[caption id="attachment_87164" align="alignnone" width="500"] Sonoma Outfitters' new store in Montgomery Village shopping center will be half the size of the current store, shown here. (photo credit: Jay Knick)[/caption]
SANTA ROSA -- Sonoma Outfitters has been on the same corner of Railroad Square for a quarter century, but the boats, backpacks and other outdoors recreational equipment won't be making the voyage this spring to the new location in an upscale-oriented shopping center on the east side of the city.
By May 1, the 37-year-old retailer (707-528-1920, sonomaoutfitters.com) is set to move from the 15,000-square-foot store at 145 Third St. to occupy four storefronts totaling 7,200 square feet in Montgomery Village, an open-air "lifestyle" center on Farmers Lane at Sonoma Avenue.
No longer will the store be selling canoes, kayaks, rock-climbing gear, backpacks, tents and other equipment, according to co-owner Jay Knick, 66. Instead, the focus will be on higher-margin specialty outdoor clothing and footwear as well as accessories for travelers and day-hikers. Key brands include Rohnert Park-based Marmot, The North Face, Ecco, Keen, Merrill and Ugg.
So, there's no need for a large warehouse to store the boats preseason to get better manufacturer terms and store space for an indoor climbing wall.
"Last summer we had a good boating season and sold a lot of boats for the first time in several years, but when we figured out what we made it was not worth it," he said.
The location on the east side of Magowan Drive in Montgomery Village better fits the target shopper for Sonoma Outfitters, according Mr. Knick.
"Our customers are a little older and love to hike and love to travel and are willing to spend a extra dollars for better clothing," he said. "It's difficult to get people to come down here."
When the store moved to Third Street from Fourth Street in 1990, it attracted shoppers driving from a wide area to buy specialty equipment, Mr. Knick said. But sales have fallen off with the arrival of larger competitors in the market and e-commerce as well as ebbing demand for backpacking gear.
Then Washington-based outdoors gear chain REI expanded to Marin County then Santa Rosa. That led to the contraction and eventual closure of equipment-focused chain Marin Outdoors several years ago. Having a wider selection of footwear helped Sonoma Outfitters compete with REI, but the arrival of Dick's Sporting Goods stores in Petaluma this past fall and Santa Rosa set for this coming fall is stepping up the competition for outdoors gear, according to Mr. Knick. Some of these bigger competitors carry items similar to Sonoma Outfitters online but not to a great extent locally.
"Once upon a time, you wouldn't find something like this in at big-box stores," he said. "Now, the outdoors are in, and big guys are moving in with every category of items."
He said a longtime manufacturer representative told him there once were 300 outdoors clothing and equipment dealers on the West Coast, and now there are about 90, including many more larger stores.
Sonoma Outfitters was active in e-commerce from the early days of the technological revolution. Such sales peaked at half of store receipts by 2006. That required six people to mind the virtual store and fulfill orders. The store had a purchase-now icon on manufacturer websites, posted among such icons for a half-dozen to dozen major retailers such as Nordstrom, Dick's and REI.