Before settling into its Brooklyn brick-and-mortar location, Kevin Rosenberg’s Gear To Go Outfitters began as many New York startups do – on the street. In 2009, with recession at its most painful, business loans were unavailable. Instead, the Navy vet and lawyer built a successful street stand business that was solar powered and accepted credit cards.
Selling camping gear, equipment and accessories, Kevin toughed it out through two of Brooklyn’s bone-chilling winters and sweltering summers, confronting competitive street vendors, unwelcoming store owners, and various colorful street characters.
During his time on the street, Kevin accomplished something of vital importance: he grew his reputation for quality, trust and consistency (printed receipts and accepting returns also helped). As a result, he nurtured a very loyal customer base in the quickly gentrifying neighborhood of Park Slope.
This is no small feat, considering the common perception about street vendors is that they sell knockoffs and can disappear before the streetlight changes to green. A little encouragement early on also helps: he made $550 on his first day.
With no real estate collateral, he made a handshake deal with a nearby landlord who faced a soon-to-be-vacant storefront. Now, at 215 Garfield Place, Kevin’s Gear To Go Outfitters is one stop for renting or buying camping and hiking gear. His staff is young but experienced; Kevin wants employees who are enthusiasts and experts, adventurers who would actually backpack and hike on their own vacations (in other words, not somebody who was formerly folding sweaters at The Gap).
Kevin says there are lots of places in the city that help you look like you’ve gotten dirty, but Gear To Go helps you actually get dirty. He and his staff give advice, do repairs, issue hunting and fishing licenses, and even offer hiking trips around the region and around the world.
When most people think of New York State, they think of the cement and skyscrapers of The Big Apple, but Kevin says that New York is actually one of the most rural states in the union. For instance, the Catskills and the Adirondacks offer miles of untouched wilderness, rock climbing, canoeing, and hiking trails that allow you to wander for days.
Kevin recently guided a tour of Iceland, with 11 travelers who had never backpacked before. It’s the adventure of a lifetime, facing Iceland’s harsh environment; caring only for your primal needs becomes your top priority -- not posting selfies on your Instagram feed (sorry, no Wi-Fi).
Kevin notices that most everyone survives better than they think they will; usually panic sets in only if they lose sight of the road, or if they start to question their survival ability. In every case, though, a good time is had by all – Kevin is there to see to it.
This is how he compares his business model: if you visit a new town and eat a meal at a Wendy’s or a TGI Friday’s, you’ll be satisfied. But if you discover the great local joint that the townspeople swear by, you’re hooked and you’ll always go back. High quality merchandise and an expert staff always make that difference.
He notes an inherit problem with the FIELD OF DREAMS business model that many entrepreneurs cling to (“If you build it, they will come.”). The reality: the big companies will do what they can to block you, to squash your SEO and make sure that you don’t show up on Page One when Googled. In other words, the big boys will make sure that nobody is coming, even if you build it.
Kevin offers online buying, but he ultimately recommends visiting the store, getting fitted, asking questions, and finding out what gear works best for your next outdoor adventure. Get out there.