By Dillon Tabish, 2-10-12
||Caption: Rick Walker, co-owner of Replay Sports, stands in his Evergreen store. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
EVERGREEN – Rick Walker sees value in recycling, whether it’s an old baseball glove gathering dust or a shabby building wilting with blight.
That mentality spurred him and his wife Carol to enter the foreign world of retail sales.
The couple opened Replay Sports on U.S. Highway 2 East two years ago. Since then the Walkers' popular used sporting goods store has swelled from a 1,600-square-foot cache to a 15,000-square-foot equipment depot. The business is currently expanding internally with a new storage room being developed to help deal with an influx of new and used gear coming and going year-round.
“I’ve been surprised to be honest with you,” Walker said of the growth. “The reality is that there’s a need for it. If the public wasn’t being supportive of the concept, then it would have never gotten off the ground.”
Replay Sports is overflowing with equipment and clothing for essentially every activity besides motorsports. While some of the gear is brand new, most of it is used. Walker touts the whitewater rafting supply as one of the most extensive in the region. The supply and demand for other sports equipment, like golf and hockey, is noticeably increasing, he said.
“We’ve learned that people really like the concept of recycling gear,” he said. “We think people like the idea of not letting something rot in their garage when another family could utilize it for less money than something new.”
Walker, a retired real estate broker and self-described “gear junkie,” bought the building at the corner of Highway 2 East and Reserve Street a few years ago. The building is in the heart of Evergreen, a community that has lost a considerable number of businesses throughout recent years, either to the recession or to other areas of the valley. Walker, a Lakeside native who has lived in Evergreen for more than 15 years, believed there was still value in Evergreen and in the old metal building.
“It’s in our neighborhood and we do take a lot of pride in it,” he said.
The Walkers completely renovated the space as an incentive for other businesses to move in. But when that didn’t completely work out, the couple decided to move in themselves and try retail sales, which neither had ever done before.
Walker came up with the idea of opening a used sporting goods store after he discovered a pile of gear that was a little old but still good enough for someone to use.
“I realized there’s probably other guys out there like me,” he said.
Russell Gerard, front and Jake Meerkatz brows through used and new mountain climbing equipment at Replay Sports in Evergreen.
In many respects Walker has broken the mold for second-hand stores. Instead of only offering customers trade-in credit for used gear, the store will pay cash for anything deemed reusable. The store will also sell customers’ gear on consignment, which has become a growing enterprise. Recently one family visiting from Hawaii outfitted itself head to toe with ski gear and brought it back at the end of the vacation to sell on consignment, Walker said.
When explaining his store’s identity, Walker emphasizes the importance of cleanliness.
“I don’t mind used gear myself, but I don’t want to buy somebody else’s dirty stuff,” Walker said. “We get that question all the time, is this stuff really used gear? Our staff takes a lot of time to really clean everything, polish it and shine it before it goes on the floor.”
The business started small with just Walker and his wife cleaning, buying and selling gear six days a week. Pretty soon families were showing up to outfit kids who were growing too fast to justify brand new purchases. Today the Walkers are seeing the same families arrive each season swapping gear, and it’s become one of the business’ backbones.
“It’s hard to spend $70 for a pair of wrestling shoes that a little kid is going to wear for only three weeks,” Carol, a Whitefish native, said. “Families can come in and they know they will get good stuff and it won’t be something they’d be ashamed of wearing. I know how that goes.”
These days the Walkers have a staff of eight employees working six days a week giving new life to old gear. The building looks reborn, and with it the neighborhood appears far from abandoned.
Reflecting on the entire endeavor brings a wide smile to Walker’s face. He didn’t know what to expect in the beginning and he can’t predict what the future holds. Right now, he’s too busy trying to find room for all his gear.
“Retail’s a hard job,” he said. “And this isn’t your normal retail adventure.”
[End of article]