Caleb Adrianson ‘17, owner of Great Lakes Outpost, is no stranger to retail marketing. He started working in his dad’s shop, Firehouse Guitars, when he was 12 years old. The business model that his father established – having a storefront and acting as a third-party online seller – had been successful.
His father’s business was the inspiration for Adrianson to come up with his own innovative company. Seven years after he started working at Firehouse Guitars, Adrianson launched Great Lakes Outpost.
“My dad and I share a passion for the outdoors and during a backcountry hiking trip with him, I knew this was what I wanted to be connected to for life. I spent the rest of my teen years taking business classes to learn how I could create that connection for a living,” said Adrianson. “My senior year in high school, I took an entrepreneurship class and that’s when I had a conversation with my dad about how we could diversify from the music industry into the cycling industry.”
In 2012, Adrianson and his dad set up a website to sell bikes and cycling gear through his dad’s company GearTree.com. After his freshman year at Davenport, Adrianson was ready to branch out. His summer internship at his dad’s business went from accounting to marketing and business analysis to expanding the cycling sales site.
“One day my dad turned to me and asked if we were going to get serious about outdoor gear. He pointed to a trade show, which we ended up attending. After researching the companies we met at the trade show, we took a leap of faith and Great Lakes Outpost was created.”
Adrianson started his sophomore year at Davenport as an official business owner. His first store, which he ran out of his father’s warehouse, focused on online sales.
While taking classes at DU, Adrianson heard all of the statistics his professors reported on new businesses: 50 percent of them fail within the first two years and 80 percent within the first five years. But Adrianson knew from his research that he had picked products with high turn rates and good margins.
He was seeing a profit within the first four months.
In October of 2016, after one year of online sales, Great Lakes Outpost opened its first storefront. Adrianson’s roommates helped him set up and became his first employees, and his biggest supporters.
Going to outdoor tradeshows now took on a whole new meaning. Most vendors looked at Adrianson with skepticism – he was the new kid on the block.
“Trying to find a brand that will allow you to sell on a third-party marketplace for them without a website was difficult,” Adrianson recalls.
“Now, most of my time is spent talking policies with vendors about third-party marketplace holding prices and minimum advertising prices. It’s hard to manage what price retailers will sell a product for online. When they are selling at deep-discounted prices, they are devaluing that brand. My conversations are centered on brands trusting us. It was tough in the beginning as a start-up, but now we’ve built up our references and reputation. In the cycling industry, we’re probably one of the top three online sellers.”
Adrianson speaks of the competition selling online for vendors and their brands.
“A brand can be in as many brick and mortar shops as they want, but now online retailers are competing to be added to a small list of authorized retailers on websites like Amazon. We’re all fighting to get into the “cool kids club.” We’ve had success in our relationships with smaller up-and-coming brands. It’s exciting to be a part of launching a new brand – to see them succeed and know we had a hand in that.”
Innovation has led Adrianson down the path of continuously upgrading and improving his business. Not only is he selling through third-party marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart.com and Jet.com, but also through his storefront and now on their own website.
Now that his company has grown leaps and bounds, the more efficient and timely product fulfillment method Adrianson is creating will keep him competitive with the Amazon Prime consumer expectation.
“Once we hit over 10,000 SKUs, we decided we needed to build our own software. I am in the process of working with developers to design a custom software system that is tailored to our business,” said Adrianson.
“Now we can track our inventory, shipping and reporting. Our efficiencies have skyrocketed as far as accurately delivering what the consumer ordered in a timely manner.”
What started years ago as an interest in creating a job centered on a passion for the outdoors has turned into something much more. Adrianson’s initial dream of being a retailer for the most well-known outdoor brands has turned into real, meaningful relationships with vendors and products he is passionate about.
“We’ve partnered with like-minded companies in this industry. When a customer enters my store and says, ‘I’ve never seen this anywhere but online,’ I say, ‘This is a room full of all my favorite things.’ It makes going to work fulfilling and much more fun.”
From working in his father’s shop as a child to starting a business as a sophomore at Davenport University, Adrianson’s entrepreneurial spirit and desire to continue innovating has helped him thrive.
Now the question is, “What’s next?”