest yet, with 13 trips to Japan, Austria, Chile and Canada). Like our store experience, evoTrip is truly unique, allowing our customers to interact directly with evo staff on the trips, experience the blend of culture, travel, and sport that has always made evo unique, and take advantage of priceless opportunities—whether it’s skiing with a pro athlete in Japan (like Eric Pollard on our Line Skis Myoko, Japan trip), trying the next year’s products before anyone else (demoing CAPiTA snowboards in Austria), or seeing behind-the-scenes (touring Atomic’s ski factory as part of the Austria trip).
What are La Familia Partners—how does that partnership work, and how do you pick them?
Much of our path to opening brick and mortar stores came from the commitment to local communities and creating places that become integral to the region’s fabric. We have experienced that in Seattle, Portland and now Denver, as at the same time we continue to grow our web business all over the country and internationally. There’s been an increasing divide between e-commerce and specialty over the past decade, and we’ve long felt that there’s a better solution out there for the industry. We sell an incredible amount of ski and snowboard equipment, and product requires service. Consumer behavior isn’t moving away from e-commerce, but the experience hasn’t been great for a lot of people. You have web customers who feel embarrassed walking into a local store asking them to mount up something that they bought online.
We’ve seen the growth and traffic we can drive between web and stores in Seattle and Portland, and we decided to launch a partnership program between our site and some of the best brick and mortar specialty retailers around the country to see if we could drive the same successful growth in other regions. At the end of the day, the loss of local retail is a bad thing for us and the products we carry. But consumers want to shop fluidly these days, jumping from web to mobile to store depending on the product, service and experience. We started it with a single retailer, Crow’s Feet Commons, in Bend, OR two seasons ago, and just added free ship to store to their shop as an option in the cart. It did well for us, was well-received by our customers in the Bend area and drove new customers in the door for Crow’s Feet.
Over the last year, we’ve been working to expand that program to cover a wider geographic area, and La Familia today now includes almost 20 specialty retailers in WA, OR, MT, CO, VT, and NH. We’ve been proactively reaching out to retailers we feel provide the best in service and expertise locally—who match up with the categories that we carry, as well as align with our community ethos. We’ve also had a handful of retailers approach us, and it’s been great to see and hear really positive response from participating stores and our customers.
How do you integrate your web presence into your physical locations, both on a personal store level and company wide?
Our two biggest programs are our store pick-up and kiosk/web sales. We offer free will-call on web orders to store, which has been great in driving traffic to each retail location (over 40% of local web orders are picked up in store now). We do offer a slightly different assortment and product focus for each store, but having the backdrop of our web assortment makes it easy to find anything we don’t have in store and quickly get it there for the customer instead of special ordering from manufacturer. Each store has a couple web kiosks that customers and shop staff can use to buy product from the site and ship directly to the store, and also provide access to our in-depth buying guides and other online content that can help accompany the expertise of the store staff.  
Vice versa, how do you integrate your brick and mortar locations into your website?
The stores are amazing visual experiences, and walking through them, exploring the product, the art galleries, the energy of the events, those are things that we really try to bring to life and share on the web as much as we can. Some of that is through showcasing the stores through our photography, creating video content around things like our galleries, events and store mural projects, and highlighting on the blog and in social media. We can show people more of the full evo experience, even if they aren’t close to one of our three locations.
We’ve also worked to integrate the stores into the shopping experience online – this year we turned on the ability to see store inventory on evo.com. If you’re shopping, you can now filter your results to see only products available in each store location, as well as check store availability from the individual product detail pages. When you combine that with our ship-to-store program for evo stores and La Familia partners, we’ve been able to leverage the web to drive considerable traffic into our store locations.
Finally—why do you do what you do?

The drive for a lot of us at evo—both as a business and personally—comes from a passion for these sports and a desire to help create and give back to our community. It’s a fast-paced, very entrepreneurial team here, with a lot of freedom to build new and exciting things, from La Familia to evoTrip, store launches and much more. At the same time, it’s a group that gets together often outside of work for bike rides and ski days and comes together for volunteer trail work, community service days and youth programs to share these things we love with a new generation.

About the Author:

As a freelance writer and editor, Emily has the luxury of being completely mobile—but there’s nowhere she’d rather be than right here in Asheville (though she’s on the road more often than not). You’ll find her work in a variety of publications around town and the country, as well as in our monthly newsletter. In her free time, Emily enjoys exploring the mountains and valleys around Asheville and the cocktail bars and restaurants within it. 

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