In 2010, when the recession was walloping gearmakers, the Coupounases, who founded GoLite in 1998, came up with a novel response: they took over an empty office space in Boulder for ten days, filled it with lightweight tents, sleeping bags, and apparel, and sold $1.2 million in merchandise—all at wholesale prices. "People flew in for this, slept outside the door to be first, paid cash, all because they knew about and bought into our system," says Demetri, 47, a longtime champion of the fast-and-light backpacking movement. "It showed us that we had thousands of customers who weren't being served by traditional retailers."
That became the spark for a bold move. The Coupounases had long been frustrated by the outdoor industry's standard practices—hiring sales reps all over the country, wining and dining store owners at the semiannual Outdoor Retailer trade show, guessing how much product the roughly 30 to 50 buyers would want each season. On January 1, 2012, when their warehouse was brimming with orders for the spring line, the duo cut the cord on the old retailer sales system and started selling directly to the public—at wholesale prices—through GoLite's website and, eventually, a store in Silverthorne, Colorado.
In the 18 months since, GoLite has opened 18 additional permanent stores, and the company now moves six times as much merchandise as it did in 2008, its peak revenue year before changing tactics. According to Christie Hickman, VP of market insights for the Outdoor Industry Association, the approach is spreading. "Research shows that millennials in particular are attracted to a total brand experience," she says. "Specialty retail is in danger of being left behind."