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Outfitting Mississippians a rewarding retailing experience

Jackson — When you step inside Buffalo Peak Outfitters, you might have to remind yourself that you’re into Mississippi’s busy Capital City. It’s somewhat like stepping into a wilderness lodge.

The hardwood floors have leather-like scratches that lend character to the place. Sit down on an old church pew and prop your feet up on a stone foot ramp to try on a pair of hiking boots while bluegrass music plays in the background. Pluck a walking cane from a wooden barrel. Camping, backpacking, hiking, skiing and adventure travel gear are well stashed around the store. By the time you leave Buffalo Peak, a new travel adventure beckons.

In 1986, Bobby McCain and his father-in-law, Jim Schimpf, opened Buffalo Peak, a retail store in Highland Village. The outfitter grew from 1,500 square feet to more than 5,000 square feet after expansions in 1990, 1994 and 2000, when a boat section was added. Every Thursday throughout the summer, Buffalo Peak offers kayak demonstrations at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park’s Mayes Lake. Kayak and canoe sales now account for about 11% of store revenue.

“We’ve had good growth with steady increases every year, as outdoor continues to grow as a retail sector,” said Dave Edmonson, a buyer for Buffalo Peak.

McCain, a former basketball player for Belhaven College, worked part-time during school at Athlete’s Foot. By the time he left the footwear chain six years later, he was a buyer for five stores and operations manager for a warehouse.

“In the back of my mind, I thought I’d like to own my own business, so I started looking around,” said McCain. “When my wife (Susan) and I were on our honeymoon in Gatlinburg, we wandered into an outdoor shop called The Happy Hiker and loved it. When we returned, I took a look around Jackson and thought the concept would work.”

Today, about a dozen outdoor enthusiasts work at Buffalo Peak. In 2001, McCain opened another store, Peak Athletics, also in Highland Village. An Oxford branch of Peak Athletics is expected to open in September.

“This Oxford move will definitely challenge us for a while,” said Edmonson. “We’ll see how that goes before we consider further expansion.”

Because of Mississippi’s temperate climate, McCain doesn’t stock many heavy coats. Instead, he sells clothing lines featuring multiple layering systems. Women’s wear, especially organic cotton separates, remains a fast-growing department. Patagonia and Columbia sportswear represent the most popular clothing lines. Madison Trader, Kavu rugged outdoor clothing, Mountain Hardware, Royal Robbins, Ex Officio, Horny Toad, Woolrich, Red Ledge, Sierra Designs, Indigenous Designs, Marmot and Prana represent other clothing lines.

“Right now, The North Face clothing and equipment is our number one line,” said Edmonson. “We’ve had an unbelievable year selling sandals, with Chaco sandals being our hottest line. Our back-to-school business will start soon, with fleece clothing and book bags as good-selling items. It’s always a healthy time of year for us, followed by holiday retail.”

Even before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Buffalo Peak had started phasing out its travel business, which included organized annual treks to the Alaskan back country.

“We’re starting to recover from the 9/11 travel slowdown, when people stopped traveling by plane as much and started traveling more locally,” said Edmonson. “More people are headed back overseas, while others are driving instead of flying out West and to other places around the country. We don’t offer trips any more like we used to, but many customers travel, and we sell quite a bit of travel-related gear, mostly clothing.”

Store employees now refer travelers to Mississippi Canoe and Kayak Club (www.mspaddle.org).

“Some of our guys have been involved in leading trips, but we’re no longer doing these trips ourselves,” said Edmonson.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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