The Big 5-0 Con’t

By Sarah Ryeland

After 50 years in business, Algonquin Outfitters might know a thing or two about what their customers want.

With 10 successful stores in Muskoka and Haliburton and no sign of slowing down, AO has worked hard to be a respected name in the community. Their dedication to rewarding customers and attention to the communities they serve just might be the secret of their success.

“When people celebrate a birthday, they’re usually the ones to get presents,” says Randy Mitson, marketing director for Algonquin Outfitters. “But for our 50th birthday, we’re the ones giving our customers gifts.”

And he’s not kidding. Coupon booklets, contests and more are part of the half-century celebrations the company has developed.

The new Live Your Adventure contest offers more than $10,000 in kayaking, hiking, canoeing, skiing, camping, biking, wakeboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding and of course canoeing packages. Adding to that, in-store promotions and photo contests are always on the go.

And to think, it all started with a passion for canoeing and a summer camp.

In 1961 Bill Swift Sr., owner of a boys’ canoe tripping camp in Algonquin Park, decided to open a wilderness outfitting store on Oxtongue Lake. His love of the outdoors was infectious to both his customers and family, and eventually Swift’s son Rich took over the family business.

Still run by the Swift family, Algonquin Outfitters has seen tremendous growth. Today, the outdoor adventure store is known not only for its great gear, but also for its cutting-edge approach to business.

“We’re really heavily involved in social media,” says Mitson. “We’ve got a really active Facebook page and more followers than all the other local outfitters combined.” The store even has one-third the amount of followers that Algonquin Park does, and those are some impressive numbers.

“I post something online every day,” he says “whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or the blog.”

And what are the posts that get the most attention? That’s easy, says Mitson.

“People love contests, even if the prizes are small. I could write a post that says ‘send me a picture of your cat in a canoe’ and I’ll get responses almost immediately.”

Of course people love winning something. And for Randy, making that phone call is the best part of his day.

“I love calling people that win prizes,” he says. “They’re always so excited and happy to have won something.”

It’s that kind of connection with customers that has helped the store become so successful. But the online connection really is second to the personal experiences customers have with the AO team.

Weekly paddling sessions, bike rides and film fests are just a few of the ways in which store employees meet outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. Those wanting to rent equipment to test out a new sport are encouraged to join other active community members in enjoying that outdoorsy lifestyle.

Those without their own gear pay for rentals, but people with their own bikes, canoes or kayaks are welcome to join for free. And while most of the rental fees go to cover the cost of the equipment, a portion of the proceeds is always donated to local charities.

And that kind of community-mindedness is something that customers know and love about the store.

Algonquin Outfitters is always thinking of fun and exciting ways to help out local charities and non-profit organizations. Instead of simply writing a cheque, the store thinks of innovative ways to get their customers involved in the donation process as well.

“We’re actually working on a new customer rewards program for the coming months,” says Mitson. “A lot of the rewards will be tied into local non-profits and our customers will be able to vote on which charities we support.”

The program will feature a percentage-based system, where customers get store credit with every purchase. And of course, customers always have the option of donating their credit to charity instead of spending it themselves.

That community spirit keeps customers coming back to Algonquin Outfitters again and again. And while contests, rewards and quality products always sweeten the deal, it’s obvious that the organization’s spirit of giving is what truly wins the hearts of the community.

So, what will the next 50 years look like for Algonquin Outfitters? With changing social landscapes and new adventures always on the horizon, it’s hard to say. But one thing is for sure: the store’s philosophy will remain the same.

“It’s not just about us,” says Mitson. “It’s about everybody.”


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