'Rene Stephens'
Outside Business Journal

Retailer Spotlight: The Toggery in Whitefish, Montana

Flannel on khakis is a staple uniform in the outdoor industry. But it doesn’t have to be, and this fashion-forward shop mixes expected "outdoorsy" pieces with the unexpected

Mady Koller

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Located on the shores of its namesake lake, Whitefish, Montana, is known for its dramatic outdoor vistas. But in the charming resort town, The Toggery has become its own kind of destination.

Originally opened as Frank’s Shirt Shop in 1947 by Frank and Jessie Stephens, the store sold menswear—suits, shirts, ties, and the like—to the men of Whitefish. As the shop passed hands through a few generations of Stephens, it morphed and evolved to fit the needs of the growing community. After Frank Stephens passed away, his son Gary Stephens introduced women’s clothing and footwear. And the family tradition continued when Gary Stephens passed the shop to his son—the current owner—Trek Stephens. When Trek Stephens took over and attended his first Outdoor Retailer in 2004, he again revamped the business.

“Nobody was buying the suits and ties or dressing up, so he was really intrigued with the outdoor world,” said his wife, Rene Stephens. “He changed it over and got rid of the more dress-wear and brought in the active lifestyle stuff.”

Tour The Toggery

The Toggery
(Photo: Rene Stephens)

Feminine pieces, like sweaters and magenta vests, soften the darker decor of antlers and wood and leather.

A retail shop with warm wood walls and floots, racks with hats, water bottles, bags and more
(Photo: Rene Stephens)

The Toggery carries both small and big-name brands.

The Toggery
(Photo: Rene Stephens)

Chacos is one of the major footwear brands at The Toggery.

The Toggery
(Photo: Rene Stephens)

Denim shorts can be outdoorsy too.

The Toggery
(Photo: Rene Stephens)

Leather fashion boots line the wall alongside classic hiking boots.

The Toggery
(Photo: Rene Stephens)

Fun prints add pops of color.

The Toggery
(Photo: Rene Stephens)

Want to dress like this? The Toggery offers fashion consulting before and after hours.

OR Meets LA Market

Now renamed The Toggery—a name derived from the 18th century slang term tog, meaning coat or outer garment—the Stephens brand it as an “outdoor lifestyle” shop. Still in the same location of the original Frank’s Shirt Shop, the store emits a down-to-earth, yet contemporary vibe all at the same time.

Weathered brick walls, rich hardwood floors, and naked lightbulbs strung across the ceiling create the backdrop for trendy clothing and accessories adorning the various racks and tables. Chic jumpsuits and sundresses are paired with the newest styles of Chaco, and flannels are complemented by stylish Bedstu boots.

The Toggery Montana
The Toggery’s displays are anything but boring. (Photo: Rene Stephens)

To keep a pulse on both the outdoor and fashion aspects of the business, the Stephens attend both Outdoor Retailer and fashion trade shows, like Magic and LA Market. So you can just as easily find brands like Free People filling the racks as you can Marmot or Kühl.

“We pride ourselves on offering well-known brands that serve a function but don’t sacrifice style,” according to the Products page on its website. “You’ll find outfits, shoes, and accessories that will take you from the mountains to the barbecue!”

Rene Stephens, who co-owns The Toggery, says the design was intentional to differentiate themselves from other outdoor specialty retailers.

“Being a brick-and-mortar store in a resort town, you have to be different,” she said. “I don’t want people to walk in my store and think it looks like every other store.”

Styling for Any Occasion

But what’s a shopper to do when they sees waxed canvas and unfamiliar accessories next to their default purchase of plaid and jeans? The Stephens really shine in their commitment to fashion by offering free style consultations, ensuring customers don’t get lost in the process.

All a customer has to do is fill out a form (found on The Toggery’s website) detailing size and style preferences, and pick a time to come into the store before or after hours. Customers get the store to themselves, along with someone to help pick out clothes.

“It takes a lot of time to go through all the clothes,” Rene Stephens said. “There is such a diverse mix, [and this way] you can dial in what you’re looking for.”

Through more than 70 years of retail experience, the Stephens have discovered that customers with unique body types really appreciate help finding gear and clothing that fits properly. The more descriptive the customer is about their wants and needs, the more targeted the consultation. “We can capture the whole audience instead of pigeonholing people and saying you have to be a size two or eight to shop in this store,” Rene Stephens said.

Technical pieces are intermingled with the latest trends. (Photo: Rene Stephens)

This #CoolShop has long been committed to the happiness of each individual customer, and their style consultations are just another way of making sure everyone can find gear that fits and functions for them personally.

“Because that’s what everybody wants—a personal experience,” Rene Stephens said.