Outside Business Journal

Retailer Spotlight: Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock, Arkansas

Owner Jim Franks shares his secret to luring customers inside and the best places to recreate in the state

Kristen Kuchar

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Ozark Outdoor Supply opened its doors in 1972 with the most organic of intentions. “Some hippies had a vision that Arkansas needed an outdoor gear store,” said owner Jim Frank.

In the beginning, the store never really had any significant direction or management, Frank said. But after the tumultuous start, the Frank family acquired the store in 1986 and vowed to turn things around.

Walking into Little Rock’s Ozark Outdoor Supply feels like home—mostly because it is one. The store is a former house, built in the early 1900s, where the founder of the store once lived. In 2005, Frank built a two-story addition onto the back of the store.

When some stores are riding high, it’s often a natural progression to expand and open a second or even third location. But Frank will be sticking to one. Running business out of an old house and sticking to his roots isn’t the only way Frank opts to keep things traditional.

Jim Frank, owner of Ozark Outdoor Supply in Arkansas
Jim Frank acquired Ozark Outdoor Supply in 1986. He is a fisherman, cyclist, climber, and big advocate of Arkansas’ outdoor scene. (Photo: Facebook)

Procrastinators Make the Best Customers

Instead of investing money into e-commerce and becoming another face in the internet crowd, Frank feels it’s more important, in his case, to put his efforts into creating the best possible experience inside the store.

Items are listed online, but there’s no option for customers to place it in their virtual shopping basket. Each item indicates it’s either in stock or out of stock, luring customers in for a more personal shopping experience.

Women's ExOfficio shirt and Chaco sandal in stock at Ozark Outdoor Supply
Products are listed as in stock or out of stock online, but customers must buy in stores. (Photo: Courtesy)

“All I know is kill ‘em with customer service and try to be better at that game than the guy across town and the internet,” he said. “Listen to them, have what they want, keep inventory stable enough, and try not to give them a reason to shop online.”

Something online shopping can never replace is his ability to supply those spontaneous adventures, last-minute plan changes, and the forgotten gear.

“What we’re seeing is the consumer has always procrastinated,” Frank said, laughing. “That’s not going to change. When you need something as you’re packing up before you leave town, Amazon can’t get you something by nine in the morning.”

One review on Facebook is evidence: “My daughter and I came in today for last minute ski supplies. [One employee] was so patient and so helpful and brought ski pants and bibs one after the other to us. Great experience!”

Another review read, “New to hiking in the Ozarks, and will always make a pit stop here before and after any trip.”

As all retailers know, the hands-on-experience of shopping in stores is one of the biggest advantages over shopping online. In addition to selling products on the sales floor, the store has a boat showing area and offers private boat demos to customers in the market to buy.

“You can read online reviews all day long, but you’re not going to get that expertise you’ll find in our staff,” Frank said.

1979 ad for Ozark Outdoors Supply
A 1979 Christmas ad for Ozark Outdoor Supply. (Photo: Courtesy)

The Outdoorsy Side of Arkansas Is No Secret

Ozark Outdoor’s website boasts that it’s “Arkansas’ oldest and most experienced outdoor outfitter.” You’ll find a plethora of information and stats on why it’s so important for Arkansas residents to shop local. Did you know that 68 percent of money spent at local stores makes its way back to the community?

If you click the button “Explore Arkansas” in the middle of the site’s homepage, there’s a curated list of hot spots and customers’ favorite destinations for climbing, canoeing and kayaking, hiking and camping, and skiing. And Frank likes to share events and news of Arkansas State Parks.

“We try to promote as much as we can to get people outside,” he said.

According to Outdoor Industry Association, Arkansas’ outdoor recreation economy generates $9.7 billion in consumer spending, $2.5 billion in wages and salaries, and 96,000 direct jobs.

For those looking to visit Arkansas, Frank says winter is a nice time to enjoy the outdoors because the bugs and poison ivy are gone. Regardless of if you’re an out-of-state customer or a local, there’s no doubt that when you forget your hiking socks or the pack you ordered doesn’t fit right, Frank will be there ready to help.

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