Welcome to our Small Biz Spotlight series! An interview series focusing on local retailers and what makes them special. For this installment, we spoke with Amy Parulis, Community Relations & Events Manager at Trailblazer Central & Denali Outdoor. Amy first joined Promoboxx over a year ago with just two brands, and now shares content on the Denali account for eight outdoor industry brands.
Over the course of our conversation, Amy and I spoke about changing strategies for a changing climate and working with national brands to stimulate local events.
Let’s start with a brief history of the business. How long have you been in operation?
We have two names; Trailblazer and Denali. We opened as Trailblazer in 1995 in New Haven, Connecticut with a lot of very technical products. After moving to a bigger space and then back to the original space, another storefront was opened to hold excess product. We realized that there wasn’t a need or desire for such technical products. So, once we learned what customers were looking for, we were able to grow and have now expanded out to seven storefronts under the Denali name across Connecticut and Rhode Island.
What makes your business unique?
Every event we host benefits a local nonprofit. A few years ago, we started The Denali Foundation so that we could dictate when and where we donate. We base this on where we see a need, with a strong focus on causes and organizations that get kids outdoors, like the Common Ground High School and Environmental Education Center. Twice a year we do a gauntlet race that benefits the New Haven Parks and Rec Eco Adventure Camp and the Soundview Family YMCA.
Rock the Gauntlet each spring provide a Denali Foundation scholarship to a dozen or so children to attend Eco Adventure Camp where they can get outside and experience paddle boarding, white water rafting, scuba diving, and more, sometimes for the first time.
We also host four showings of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. This is a fundraiser for the Denali Foundation and provides scholarships to Schooner Camp, a camp which teaches sailing to a diverse group of children in New Haven on Long Island Sound. Some kids have never had formal water training, or even been in the Sound, but within a few days are launching and sailing their own sailboats. After sailing, leaders bring the kids to New Haven Land Trust properties to look at aquatic life and teach them about local plants and animals. It’s a great mix of education and fun for them.
Wow, that is quite the undertaking! Do brands ever take part in your events?
The gauntlet races this year are sponsored by The North Face, Smartwool, Merrell, and GoPro.
We hold Pint Nights with brands as well with beer, wine, food, live music and prize raffles. With a suggested $5 donation for participants and the help of our brands, we pick a local nonprofit that either helps kids get outside or helps protect public lands. Smartwool helps pay for pint glasses and food for the event and brands will often donate items to raffle. Our store staff will also go out into the community and ask for donations for raffle items from local businesses. It’s a real group effort with our brands and our local community. So far we have six Pint Nights planned from October to November.
Tell me about a time the business had to overcome a challenge.
The warm winters have really been a challenge. People are simply not interested in buying coats and boots when it’s 65 degrees in February like it was this year and two years ago. Retailers in New England rely on winter sales of skis, boots, snowboards,
etc. to help get through the year. But with warmer winters, we’ve had to realize that sometimes this will happen, even if it’s crazy, and keep it in mind when buying with brands. Denali adapted quite well and, starting last fall, put on warehouse sale. It was a good way to get an infusion of sales during slower times and helps us push out overstock. It’s now also allowed our buyers to buy at close-out with the intention of selling at the Denali warehouse sale. Customers loved it and it allowed us to make up a bit of lost time. Our staff likes it, too, of course!
If you had one piece of advice about digital marketing for a new retailer in the industry, what would it be?
Digital marketing is THE way to go. Print is simply not reaching the people it used to. Focus your marketing efforts on digital instead, through social media, geofencing, google ad words. Do your research on these things, focus your time and money here. Programs like Promoboxx make a difference. Having so many brands to look at and choose from allows you to pick content for your local customer base without reinventing the wheel. When I had to go away it was great to be able to schedule ahead of time. Use the resources that are there, get messages out quickly and spend more time doing research. Brands are inviting you to join in their product story, follow along.
Have you seen a change in the brands and content that are available to you?
We definitely have access to more brands now, and getting access to The North Face, Patagonia, and other major brands was big for us.
As for content, a lot of what we do is seasonal, so having product content doesn’t always work. For brands like Arc’teryx, we won’t post product content in spring or summer but definitely will in fall and winter. During the off-season, they did some great inspirational, non-product related content. Osprey has done wonderfully with women-focused inspirational content. You don’t often see women represented in outdoor advertising so it’s great to see that these brands give equal footing to everyone in the outdoor space. Plus, now we’ve really been able to round out our marketing strategy with Instagram content from our brands through the Promoboxx Android app.