Outside Business Journal

The Innovation Project: Outdoor Gear Exchange, Episode 1

In Episode 1 of The Innovation Project, we feature Mike Donohue, co-owner of Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont

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When Outdoor Gear Exchange was founded in Burlington, Vermont, in 1995, co-owner Mike Donohue was the first employee. Now the brand has a robust online following, a solid local reputation and more than 100 people working for it.

The customer base for the college-town shop is pretty broad, including everyone from the casual outdoor enthusiast and the person just looking for gear to stay warm in the winter to the core outdoorist who needs technical gear.

“We don’t try to pre-select what our customer should need; we try to curate the best options that are out there,” Donohue says.

Part of that process, of course, is choosing what to offer customers in the first place. Earlier this year, Outside Business Journal took a close look at the trade show cycle in the industry and Donohue weighed in on the difficulty for retailers.

“As far as I’m concerned, as a retailer, not a manufacturer or media, early preview shows are great,” he said. “They are focused. They are where the buying work gets done. A larger, national show later in the cycle is great for closing the loop, seeing new vendors and smaller brands, having business meetings and for media buzz. … “I see shows in a battle to remain relevant and trying to win by being first, earliest. I don’t think that’s a good trend or beneficial to anyone. I’d still like to see them go back and look at what their purpose is.”

Outdoor Gear Exchange was an early adopter of e-commerce, and has been running its website since 1997. As the retail landscape has changed, the shop has adapted. Now, it also runs blogs and provides education for its customers.

“We try to start the process for the customer, letting them know what the options are, and they can do some research at home,” Donohue says.


The first part of this nine-episode series was produced in partnership with Mountain Hardwear.

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