A Quick Thought

This thought is probably more appropriate for Twitter, but – really quickly – how many outdoor businesses are multi-generational?  

We work for a lot of founders – it’s pretty much our thing here at Pemba – so by definition these companies are mostly in their first generation.  (Petzl is a notable exception, as it’s strongly in its second generation and perhaps working into its third.)  There are a few outdoor manufacturers that have gone beyond one generation, but not many.  We work with a few retail stores that are in their second generation or beyond: Fontana, Backcountry Outfitters, Fin & Feather, Hoigaard’s, Champaign Surplus, Scheel’s, and Laacke & Joys come to mind (sorry if I missed anybody…)  Some liveries and guide services have made it into the second and third generation.  There are a handful of second-generation reps around, too.  Beyond this, who’s out there?
By comparison, there seem to be a lot of multi-generation ski shops, shoe stores, and bike shops.  (For the moment, let’s not talk about jewelry stores, auto manufacturers, and breweries…)  Maybe we should count them to know for sure, but it seems that there are more of these than there are multi-generation outdoor stores.

This brings up some questions:  Is it just that we’re a young industry?  Or is it that we’re not handing our businesses and culture down to our kids?  If we’re not handing these things down to our own kids, how do we expect to get other people’s kids involved in the outdoors, tomorrow?


2 responses to “A Quick Thought

  1. In this case, I think you need to look at the denominators… multi generational family businesses are not underrepresented in the outdoor business, I think they’re about the same as everywhere else. I have two friends who went into the family business because it was “expected.” Both hate it, both left, and the ensuing family drama was awful.

    I want my kids to be happy. If they show an interest in the business AND have an aptitude for it, wonderful. If not, forget it. I have friends who despair because their children don’t want to take over their business. That is a gift; they’ve raised their children to be independent and to follow their dreams.

  2. Yeah, I totally agree that generational businesses aren’t necessarily something that we should aspire to as business owners in the outdoor industry. Our kids should do what they want to do.

    The thought came up during a discussion about several of the second and third generation ski shops in the Chicago area – King Keyser and Scandinavian, in particular. It just seemed that there’s not many comparable outdoor businesses.

    In this same conversation, it was noted that many market-leading manufacturers and shops are 20 – 30 years old. This brought up the question as to whether or not we in this industry have successfully transitioned from one generation to another. So far, it looks as if we’re mostly riding on the passions of one generation, only.

    Quite many of us cut our eye-teeth and developed our passion for this industry in the late Seventies or early Eighties. (DB, you and I are on the younger edge of the sample, in this regard…) As the age-demographic bell-curve of our industry shifts to the right, it seems appropriate to look at a lot of different metrics to compare our industry with others.

    The generational business idea was a quick thought, and more a basis for further conversation than a point on its own. I’m with you about wanting my kids to be happy, too. I think their paths will take them elsewhere, and that’s great.

    As always, thanks for the comments.