Outdoor adventurers of all skill levels will soon have a new shopping destination to visit.
Public Lands, the highly anticipated outdoor arm of Dick’s Sporting Goods, will open its first store in Cranberry Township, Pa. On September 24. In an effort to appease all outdoor enthusiasts, the store will offer products for those interested in hiking, biking, rock climbing and more, and will carry the latest footwear and clothing for every activity.
At the helm of this new company is Todd Spaletto, a 25-year outdoor industry veteran who has worked for some of the biggest names in the outdoor market including The North Face and Wolverine World Wide. Spaletto was appointed President of Public Lands in December 2020.
The industry vet is leading the new concept of specialty retailing at a time when outdoor activities are booming. Earlier this month, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association revealed in its “State of the Industry” report that the overall outdoor sports participation rate among active people in the United States was 52.9% in 2020, against 48.4% five years earlier. Additionally, the SFIA reported that there were 57.8 million people who hiked last year, placing the activity at # 2 on the list of the top 25 sports and activities by participant, this which represents a variation of 16.3% compared to the previous year.
Days before the inauguration of Public Lands in Pennsylvania, Spaletto spoke to FN about the retailer’s plan to capitalize on this momentum and create a welcoming experience for all.
What, in your 25 years of experience in the outdoor industry, has prepared you to rule public lands?
Todd Spaletto: “I’ve known Dick’s Sporting Goods for about 20 of those 25 years, and I’ve always respected that this business runs like family and is incredibly competitive, but fair. Especially during my years at The North Face, I got to know [executive chairman] Ed Stack really good. Ed would ask every now and then, “What do you think of an outdoor specialty concept?” It’s something he has in mind. In addition to the great respect I have for Dick’s Sporting Goods, this opportunity to create something that we are passionate about, what an outdoor experience could be, motivated me to create something new with a great team, in building on Dick’s Sporting Goods track record of success and ability, and doing something pretty cool and different.
What gap is the Public Lands bridging in the outdoor market?
TS: “There are a lot more people going out right now, and what’s really good, not only are we seeing people going out, but their experiences in the outdoors are different from what we’ve seen in the past. You have more women going out, you have young people going out, you see more diversity in people going out, we are seeing people participating in outdoor activities closer to home, so participation in the outdoors in urban areas is on the rise, and we are seeing people with slightly lower incomes coming out. I have worked in the outdoor industry for over 25 years and we have always put people in one of two compartments: you are either the heart or you are cool. If you are a hard core you are someone who can survive perfectly in the woods for three weeks on your own, but you are probably wearing dorky baggy pants, dorky looking shoes, a floppy hat with binoculars and a stick. in wood. The other person has the latest kit, awesome new shoes, and new gear from top brands, but he’s a fixer. The reality is, this is simply not true. The people we see on the outside are absolutely loyal to the activity, and at the same time they care about their appearance. Public Lands has this piece of technically legitimate gear that’s just as decidedly forward thinking, and we think it’s a big white space.
Recent polls suggest new enthusiasts may not continue outdoor activities after COVID. How worrying is that?
TS: “It would be a huge opportunity missed by the industry [if that happened]. People step into a new experience, and what creates a reality where it sticks is recognizing that the experience goes beyond the physical activity itself. We in the outdoors industry are pretty good at talking about the physical nature of the outdoors if you hike, rock climb, ski, run – all advertising experiences [speak to this]. For some, it was a source of inspiration. For others, it’s intimidating, or maybe it created a unique experience, but not necessarily a repeatable one. I firmly believe that what creates this lifestyle change is recognizing that for many people their outdoor experiences are physically difficult, but they are also emotionally restorative. They exceed the tree line and decompress from a stressful life. I also believe it is a cultural and inclusive experience. Everyone is welcome on the trail, anyone can hike, no matter where you are from, what your preferences – everyone is welcome in the great outdoors, it’s culturally inclusive. Finally, it is a creative space. The most powerful social platform for most businesses is Instagram. Why is that? It’s visual. The outdoor spaces are magnificent. And photography, cooking, painting are all what we think of as the auxiliary creative experiences of the outdoors. We have paintings, prints, notebooks, journals, markers and pens, and people take these things outside. [In the stores], we showcase local artists whose art is inspired by the outdoors, and we have a local market at the back that offers coffee, biscotti, granola, syrup. The catalyst for not creating a unique moment, but rather creating a pivot to people’s lifestyles, celebrates the fact that these outdoor experiences are physically stimulating, emotionally restorative, culturally inclusive, and creatively inspiring.
Dick’s Sporting Goods already offers outdoor products. How, if any, will you work to avoid duplication?
TS: “The overlap is going to be around 20-25%, and I think that’s good. There are a lot of consumers who would expect to find some of these brands in both doors. The assortments are also different within the brands that coexist. The stores are organized around eight different specialty stores: There’s an immersive bike store, a fishing, climbing, hiking, camping, running store, and we have a really vibrant shoe store. [space] it’s 3,500 square feet. It’s a very large shoe department that ranges from lifestyle shoes like the Vans Ultra line and others that are forward thinking to technical products from hiking brands like Merrell, Oboz, La Sportiva, Scarpa, Lowa and running shoes like Hoka, which does very well in the store for hiking and running. The prices are going to be better, but we will support this new consumer who is looking for something a little more accessible.
The outdoor market has a retail giant in REI Co-op. How will Public Lands stand out from the competition?
TS: “We don’t focus a lot of time and energy on one particular competitor. We are obsessed with the consumer. We laser focus on this emerging new outdoor enthusiast who loves technical equipment but wants forward-thinking aesthetics and embraces multi-dimensional creative, inclusive and restorative experiences. The experience we create in retail and the way our brand is positioned is unique not because of any specific competitor, but based on our knowledge of consumers.
What is the public land plan for brick and mortar?
TS: “All we have really confirmed are these two stores: Cranberry and then Columbus, Ohio, which will open in late October. We also come [last week] activated on our website, [which is] a great shopping experience. And the content therein, showing inclusive outdoor experiences and providing courses, tips and events and ways to get involved in the protection of wild places, [offers] a very nice balance. Certainly, we think this opportunity is bigger than two stores, but we haven’t defined a specific path because we are focused on opening them and learning from them.
How will Public Lands address the topics of greatest concern to today’s consumers, such as sustainability and racial and gender equality?
TS: “I think more and more consumers trust like-minded brands, whether it’s a manufacturer or a retailer. We believe that shared values are the foundation for bonding with consumers. The goal of our brand is to celebrate, to protect public lands for all. There are three key words in this: celebrate, protect and “for all”. We believe that outdoor experiences are more than physical, they are also emotional, cultural and creative, and that is part of the celebration. Protection is the second area in which we share values with our consumers, and which revolves around conservation and sustainability. The last one is “for all”. There is a big effort to capitalize on the opportunity to bring more new participants outside. Sometimes these will be things that we ourselves do with classes and events, and sometimes we will partner with big brands, be it Patagonia on environmentalism or The North Face on participation. We are already making some great programs that will hopefully make a big difference to our planet and people. “
What keeps you from sleeping at night?
TS: “Let this huge opportunity that we have for people to go outside go away. I don’t want us to wake up in a year or five and say, “Do you remember that year in 2020 or 2021 where everyone went outside and then off we go?” I really want to make sure our stores feel welcoming and warm. There is a perception that outdoor specialty stores are intimidating, that people don’t feel welcome, that they are too elitist. What would keep me awake at night is if we don’t create a warm and welcoming experience, and if we don’t do our job in terms of protecting our public lands and wild places.