Outdoor Retailer - April 2021 - 35
#shoplife: Trailful Outdoor Co.
In Real Life
This entrepreneurial couple decided to open
their own store along the Appalachian Trail to
be closer to the community they helped build.
by Cameron Martindell
AFTER PUBLISHING TWO SUCCESSFUL ONLINE TRAIL GUIDES FOR
Asheville, North Carolina, and the greater area, Trailful co-founders
Eric Champlin and his husband, Rob Sollie, weaned themselves from
their corporate jobs to open a brick-and-mortar outdoor retail location
early in 2019. The couple wanted to increase in-person time with their
robust online community and to serve hikers on the Appalachian Trail,
which passes within 10 miles of their shop in Hiawassee, Georgia. Since
opening, Trailful Outdoor Co. has expanded from a small 900-squarefoot space to a 5,000-square-foot historic building on Main Street near
the town square. Champlin talked to us about the journey from trail
adherents to owners of a retail shop.
Courtesy Eric Champlin
What's your background in outdoor recreation?
When I was young, my dad included me in many outdoor adventures,
and some of my earliest (and fondest) memories are our hiking, camping, and fishing trips. Likewise, Rob began pursuing the outdoors from
a young age, growing up on Flathead Lake's shores in Montana, a short
drive from Glacier National Park. We met in Atlanta when we were
working in our previous corporate jobs and combined our love of the
outdoors as we began to explore our new home in the Southeast.
How did you decide to become an outdoor retailer?
Our route into the outdoor industry was actually through the media
and publishing side before retail. I was previously a creative director in
advertising, leading large teams of designers, copywriters, and photographers to develop campaigns. Rob previously worked as a landscape architect, designing outdoor spaces for mixed-use communities,
retail, and high-end residential clients.
Our weekend outdoor adventures were the perfect antithesis to
the high-stress lives we led as we pushed forward in our corporate careers. But, as we began to broadly explore our fantastic public lands in
the Southeast, we noticed a lack of detailed, quality, and dependable
online info on local trail systems. So to give back to our local outdoor
community and as a side outlet for our creativity, we began publishing
two trail websites, Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, in 2009.
We've both always shared a bit of an obsession for thoughtfully
designed outdoor gear, with strong convictions that being properly
equipped and prepared is as important as deciding where to adventure. Throughout our trail content, we began including vital information on Leave No Trace and ethical use of public lands, and encouraged
Eric (left) and Rob opened
the doors to Trailful in 2019.
our readers to give back through volunteering and donations to the
nonprofits that support our local trails. We also began publishing gear
content. We included our favorite gear for each trail adventure in each
of our trail reviews. We attended Outdoor Retailer as working media,
making valuable connections with the marketing and PR groups that
worked with our favorite brands. Through those connections, we vastly increased the gear content on our sites.
Our idea to shift into retail was sparked several years ago. We
moved to Hiawassee, a small mountain town near the Georgia-North
Carolina border, in 2018. Hiawassee is an official Appalachian Trail
town on the shore of Lake Chatuge just below Georgia's tallest summit.
It'd been nearly a decade since we began publishing our sites, and
our online community had grown substantially. The beauty of the
outdoors is inherently offline, though, and we were craving an opportunity to increase face-to-face time with our community. After testing some ideas for our own apparel line at some local outdoor events
and pop-up shops, we decided to open our brick-and-mortar store,
Trailful, in downtown Hiawassee in early 2019. Alongside our line of
Trailful-branded apparel, we stock a large variety of technical hiking
apparel, packs, footwear, dog gear, backpacking gear, tents, and sleep
systems, as well as some locally sourced goods from our community.
How big is your staff?
Trailful is currently a staff of five. Shortly after opening our shop, two of
our friends had just finished an AT thru-hike to Maine and had moved
to the Georgia mountains, so we were lucky to add Tuan Anh Cauble
and Kaleigh Cauble to our full-time crew. Rob's sister, Mia Hernandez,
has always chased a love of the outdoors and recently relocated here
from Montana, so we added her to our full-time staff as well.
Tell us a little about the community that has come together
since the shop opened.
We've been amazed at the number of folks that drive two hours
from Atlanta or Asheville to say hello in person and include us in
their weekend adventures. And being a part of so many thru-hikers' dreams to hike from Georgia to Maine is truly rewarding. Our
Trailful shop gives us a daily opportunity to make new friends, share
our deep love of the outdoors, and help everyone from beginning day
hikers to Triple Crown thru-hikers chase their adventures, and that's
just incredibly rewarding. O.R.
April 2021 / OUTDOOR RETAILER 35
Outdoor Retailer - April 2021
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